Behind the Screens with Joshua Maloni
Like the character she’s playing, Anya Banerjee earned a unique chance to join a well-established team wresting its way through myriad layers of spy craft.
She joins NBC’s “The Blacklist” for its 10th and final season. Banerjee plays Siya Malik – and if that last name sounds familiar, it’s because Siya is the daughter of Meera Malik (Parminder Nagra). Her mother was an original task force member who met an untimely end trying to protect the world’s most-wanted criminal mastermind – Raymond “Red” Reddington (James Spader) – who has turned FBI informant.
“This is my first real TV role ever,” Banerjee said in a phone interview this week.
“I was born in Platteville, Wisconsin, and raised in Auckland, New Zealand; and returned to the states in 2017 for the Columbia MFA in acting. I was in New York, graduated in 2020. And, you know, just everything was pretty uncertain, of course; and I was auditioning, because I was lucky enough to have a great team of reps. And when this breakdown came through, something in me just immediately formed an emotional attachment to the character – which they kind of say, ‘Oh, maybe you shouldn't do, because it's an audition. You just do it and you let it go.’ But I think the way that the writers had crafted this character as a throwback to Meera Malik in the first season, I felt like there was a really important job for me to do – and the fact that they entrusted me as a newcomer to do that is just beyond belief.”
As the series’ concluding chapter begins, Reddington finds himself in familiar territory: On the run. This time, he’s being pursued by Wujing (Chin Han), one of the first “Blacklisters” “Red” handed over to the task force. Wujing has learned of Reddington’s informant status and seeks to find other betrayed baddies in taking down their traitor.
The task force, meanwhile, is down two members, with the departure of agents Aram Mojtabai (Amir Arison) and Alina Park (Laura Sohn). Learning “Red” has reemerged from hiding (or vacation – they’re not entirely sure), FBI Director Harold Cooper (Harry Lennix) charges agents Donald Ressler (Diego Klattenhoff) and Dembe Zuma (Hisham Tawfiq) to find Reddington, and keep him – and the team – alive.
Learning more about Wujing’s plan, Cooper know his team will need another ally if it’s going to continue tracking down the most notorious lawbreakers.
Siya arrives in an unexpected way, and finds she might be able to learn more about her mother while working to wipe off names.
Banerjee shared more about the final season of “The Blacklist,” and how Siya fits in, as part of this edited Q&A.
Anya Banerjee stars as Siya Malik on “The Blacklist.” (NBC photo by Will Hart)
Q: Tell me about your character. As you said, she's sort of like a second-generation “Blacklister,” if you will.
Anya Banerjee: I love that. I love that description. Yeah, so Siya Malik is the daughter of the late CIA agent Meera Malik, who tragically died in the line of duty in the first season. And Meera died when Siya was still a young teenager. So, a terribly impressionable age. And not having any of the details surrounding how and why she died, really drove Siya to seek out the answers to those questions herself, and actually pursue a career in intelligence herself. That's what's driven her to meet up with task force at the beginning of season 10.
Q: You mentioned this is your first work on television. I can only imagine what it's like on a day-to-day basis to go to the set, with all of the production, with this cast and this creative team, and trying to learn your lines with everything else that goes into making a huge TV show. And yet, I see you on screen – I see you in these first two episodes – and you fit in so well with the story and the other actors. How does that come about?
Tell me about your approach. This is a show that’s been very successful – and it's in its final season. All of these people are very much a well-oiled machine. So how do you insert yourself in such an efficient way where it’s so seamless – like you've been on the show for 10 years and not just one?
Anya Banerjee: Well, in terms of my approach to the character, I definitely did what you've been doing. I binged the first season, especially with close attention to Parminder’s performance, and just started employing some of the things I learned at school: crafting a backstory for my character; imagining what it would be like to grow up with this incredible mother, who's both a wonderful role model and frustratingly secretive about the nature of her work.
And I, myself, have always been really interested in politics and international relations. So, encountering all of those dynamics, along with the jargon and the scripts, was just thrilling and fun for me.
In terms of the actual work (laughs), I was lucky enough to be thrown straight into the deep end with stunts and firearms training. I have some pretty action-packed scenes early on in the season.
And yeah, it was a lot for me to absorb, as well as breaking down the intentions for my character within the script, and figuring out how to relate to these characters who all know each other very, very well at this point – and I'm stepping in as a newcomer. So that was a satisfying challenge.
I remember the first scene I got to shoot was with Harry Lennix – the incredible Harry Lennix – who was just so warm and welcoming. And I remember having the sense of actually just stepping into a family, and being embraced by this family; and when you look around on that set, and you see all of the crew who have come together to support this incredible cast for such a long time, you really do feel like, “Wow, I'm being welcomed into something special.”
