'The Blacklist': Who is the real Tom Keen? Ryan Eggold talks music, spy secrets, and those glasses

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Image Credit: Will Hart/NBC

The epic machinations of Red Reddington have been spinning out of control on The Blacklist and after two brutal weeks off, we finally get a new episode tonight. The question on everyone’s mind is, who is Tom Keen? We now know that the sexy/scary husband of FBI Agent Liz Keen is an undercover spy, but we don’t know who he’s working for, what he wants, or how far he’s willing to go to get it. Entertainment Weekly sat down with Ryan Eggold to get some insight on his mysterious character, what we can look forward to tonight, and what the deal is with those amazing glasses he wears.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: We haven’t gotten to see you in many scenes with James Spader yet. Will we see more of you two together in the future?
RYAN EGGOLD: They’ve written other scenes between James and I, really game changer-y scenes that I think they put on the shelf because it’s a later thing.

Is it fun to work with him?
It’s great. He’s very supportive and very talented, so it makes it easy. I remember him saying little things like, “I really liked that take,” which just makes you feel great. It’s a nice front row seat to watch Spader do his thing. He’s a serious guy, very professional.

And how is Megan Boone?
We have a lot of fun. We have scenes where we try and make each other laugh. We’re excited to be playing some of the trickier stuff now. At the beginning it was a lot of sipping coffee and “hey babe.” We’re trying to bring the “babe” down.

It’s tense as hell between you two now. I’m pretty creeped out by you.
Yeah. I get that a lot.

How are the on-the-street reactions?
It’s rough, man. People have very different reactions. Some people are like, “yeah man you’re so bad I love it.” And other people think I’m a serial killer in real life and are like, “your face is scaring me.” This role is going to ruin me. But this character is a very complex character that we don’t know everything about yet, so I’m excited to reveal that. The other weird thing is that some girls are into it now that he’s violent, like “I’ll go home with that Tom Keen.” I’m like, “oh I see.” [Laughs] I’ve been too nice my whole life. I guess you gotta be mean.

Is it changing your dating game?
Totally, now I’m going out with biker chicks.

Your pick up lines have completely changed.
Yep, now I’m like, “Hey, I’ll hit you on the back of the head and run out of a warehouse. Date me?”

You’re gonna have to lose the TOMS shoes if you want to pull biker chicks.
I know! I can’t pull it off. I’m just a guy who wears TOMS. It’s the sad truth.

You are the 4th grade teacher in real life.
I really am.

What about the Warby Parker glasses. Do you not wear glasses in real life?
I do not wear glasses now. I wore glasses my whole life, but then I got Lasik eyeball surgery and I fixed that. But I wore those Warby Parker glasses to the audition and they loved it. I read the guy and he was a schoolteacher, all mild-mannered, and it just felt right. I had them and they dug ‘em.

Wait, I’m sorry, you just had clear-glass glasses lying around?
I have numerous clear glasses at home. I probably have thirty pairs. I think it started for acting. I have tons of clothes that just sit there. But if that one role comes up, I’m going to want that shirt. And I have glasses for that too. I have seventies thick framed glasses. I have slick glasses. And I have the Warby Parkers, so I was like, “woop, these are the ones.” [He mimes putting on glasses.]

Do you wear them around the house when you’re cooking just to get into character?
It’s bled into my real life now, and I know that’s kind of lame. People are like if you don’t need glasses why wear fake ones? But for me it’s two things. A) it feels comforting in a strange way because I really did go my whole life wearing glasses. It reminds me of my identity. And B) it’s fashion. It’s part of a look. But people really give you a hard time when you wear fake glasses out to a bar.

It’s true. At least you can blame it on your character now.
Yeah, I’m doing research, guys. Get off my back.

Are they actually made by Warby Parker?
Oh yeah, they’re Warby Parker. A couple months before The Blacklist, a friend was wearing them and told me, “They’re Warby Parker. They’re affordable. You buy it online and they send them to you.” Done. I started browsing and I was like, “Yes, those are the ones.”

