‘The Blacklist’ exclusive: Amir Arison on Liz Keen reveal, Aram’s journey, and big premiere

The Blacklist logo any seasonCome Thursday, September 22, “The Blacklist” will be back, and it will be doing so with what will hopefully be the beginning of another thrilling season. You know that there will be some twists, but there could also be some emotional reveals as more and more people learn the news that Elizabeth Keen is alive. One of those people is none other than Aram, played wonderfully by one of our favorites on the show Amir Arison. He’s the emotional core of the Task Force in many ways, and his role has increased with every passing year.

Below, you can check out our full interview with Arison as he touches on where the show left off, what could be coming up, and also the joy he has taken in slowly unraveling this character.

CarterMatt – One of the things that has become so interesting about ‘The Blacklist’ is that every season almost has its own feel. Have you felt that way about season 4 so far?

Amir Arison – It’s true. Each season kind of has a certain through-line, or at least half a season or a quarter of a season, and then there’s some giant twist and it’s turned on its head.

I sort of felt last season — the first half of the season — was Liz on the run and what that meant for every character on the show. That was our central guiding principle and while we still had a Blacklister every week it didn’t feel as procedural. It felt more ‘Alias’ / ’24’-esque.

Then, Liz was caught and brought into the box and Aram had that enormous episode where he had to try and save her. Once she was saved and once we had the Director in 310, it’s was like ‘where do we go from there?’. The second half of season 2 had its own through-line, and then the last five when Liz Keen ‘died,’ everything turned on its head. Doing those five episodes was unlike anything that I’ve done on the show. It’s really challenging for a character or an actor, and that’s when the work can get quite exciting. It’s quite sad, but on an acting level kind of fun.

Of course, as we’re heading into this season, the news is that Liz is very much alive. That’s something that was revealed at the very end of season 3, and that is something that most of the characters learned at the end of season 3 — but not getting a chance to respond to it. But one character we didn’t see get that information is Aram, and that is something I can say we will see in the premiere: Aram receiving the news that Liz Keen is in fact alive. I can’t say what goes with that news, but it’s more than a few things. It’s a lot to process.

I have to imagine that for Aram it’s difficult. He’s such an emotional heart of the group and he cares about her, so I imagine that upon hearing this he would be happy that she’s alive, but at the same time sad that this was kept from him.

I will just say ‘yes’ to all of that (laughs). That’s a good question, and you’ll have to tune in to the premiere to find out — and not just Aram’s reaction, who I agree is more emotional than other Task Force members on the show, but everyone has a very unique response to her revival, if you will. I think our writers and producers do a phenomenal job with the responses being consistent with each character, but then also surprising us.

You mentioned those five episodes where Liz had died, and what an interesting time that was for you as an actor. What was the reaction to reading the script and learning a thing or two about Liz’s fate?

Well, there’s a production episode and a script element. They didn’t tell us anything, and I went script to script to script. I can say now, I couldn’t say [during last season], I did see Megan [Boone] around. I had a feeling they weren’t killing off our main character, but at the same time as an actor I like to stay in the dark so I can play each episode as truthfully [as possible]. I want Aram to be able to process everything as it happens, because he’s often the last to know. In this case, the viewer knew before Aram did that she was alive (laughs), and he’s not going to know until the season premiere! Aram’s behind the viewer sometimes.

I like to not over-think or over-process it much. Of course, Megan’s my friend so I’m praying for her safety and longevity as our main character, but as the characters went, there was all kinds of confusion and processing.

When I did get the script, though, I will say that the final reveal of Alexander Kirk saying ‘hello Masha, I am your father’ was like ‘whoa, I did not see that coming at all.’ That throws off all kinds of theories and so forth, and I have to tell you that the season premiere and episode 2 … so much happens. The premiere feels like a vintage ‘Blacklist’ premiere, but episode 2 feels like a finale. That’s how much happens. That’s how many bombs drop. It’s exciting. I can say unequivocally it’s an exciting season so far.

One of the last things Red said to Cooper in a great scene last season was to ‘set [Aram] up with someone.’ Could we actually see that happen? It’s the Aram matchmaker game!

How funny was that line? He compared him to a school-boy with an erection, something like that. I saw a draft of that line and I laughed out loud each time. Of course the way James [Spader] delivered it [added to it].

If you remember back to the finale, at around that same time Aram went on a blind date in a Ford commercial, and coincidentally ended up on a blind date with Samar! I don’t know if all the viewers saw that. Aram was trying to put himself out there.

I was telling some cast members what I think Aram’s backstory is. I think Aram, after Liz Keen’s death and after it looks like the Task Force is going to disband, I think Aram is going to have to lean in to other aspects of his life. I’ll just say that (laughs).

How much more of Aram’s backstory have you been clued in on? Have the writers given you more, or do you just take what is given to you in the scripts?

I actually think only James knows the backstory of the central plot and his character because he has to play all of those levels. I think Megan knows some stuff too, like some of the direction that things are going in. I like to not know, that way Aram processes things in the same way as the viewer, as it [happens].

In terms of backstory, here and there there are little pockets of discussion, but in television you have to be ready for anything. So a little example is that there is an episode where Aram said he went to MIT with Sweater-Vest, and how he got an award before Aram did. I didn’t know that until that episode, but it was kind of fun to trickle back and slot in to the stuff I imagined and stuff we’d talked about before. It’s a little bit of [both]; early on in season 2 when Aram talked about his background a little bit I did talk to [showrunner] Jon Bokenkamp about that and had some suggestions. We had a super-collaborative conversation about that.

The show is about Red and Liz, and we get little pieces of Samar’s background and Cooper’s background and Ressler’s background. We haven’t gotten so much of Aram, but stay tuned for season 4!

You mentioned early on about some of the stuff you got to do before episode 10 of season 3, and I think in general that was Aram’s biggest year yet. Is that going to continue moving forward?

I love those storylines in the third season. They were unexpected and extremely exciting. This season, I can say from the first six episodes there is some stuff I’m getting to do on the show that I haven’t done before, and I am loving it.

Thanks to Amir for his time, and of course for making us even more excited for “The Blacklist” to premiere than we were even before this.

Photo: NBC

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