The Strangest Man on TV

Why the gloriously bizarre James Spader is the most intense guy in any room

James Spader in New York in March 2014
Max Vadukul
By Andrew Goldman
Apr 06, 2014

FOR ANYONE HOPING THAT JAMES SPADER, in real life, may share any traits with any of the endearing but oddball James Spader characters that James Spader has become famous for, James Spader does not disappoint. “It can never, ever, ever get weird enough for me,” he likes to say. Indeed, his work reflects him, and at first glance, the Spader who strides through the doors of New York’s 8th Street Stumptown cafe might actually be The Blacklist’s criminal mastermind, Raymond “Red” Reddington. Spader wears a Reddington-esque forest-green felt fedora that matches his forest-green scarf, which matches the lenses of his sunglasses. “It’s a fine hat, it’s not a great hat," Spader corrects me when I note the similarity. “Red wears finer hats than that. It’s an everyday hat for me. I’ve got a lot of hats.” (In fact, between his summer straw and winter collections, divided between New York and his home in Los Angeles, he reckons he owns around 30.) He’s also wearing a black wool overcoat, which a bit later I learn conceals a heavy cowhide motorcycle jacket, which itself covers a down vest, which he wears over a cashmere cardigan. True, it’s a cold winter day, the morning after a big snowstorm, but the sheer bulk of his outerwear suggests how your mom might dress you for the Iditarod. “Incredibly wind-resistant,” Spader says of his outfit, thumping his midsection proudly, only the faintest hint of a smile on his face. “All elements, this is impervious to.” We drop by his Greenwich Village carriage house, which he shares with his girlfriend of more than a decade, actress Leslie Stefanson. The couple have a five-year-old son, Nathanael, who, in addition to two sons in their twenties from his previous marriage, will be Spader’s final offspring. “I believe in a negative population growth,” he says. “The other two were with another mother, so we have three boys that will replace all three of us.”

Until you understand one thing about Spader, there’s an oddness about him that is difficult to put a finger on – how intent he seems to be in depositing each of the American Spirits he finishes directly into garbage cans, how seriously he takes the task of providing a walking tour of his neighborhood, trotting around and showing the mews where e.e. cummings once lived (“He changed the energy of poetry, but there were some anti-Semitic problems that bothered me”). “I’m obsessive-compulsive,” he admits later. “I have very, very strong obsessive-compulsive issues. I’m very particular.” There are rituals common to obsessive-compulsives Spader must do – step-on-a-crack-break-Mother’s-back-type stuff – but it’s even more pervasive than that. “I rely on a certain routine,” he says. “It’s very hard for me, you know? It makes you very addictive in behavior, because routine and ritual become entrenched. But in work, it manifests in obsessive attention to detail, and fixation. It serves my work very well: Things don’t slip by. But I’m not very easygoing.”

His co-stars agree with this assessment. “He has all his own idiosyncrasies,” says William Shatner, Spader’s former Boston Legal co-star. “I really love him. And when you love someone, that’s part of why you love them. Of course, if you fall out of love, they become beyond annoyances.” Spader couldn’t watch people eating on set. “Our craft-service table was located near the stage entrance, so he had to avoid walking by and watching people licking their fingers or spreading butter on a bagel,” Shatner recalls, noting that for kicks he would occasionally smear Vaseline on Spader’s prop glass. “He’d react with horror.

This is an extract. To read the full story, pick up a copy of Rolling Stone Middle East

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