Q: There's a line that your character says in the first episode: You say, “I think I decided right then and there, I’d do whatever it took to get in the room where the secrets are revealed.” It's such a great line. It's interesting that you, as an actor, are sort of trying to learn more about this show and its backstory – and at the same time, your character is trying to learn more about this team and its backstory. The fact that you're both on this quest, is that an advantage to you in shaping this character?
Anya Banerjee: Absolutely. I mean, I mentioned that I was emotionally connected to this storyline because myself, in my career as this actor who's just graduated from an MFA program, hungry to put those skills that they've got to the test in a professional environment, I felt like Siya, although she's been working for MI6 for a while now, still has this desire to prove that she can be an asset to the task force – at the same time as pursuing her own personal agenda, which is finding more and more out about her mother.
I think she'll find herself juggling the duties that Harold Cooper gives her – the jobs that she's supposed to get done – with her own desire to get close to “Red” Reddington and find out what he knows about her mom.
Q: I'm sure that you, Anya, would wind up on the blacklist if you revealed any sort of spoilers to me in this interview. But what can you safely say the audience can look forward to as the season begins?
Anya Banerjee: (Laughs) I can safely say that this final season we'll see some of the old and some of the new. The task force and "Red" will face unprecedented danger – physical and emotional obstacles that will push them to the limits. Fans can expect to see more of that high-octane action and intrigue that keeps them coming back for the next episode – and has successfully done so for so many seasons.
But for those who are joining new, I hope that they can use my new character, Siya Malik, as a kind of gateway to discover these characters; discover the world of “The Blacklist” through fresh eyes as we come to the final chapter.
Q: Well done. Well done. NBC has trained you well.
Anya Banerjee: (Laughs)
Hisham Tawfiq as Dembe Zuma and Anya Banerjee as Siya Malik in “The Blacklist” episode "The Night Owl." (NBC photo by Will Hart)
Q: You mentioned how welcoming the cast and the crew have been, but in terms of your craft – I mean, Harry has had an amazing career. James Spader is one of the best television actors of the past 20 years. What have you learned from these great actors?
Anya Banerjee: I mean, these people are my heroes. And without getting too emotional, these are lifelong connections that I've been blessed to have made.
They've consistently demonstrated invaluable lessons in the craft – and the business of acting. And it really is bittersweet, because I've just met all of these people, and now I have to say goodbye.
But coming from theater, I'm used to sort of having four weeks with an ensemble and then letting go – so this is actually – oddly – a long period to be working on the same character and storyline. I am grateful.
I'll say that I spoke a little bit about Harry's warmth and his gravitas; and the way that he approaches his character with dignity, and is aware of the fact that his character has wider social implications for the kind of messaging that he sends about police in this country.
And working with the real-life hero, Hisham Tawfiq, him bringing his experiences as a firefighter and a marine to the show is just tremendous.
Diego, always cracking jokes and making a playful atmosphere, so that we don't get bogged down in too much of the seriousness and the bleakness of the show.
And then, of course, the great James Spader, who has been nothing but generous and kind with his time. Working opposite him, I've learned a lot about the importance of specificity in my acting. Every time I've had the chance to work opposite him, it feels like something magical changes in the air – and that's definitely a goal for me going on, is being able to command an atmosphere, be it on set or on stage.
Q: This is, of course, the victory lap season for “The Blacklist.” We know it's going to end. For fans and readers – for my audience, who’s going to be interested in learning more about you and your future projects – where's the best place for them to keep up with what's new and exciting in your career?
Anya Banerjee: Well, in this day and age of modern technology, I suppose I'd say Instagram is probably your most up-to-date thing.
I'm really at a point in my career where I am excited to work with as many people who are brave enough to challenge the status quo and try new, exciting, unexpected things. So, who knows what's next, really? All I can say is if I have the chance to work with any of the wonderful people on this show again, I will jump at it.
My Instagram is @AnyaBanerjee, and yeah, please feel free to follow along.
Thank you! Thank you so much to all of the fans of the show. Really, none of this could have been possible without you, and I'm so excited for you to meet Siya.
“The Blacklist” airs at 10 p.m. Sundays on NBC.
“The Blacklist” marks its 200th episode. Pictured, from left: Hisham Tawfiq, Anya Banerjee, James Spader, Harry Lennix, Diego Klattenoff and Deirdre Lovejoy. The cast and crew of NBC’s signature drama celebrated production of the series’ landmark episode from the hit series’ New York-based stages on Oct. 6, 2022. (NBC photo by Scott Gries)
“The Blacklist” (NBC key art)