Photos: Sarah Merians Photography | Fashion styling: Chloe Hartstein | Hair: Carolyn Riley | Makeup: Deanna Bell
Megan Boone is the type of woman who always commits fully to the things she’s passionate about.
Case in point: When she was a kid, she was cast in a production of “Oliver” and she made sure that she really looked like a boy onstage: “I played a lost boy in ‘Oliver’ the musical. It was when it was cool to shave underneath your hair in the 90s or late 80s—so I did that and put the rest of my hair in a hat so I would really look like a boy on stage,” she says. “That was it for me. All I wanted was to play Dodger. I just wanted to be further and further down-stage, saying more and more lines. That was my entre into the performing arts.”
Fast forward a couple decades, and the 34-year-old Florida-native’s sense of commitment has only deepened. She’s played FBI agent Elizabeth “Liz” Keen, opposite James Spader’s Raymond “Red” Reddington, on NBC’s long-running high-crime drama “The Blacklist” for four seasons now (season five premieres on September 27). She’s a mother to a now 16-month-old daughter, Caroline, whom she’s raising with her husband Dan Estabrook, a visual artist. And she’s an ardent advocate for environmental causes. In the age of so-called “green-washing,” it can be hard to tell which eco-ventures are the real deal, but Boone lives the adage that actions speak louder than words.
She arrived at our cover shoot via her own bicycle. She politely says “no, thank you” to plastic water bottles. It makes her day when her makeup artist takes care to show up with an eco-friendly kit of natural cosmetics for her cover look [Editor’s Note: See the photo caption above to get the scoop on the beauty products used in this feature]. She’s been accepted to Bard College to get her MBA in sustainability. She’s spoken publicly in Washington DC on behalf of Moms Clean Air Force during a lobbying initiative (see video below). And she recently launched a fundraising project of her own called Caroline Agnes—named for her daughter and for her “Blacklist” character’s daughter—which sells American-made onesies crafted from organic materials and emblazoned with original artwork of endangered animals [see page 36 for more info]. Proceeds go to EarthJustice, an organization working to fight legal battles key to safeguarding our planet.
“[After my daughter was born] I had to ask myself: ‘How do I want to contribute to this moment where human activity—my activity—is contributing to our children’s world?’” Boone explains. “I recognized that in the space of environmentalism, in this current political climate, that the environmental litigators were our first line of defense against complete tyranny. I wanted to do what I could to not only help finance them, but promote them, and teach people that they are here for, not us, but for our kids.”
The urgency and determination in her voice when Boone speaks about what she modestly describes as her “first steps” into the sustainability space, is palpable. And she deftly steers the discussion to a simple conclusion that makes the issue relatable to all parents: It’s about families creating a better future for their precious little ones. As she puts it, in context of her work this past summer with Moms Clean Force: “I can’t imagine any group of people who would care more about this issue than mothers.”
To dig deeper into Boone’s life as a crusader against climate change and active new mama, as well as into what’s in store for season five of “The Blacklist” this fall, we spoke to her over snacks of organic berries and veggies on a sunny Saturday right in thick of her filming schedule.
What is your daughter, Caroline, like right now?
She’s very willful but also has this interesting, sort of contradictory quality of also being cooperative. I’m less worried about her than I think I might be if she weren’t so sure of what she wanted and that’s just her nature, which is so interesting to watch. [Babies] just sort of come into this world as themselves and they’re fully formed characters.
How do you like to spend quality family time with your daughter and husband?
As a family we like to get out of the city. We try to take one big vacation a year and see other parts of the world. This year we went over to Greece and hung out with some friends who got married there and then hopped over to an island. It was beautiful to see… We [also] like to get into nature, and Dan and I are working on a lot on activism as well. Dan is very involved in social justice issues and I’m really involved in environmental justice issues.
You grew up in Florida. Does it surprise you now that you’re raising your family in NYC?
Everything about my life surprises me. Everything! I think about that all the time—I see who I’ve become, my interests, where I am in life, and I could not have predicted it… It’s great! Life is so full of surprises and left turns. I would have never predicted that I would raise my family in Brooklyn or anything like that.
Thus far, what have the biggest joys and challenges of motherhood been?
The challenge for me has been the physical challenge of being a working mom…the lack of sleep and experiencing all of the various physical steps of creating a human being and being a mother. But the resilience that I’ve found, as an individual, because of that, has been really empowering. And joys? Well, I’ve never loved anyone more and I’ve never understood love more until now, if that qualifies as joyful. Also, mornings! There’s nothing better than nudgey, half-sleeping toddler who’s just repeating “mama, mama, mama.”
How would you describe your parenting style? Do you have a parenting philosophy that you like to follow?
