Family & Companions
Actor James Spader was known for playing intriguing deviants in a number of acclaimed independent films in the 1980s and 1990s before his magic touch with morally ambiguous outsiders found its way to television on "Boston Legal" (ABC, 2004-08). Spader began his career playing a series of unsympathetic yuppie types in the era of the shamelessly wealthy, then put films like "Wall Street" (1987) and "Less Than Zero" (1987) behind him in favor of exploring man's attraction to danger - often sexual - in acclaimed indie films like "sex, lies, and videotape" (1989), "Crash" (1996) and "Secretary" (2002). In 2003, he was handpicked to shake things up on David E. Kelley's stale law drama, "The Practice" (ABC, 1997-2004), before being given a starring role as lawyer of questionable ethics in the spin-off, "Boston Legal," for which he earned several Emmy Awards for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series. By the time he joined the cast of "The Office" (NBC, 2005-2013) in 2011, Spader was firmly established as a credible lead in television and on film, capably performing in just about any role that came his way. His starring role on the thriller series "The Blacklist" (NBC 2013- ), playing master manipulator "Red" Reddington, perfectly encapsulated his ability to make unpleasant characters fascinating.
Born on Feb. 7, 1960 in Boston, MA, Spader was raised the son of two teachers, Todd and Jean, who enrolled him in top private schools, including Phillips Academy in Andover. But he was not particularly interested in school and spent more time lost in his active imagination. To compensate, Spader started performing theater while in school, where he could completely absorb in his fantasies, and eventually dropped out at 17 to move to New York City. While there, he took on a series of odd jobs and trained at the Michael Chekov Acting Studio. But he still considered acting a hobby and form of escape when he started landing paying gigs. Unexpectedly, he found himself becoming a professional actor. His earlier roles including a small part as Brooke Shields' brother in "Endless Love" (1981) and playing the Kevin Bacon character in an unsold pilot for a 1983 adaptation of the coming-of-age dramedy "Diner" (1982). He played Frank Converse's slightly rebellious son in the short-lived "The Family Tree" (NBC, 1982-83), then costarred in a few television movies before he hit his stride in feature films.
Spader gained feature film attention as Andrew McCarthy's linen-clad, elitist best friend in the wrong-side-of-the-tracks teen romance "Pretty in Pink" (1986). He followed by digging even deeper into the dark side of the privileged, playing a rich kid cocaine dealer who forces Robert Downey Jr. to prostitute himself for drugs in "Less Than Zero" (1987). He paired with McCarthy again as a less-loathsome buddy in the absurd romantic comedy "Mannequin" (1987), but was again tapped to deliver his best smarmy yuppie in the classic portrait of 1980s excess, "Wall Street" (1987). In 1989, Spader saw a turning point in his career when the actor - who had often been seen as the guy you loved to hate - gave an intriguing and subtle performance in Stephen Soderbergh's "sex, lies, and videotape." He was recognized with a Best Actor Award at the Cannes Film Festival for his finely nuanced portrayal of an eccentric, quietly neurotic drifter forced to face his emotional demons when a return to his college town upsets the staid suburban life of an old friend.
Following a supporting role as a possessive boyfriend in the well-received Martin Amis adaptation, "The Rachel Papers" (1989), Spader played a buttoned-up square befriended by a dangerously charming con artist (Rob Lowe) in the uneven thriller "Bad Influence" (1990). He fared better in independent film territory, delivering a quality performance as a young widower who falls for an older woman (Susan Sarandon) in the erotic "White Palace" (1990). He was paired alongside John Cusack for the political drama "True Colors" (1991), but the film about friendship and blackmail was not a commercial success. With "Storyville" (1992), Spader reinforced his new association with sexy, intelligent fare playing a New Orleans lawyer turned congressional candidate tempted by fleshly pleasures. He was again at the mercy of a destructive femme fatale (Madchen Amick) in the erotic thriller "Dream Lover" (1994), though the "Basic Instinct" (1992) wannabe failed to attract much attention.
In "Wolf" (1994), an imaginative urban take on the werewolf legend, Spader played his trademark yuppie villain, then went on to score his biggest commercial hit with "Stargate" (1994). An unexpected sight in the mainstream sci-fi adventure, Spader successfully showcased another side of his eccentricity playing a nerdy Egyptologist who becomes involved in a parallel dimension. When he returned from journeying across the universe, Spader was back to exploring the dark underbelly of humanity as a scheming hit man characterized as evil incarnate in John Herzfeld's "2 Days in the Valley" (1996). Stepping boldly into the film adaptation of J.G. Ballard's "Crash" (1996), the David Cronenberg-directed world of fetishism and erotic obsession, Spader found perhaps his most provocative role since his 1989 breakthrough, delivering an inspired portrayal of a man whose involvement in a fatal accident revitalizes his sex life. Spader cut a terrific presence with his Elvis-style hair-do in the murder mystery "Keys to Tulsa" (1997), before giving a more conventional performance as an unethical doctor in Sidney Lumet's "Critical Care" (1997).
