Black Sails is Starz Network’s latest offering following a band of pirates in the “golden age of piracy”. Taking place in 1715 in the British colony of New Providence Island, Black Sails is looking to offer its viewers a more realistic take on piracy. Recently, Collider was able to sit down and chat with members of the cast and crew to discuss their roles, the origins of the show, and how they hope to introduce audiences to a different shade of swashbuckling. Hit the jump as we talk with show creator Jonathan E. Steinberg, Toby Stephens (Captain Flint), Hannah New (Eleanor Guthrie), Luke Arnold (John Silver), Jessica Parker Kennedy (Max), Zach McGowan (Captain Charles Vane), and Mark Ryan (Gates).
“I’ve been wanting to tell this story for a long time, and we played with it for awhile before falling into the idea of doing a more realistic take on the idea of Treasure Island,” creator Johnathan E. Steinberg said about the recently premiered, Black Sails. “It was a feeling that we gained as we did more research on the topic that viewers don’t know this world, that it’s been so sanitized and influenced by the stories which have been told before, that are essentially campfire stories. The historical reality and truth has been lost over time, and this concept so desperately wants to be a story that’s complicated on all levels but also big and fun for a long running tale.”
One of the main focal points that the creators and actors of the show are trying to put forth to their audience is the idea of realism when it comes to the age of piracy. In media, pirates have been sensationalized through portrayals such as Johnny Depp’s Captain Jack Sparrow and Dustin Hoffman’s Captain Hook; Black Sails is hoping to show the other side. “Part of what was interesting to us is that we perceive pirates as very violent people, whereas it was seen as more of a last resort as they didn’t want to do damage to their crew or their possessions. Rather they wanted to rule over people with fear, without having to necessarily fight for it. When you wrap your head around this, you start to realize that the pirates who lived during this time weren’t blood thirsty, if anything they were ‘hyper rational’ and we try to portray that in Black Sails,” Steinberg added.
“No parrots, no peg legs.” Zach McGowan, Captain Charles Vane on the show, reinforced jokingly. “Although there may have been one in the brothel scene, I’m not sure. May have been cut out in the edits.” Both McGowan and Mark Ryan, who plays Gates, were asked what it was like to play pirates and how they got into the mindset to help themselves prepare for their roles. “When we stepped onto the boats and we were standing side by side with the other actors, it helped to transport us into this other world and it made it that much easier to walk into the shoes of these people.” Ryan described. “It was also a lot of fun and we had a lot of laughs along the way. One of the Starz Producers came up to me at one point and asked, ‘Are you having fun? Are you having a good time?’ and I said ‘I’ve been a Merryman, a Knight at the Round Table, and a giant robot in my career, and now I’m a pirate AND you’re paying me! Dream come true.’ ”
Toby Stephens, who plays the protagonist of the show, Captain Flint, added more about the realism of the show itself. “Most of the show takes place in the island of Nassau which was a real island within the Bahamas, and acted as a hub for pirates where they would fence their stolen goods. I play the most successful of the pirates, and the most terrifying, who is slowly losing a grip on his subordinates. The show will watch my character attempt to survive in this landscape where the currency is fear.” Hannah New, who plays Eleanor Guthrie on the show, chimed in, “My character, Eleanor, takes the goods from Captain Flint and sells them on the black market. Much like other people during the time, Eleanor was well-respected within the community but would use her legitimate ties to fuel her illegitimate empire as the economic and social frontman for the pirates coming to this island.
Finally, we were able to talk with Luke Arnold, who plays the legendary, and much younger version of John Silver, and Jessica Parker Kennedy, who plays Max. “I play a young woman named Max who resides in the most popular brothel on the island, and find myself to be very conniving and manipulative, who is struggling to survive in this hostile environment, especially as a woman! I find myself to be smarter than the pirates I encounter simply because I have to be!” Ms. Kennedy was more than happy to acquire the role of Max, seeing as how she had believed “she didn’t have a chance of landing the part”, which led into an amusing anecdote about what came into play for Arnold getting the role of John Silver. “Well I was having a lot of trouble landing jobs because of my hair actually! In the days of cop procedurals and Law and Orders, no one really had roles for people with a mop of big curly hair, but now that there’s been a great run of historical dramas, I found myself to be a natural fit! This is the role, as a guy, that you wait your entire life for!”
“When you start looking at the cast and their roles, there’s this diverse group of people who are cast perfectly for their characters,” Arnold added. “Everyone will find a favorite character and they will be different for each person.”
In conclusion, creator Jonathan Steinberg wants viewers to know, “Black Sails offers a world that everyone thinks they know a lot about, but in reality they know very little, so we’re hoping to show them.”
Black Sails airs Saturdays at 9pm on Starz.