Clear glass all the way.
I remember they asked me to take them off in the audition. They were like “can we see you without the glasses? Can you still read?” And, I just didn’t say anything. I didn’t want to give it away, so I was like “Sure. I think I can read.”

Nice. You’re a music guy, and one of the most awesome parts of the show is the music. The “Jolene” scene was definitely one of the high points of the show.
That was super rad.

We talked to the creator, Jon Bokenkamp, and he was saying that he named her Jolene, just so he could use the song.
Jon Bokenkamp is awesome.

What are some of your favorite songs on the show?
I can’t believe they used the Tom Odell song! It’s called, “I Can’t Pretend.” It was the end of “Milton Bobbit.” I found this song – it’s that thing where you’re like it’s my band and then it gets popular and you’re like, “f–k you guys!”

You want them to succeed, but you also want them to be your secret.
Yeah totally. I heard this song, and it was epic. I mean he’s this little English kid, he’s like 4-years-old, and he sings kinda like Buckley. It’s piano based and haunting and soulful. Halfway through the song when it’s clearly defined as one sound, it likes slams into this power-pop song, like Arcade Fire-style, and it’s a totally different vibe. I was excited that they used it on the show, but mostly I was bummed. My song is out in the world now.

Do they keep you in the dark about plot points?
It depends. Right now, I know where I’m going through the end of the season and where they want to take the character ultimately. But they have so many moving pieces to work out, so we’ll see.

Are we going to get more answers to the “Who is Tom Keen” question in the next couple episodes?
Yes. The beauty of this show – at least for my character and for Red certainly – they’re never going to put a pin in the character and be like that’s him, that’s what he does, that’s who he is. They’re going to keep evolving.

What about the Red and Liz daddy-daughter situation?
Oh, the dad thing. I have a line where I address that in the episode we just shot. I don’t answer the question, but I address it.

Does Tom know if Liz is Red’s daughter?
I don’t think he does, but he might. I wouldn’t be surprised if he did.

Megan Boone’s wig causes lots of drama with the viewers. Does it bother you working with the wig?
It doesn’t bother me. Sometimes, I’ve worn the wig because I enjoy it, but that’s a different story.

Personal sexy times.
To be honest they’ve really stepped up their wig game. In the beginning it wasn’t so great, and now it’s really sharp. And her hair is growing, so I think in season 2 it’s going to be all her real hair. Next year, Tom’ll lose the glasses, and Liz will lose the wig.

Wait, does Spy Tom wear glasses?
That’s up for debate between Jon Bokenkamp and me. For me, I’ve always thought of them as Tom Keen’s – or whatever his real name is – it’s his choice for the character he plays. This spy being like “well this will soften me up. This makes me more approachable, more affable.” So I’ve always thought that’s it. But Bokenkamp brings up a good point, which is wouldn’t your wife try on your glasses at some point? And be like, “why is my husband wearing fake glasses?” So that kind of kills it. We’re kind of settling on, he has bad vision, but those particular glasses he chose for “Tom Keen.”

He teacher-ed up.
Yeah, he wears contacts in real life.

Do you prefer to play the baddie spy or the fourth grade teacher? And how bad are you willing to go?
Oh I’ll go to the ends of the earth. I told Bokenkamp that we should try to make everyone hate me.

The Hills Have Eyes? You’ll eat faces?
Oh I will eat a face. I’ll eat a bird and drink it’s blood. I’ll do it.

Oh sick, let’s not go into that again.
[Laughs] To be honest, I don’t know if this show is the medium to go as dark as you could because at a certain point it would become gratuitous. We’d lose the story. But I don’t necessarily have a preference between good or bad. The most fun is playing the creepy in-between, which is what I’ve been doing a lot of lately. Where you get to say something on the surface with a completely different intent underneath. And also, the badass version of him, the agent, the guy who’s driving mustangs and shooting out the window – that’s a character I’ve played less to date and it’s fun to get to know him.

So we’ll be seeing more of that?
Oh yeah. He’s gonna get bad. And when I say bad, I don’t mean evil bad. I mean like James Brown bad. Like he gon’ get bad.


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