I think that for me, the most effective thing is being there with Caroline when I am with her. I want her to be secure and know that I’m there but I don’t try to direct her play, I try to follow her play. I try to follow her interests and read her and really get to know her because if she’s known by me then she’ll get to know herself.
Have you and Dan fallen into a good routine and balance with sharing the responsibilities of parenting?
Going into this, we had a really clear idea of the division of labor and how each of our aptitudes would contribute to this family. And we were right! We fell into it pretty well—not to say that it isn’t a challenge to be the heads of a household…but Dan is an incredibly talented and patient man so those qualities have been invaluable in this adventure.
As a working mother, and as an actress with an unconventional schedule, how do you tackle the work-life balance question?
It took me a really long time, even as a single woman, to manage my life as an actress, but iCal is helpful, [and so is] learning how to communicate with your different departments on-set to figure out what information you need in order to manage your life, and seeking help! I recognize that I can’t do it alone, so community and family are things that I have learned to rely on and contribute to and do my best to maintain a strong alliance with the people in my life. It really does take a village.
“The Blacklist” is coming back in September for season five. What can fans expect and be excited about for the new season?
I’m excited about the season after shooting for a week. Kaplan, last season, dismantled Reddington’s [James Spader’s character] criminal empire, so Red spends a lot of this season building back up what he once had. So we’ll get an understanding of what that takes and we’ll also be introduced—which is the most fun thing—to a lot of funny criminals and interesting characters that will become part of Red’s posse.
How would you describe your character, FBI agent Liz Keen, to someone who’s less familiar with the show?
She’s in a very challenging position. I would also say that it is so extremely exciting that she can’t tear herself away. There’s just something seductive about Reddington’s world that she can’t seem to kick. She found herself swept up in this world that she didn’t expect to be swept up in. She’s doing what she can, not only to survive, but to make things better. So there’s an aspirational quality to her nature. She wants to overcome, she wants to improve, she wants to be good.
Liz Keen is also a mother, and you were actually pregnant while filming her pregnancy and birth scenes.
We were actually giving birth at the same time. While I was in labor, I could have turned the television on and watched my character give birth to her baby. I probably made history.
Did you bring your own pregnancy experiences, emotions, and insights into the role at all? Was there much crossover?
It was actually a situation where I had to detach and compartmentalize from my actual experience. Because I was a first-time mother and when you’re pregnant for the first time and have to give birth to a child for the first time, it’s all new and you don’t know anything. Every single woman that I know now—because I have had friends who had babies after me—was scared and had to take care of themselves through that experience. For me, I had to compartmentalize my life and my work in order to manage, for instance, my character having an emergency C-section two months before I was supposed to have a baby, or almost dying in labor two months before I was supposed to have a baby. So I did not spend a lot of time associating my experience with that experience.
Your fundraising project to benefit environmental causes is named for your own daughter and Liz’s daughter, Agnes. What was the catalyst for starting this project?
Before I had Caroline, and before Agnes was on “The Blacklist,” I was aware of some of the environmental issues that were going on that were dire but I saw them as too big for me to take on and far beyond my lifetime. And then she was born, and suddenly time stretched out beyond my life into her future life and her potential children’s lives, and suddenly I was an ancestor in the making. This new concept of time had me looking very seriously into how this problem would affect her. And what I discovered devastated me. And I realized that this wasn’t something that was far beyond my lifetime or something that I couldn’t take on at all, because it was happening right now, devastating communities of people, and something that I had to face that I contributed to on a daily basis. So once I was awakened to it and she was born, I had this new life that mattered more to me than anything else… We don’t inherit the Earth from our ancestors, we borrow it from our children—that’s a Native American proverb—and we’re not doing a good job! [Caroline Agnes] is just a first step, for me, into being active in this space.
All the art—the drawings of vulnerable animal species—on the onesies that Caroline Agnes sells is original too.
It’s original artwork and I’ll release a new original design [with art by Usagi Brand] when the [new season] premieres. I’m also working with another artist in Florida who’s passionate about ocean conservation, so I’ve got another line down the road. And this will just be a project that I continue while “The Blacklist” is still on the air, because the name Caroline Agnes is totally associated with my work there, but this is an initiation into the world of environmental advocacy… EarthJustice is the benefactor for the current line and the next line will benefit the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC).
In addition to “The Blacklist” do you have any other exciting projects on the horizon?
I’m going to get my MBA in sustainability at Bard, part time, for the next three years. So in between takes, I’m usually doing accounting or making spreadsheets, lately, in preparation for some coursework at Bard. I’d like to find a way to create human stories without denigrating our source of life. And I think there’s got to be a way to create production models that give back a little more and are less wasteful.
To catch Megan Boone on “The Blacklist” this fall, tune in to NBC on September 27 at 8pm & visit nbc.com/the-blacklist! To learn more about Caroline Agnes, visit carolineagnes.org!