Following a pair of duds - "Supernova" (2000) and "The Watcher" (2000) - Spader revived his acclaimed status with the erotic art house hit "Secretary" (2002). The Special Jury Prize winner at Sundance explored issues of love, sex and power through the story of an unusual relationship between a lawyer (Spader) and his young secretary (Maggie Gyllenhaal), who was released from a mental institute. Though the lion's share of the awards went to Gyllenhaal, the film raised Spader's profile and helped him land on David E. Kelley's short list when the television producer was looking to revive his ratings-deprived courtroom drama, "The Practice." Kelley wanted someone provocative, compelling and a tad strange to insert into the mix of decent lawyers and approached Spader, thanks to his success playing devious, offbeat characters. As the charismatic and morally slippery Alan Shore, Spader breathed new life into the show's final season and earned him an Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series.
In 2005, his character was spun off into "Boston Legal," where Spader was able to further explore the questionable morals of his law partner at Crane, Poole and Schmidt, while sharing undeniable sparring chemistry with co-star William Shatner. The show delivered steady ratings for ABC, while Spader's performance earned him Emmys in 2005 and 2007. After "Boston Legal" went off the air, Spader made his Broadway debut in David Mamet's "Race" (2009), before returning to television with a guest starring role on "The Office" (NBC, 2005-2013) for the season seven finale, playing ultra-manipulative salesman Robert California. In a high-profile announcement, Spader returned to the show as a regular player for season eight after outgoing star Steve Carell moved on. With his "Office" stint clearly reviving his career, he kept up the momentum, appearing in Steven Spielberg's historical drama "Lincoln" (2012). Spader soon landed his own series, starring as master criminal Red Reddington in "The Blacklist" (NBC, 2013- ). Shortly before the show aired, his next major role was announced-the veteran actor played the supervillain Ultron in the highly anticipated superhero sequel "The Avengers: Age of Ultron," which opened in theaters in May 2015.
Cast (Feature Film)
Cast (TV Mini-Series)
Landed his first major film role as Brooke Shields' brother in "Endless Love"
Appeared in the TV-movie, "Cocaine: One Man's Seduction" (NBC)
TV acting debut, playing Fenwick (role originated by Kevin Bacon in the feature) on the unsold CBS pilot "Diner"
Acted in the feature "Tuff Turf"
Played Blane's (Andrew McCarthy) rakish friend Steff in "Pretty in Pink"; scripted by John Hughes
Played a loathsome drug dealer named Rip in "Less Than Zero," based on the novel by Bret Easton Ellis
Breakthrough film role was playing a sexual voyeur in Steven Soderbergh's "sex, lies, and videotape," for which he was awarded Best Actor at the Cannes Film Festival
Played a young, affluent widower opposite Susan Sarandon in "White Palace"
Played John Cusack's moral best friend in "True Colors"
Played the lead role in Mark Frost's "Storyville"
Had a memorable role as a hot-headed young gambler in Phillip Haas' "The Music of Chance"
Cast as Egyptologist Daniel Jackson in the blockbuster hit "Stargate"
Featured as Jack Nicholson's friend turned enemy in Mike Nichols' "Wolf"
Cast as assassin Lee Woods in the ensemble feature "2 Days in the Valley"
Played car fetishist James Ballard in David Cronenberg's controversial "Crash"
Portrayed an unethical resident physician in Sidney Lumet's "Critical Care"
Featured in "Supernova"; director Walter Hill took his name off the troubled project (was credited as Thomas Lee)
Appeared with Keanu Reeves in "The Watcher," playing a former FBI agent who returns to search for a serial killer
Appeared with Minnie Driver and Josh Brolin in "Slow Burn" (filmed 1998)
Starred as Maggie Gyllenhaal's sadomasochistic boss in the critically acclaimed "Secretary"
Joined the cast of "The Practice" (ABC) as attorney Alan Shore
Reprised role of attorney Alan Shore for "The Practice" spinoff "Boston Legal" (ABC), received Golden Globe (2005) and SAG (2006, 2007, 2008, 2009) and Emmy (2008) nominations for Actor in a Drama Series
Narrated "China Revealed," the first episode of Discovery Channel's documentary series "Discovery Atlas"
Made Broadway debut in David Mamet's "Race" at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre
Guest-starred as Robert California on the final episode of season 7 of "The Office" (NBC)
After much speculation as to who would replace Steve Carell, joined cast of "The Office" (NBC) as series regular, reprising his role of Robert California
Played political operative W.N. Bilbo opposite Daniel Day-Lewis in Steven Spielberg's "Lincoln"
Stars on the crime drama series "The Blacklist"
Played the lead villain in the disappointing sequel "The Avengers: Age of Ultron"