'The Blacklist' Star Diego Klattenhoff on 'Emotional' Ressler-Centric Episode

Ileane Rudolph
The Blacklist Brothers
Q&A Virginia Sherwood/NBC

Over its seven seasons, The Blacklist has explored most of its regular characters’ personal lives, often using flashbacks for deeper dives into what makes them tick (see FBI Special Agent Elizabeth Keen, played by Megan Boone, and James Spader's international criminal-turned FBI ally Raymond “Red” Reddington).

Then there’s Liz’s Task Force colleague Donald Ressler (Diego Klattenhoff). In the crime show’s first season, we learned that his dedication to the FBI led his fiancée to leave him—and just when things began to look good for them again, she was murdered. For a brief time, he took drugs to alleviate his pain.

A few years later, it was revealed that the father of the stalwart, slightly rigid Ressler was a cop in Detroit who was killed by his corrupt partner after he wouldn’t take a bribe. If you’re curious about the young Donnie Ressler and what led him to be the Fed we see today, you'll want to watch May 1's Ressler-centric episode.

(Virginia Sherwood/NBC)

"Brothers," featuring guest star Anthony Michael Hall as Don’s brother Robbie, was directed by Mahesh Pailoor, who is part of NBC’s Emerging Director Program, the network's initiative for ethnically diverse male and gender non-binary directors, aiming to increase representation among scripted series directors.

Klattenhoff gives us a preview.

Back in 2015, we learned about Ressler’s dad. Did you ask for something more about your character’s origins?

Diego Klattenhoff:  It just popped up. It’s funny because the producers [Jon Bokenkamp and John Eisendrath] said they wanted to see this in the first two seasons, because they had this great story of  Ressler’s complicated family history and why Ressler is the way he is. But the story changed, and I thought it eventually went away after Ressler revealed what happened to his father. It was a bit of a disappointment, but it did help inform the character some. Then halfway through this season, the department heads and producers said they had this great episode all about Ressler and his brother and here we are.

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At the end of the last episode, we saw Don’s brother Robbie (Anthony Michael Hall), who asked him to go with him back to Detroit because a field was going to be torn up for construction and something there could be unearthed. Should we assume it has to do with his father?

I can tell you that there’s a secret under there and they have to go and deal with it. His older brother’s visit turns everything upside down.

(Virginia Sherwood/NBC)

While Don became an FBI agent, what happened to Robbie?

He didn’t travel too far from home and he’s been through many ups and downs. My character bailed him out of quite a few troubles.

There are flashbacks to when Donnie, as he was known then, was in his mid-teens. What was he like then? Straitlaced or not so much?

I’ll say not what most people might have imagined. Donald Ressler was very different as a teenaged boy [compared to how] he is now. We’ll see the dynamic between the brothers and what they go through when their father is killed. We’ll see that Robbie was in the police academy.  And we’ll see what changed the trajectories of both their lives and come to a better understanding of Donald Ressler. We’ll also see how this trip home affects him and what happens afterwards.

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How would you describe the episode?

The episode is exciting; it has dark humor and is also heartfelt and emotional at times. And for me, it was terrific working with Anthony Michael Hall, being a fan of his. Everybody loves the guy and loves his work. To have him come on to play my older brother and go on this adventure with him, I couldn’t ask for better casting. It added so much to the episode, which is not a traditional Blacklist episode at all. It’s the only episode that Red Reddington is not in!

Let’s pivot to Ressler’s relationship with Liz Keen. There’s a lovely conversation near the end of the episode between them. He was unsure of her abilities when she joined the task force but they’ve gotten closer, especially since her husband died.

They’ve caught 150 blacklisters together and there’s a lot of mutual admiration and trust. We’ll see where it progresses from here. Of course, he has a soft spot for her after what happened with her [late] husband Tom, having to raise her child by herself and dealing with Reddington.

(Virginia Sherwood/NBC)

Plus a mother who is an infamous Russian spy! What does Ressler offer her? Stability, it seems. What else?

They talk about that in the episode. People who watch will have a better understanding of their relationship and where they’re at.

Do fans want them to get together? It seems clear that he has feelings for her.

It seems half of them do and half of them don’t. You can’t please them all, right?

Do you think they will have a romance?

Sometimes it seems that might happen and the next minute there’s no chance. But we have Season 8 locked in, so whenever the craziness out in the world winds down and we get back to work, we’ll find out.

The Blacklist, Fridays, 8/7c, NBC