On Season 2 of the highly ambitious and highly entertaining Starz series Black Sails, Flint (Toby Stephens) and John Silver (Luke Arnold) must join forces to keep themselves and each other alive. While the mysterious Flint finds a way to regain his captaincy and save Nassau, we will also go back in time 15 years to learn more about what’s made him the man that he is now.
During this exclusive interview with Collider, co-stars Toby Stephens and Luke Arnold talked about why Season 2 has been so rewarding for them, Flint and Silver learning how to work with each other under less than ideal circumstances, the seriousness of their situation, the pressures of making this season exponentially bigger than the first, and that they’re doing stuff in Season 3 (which they’re already filming) that they have to figure out how to shoot because it’s never been done on TV before.
Collider: Season 1 seemed to just scratch the surface of who these characters are. Did it feel that same way to you, and were you anxious to learn more about them?
LUKE ARNOLD: I was, absolutely! Season 2, for me, has been really rewarding. I love Season 1, but I think Silver just felt like he was passing through, so he didn’t get too deep into the world. There was no reason for him to expose much more than his first layer. Season 2, for me, has been really about Silver developing a lot and really starting to get invested in this world. He’s starting to see what opportunities he can gain from being a part of it, what it might have to offer him, and what he can offer it. And that’s for all the characters. Season 2, as a viewer, which we all are for each other’s stories, has been really rewarding. There are surprises for every character.
TOBY STEPHENS: It’s the same for Flint, as well. At the end of Season 1, the audience should have been left with a lot of questions about what is driving this guy and why he is this person that seems to want to go to extraordinary lengths to achieve his will. Is he just psychotic, or what is it? What’s great about Season 2 is that we take him back 15 years and we answer those questions. It asks more questions, but we reveal where he came from, his background, who Mrs. Barlow is, what their relationship is about, and why he is who he is, and that’s great. Also, what I love is the partnership between Silver and Flint, which is this uneasy alliance. We’re still working that out in Season 3, which is really fun. It’s not a buddy movie. They need each other, but they don’t like each other and they don’t trust each other.
So, it’s a bromance without the romance?
ARNOLD: That is really it. They see through each other. They’re both people who are very good at pulling the wool over someone’s eyes.
STEPHENS: They think they see through each other. They think they know what’s driving the other person, but actually, they’re constantly having to re-think and re-asses. That’s what’s cool. The more they have to do that, the closer they become. It’s not easy and it’s not sentimental, but it’s quite real, in that way. When you think you know somebody, and then you realize that you don’t know them and that actually they’re more interesting that you thought they were, that’s when it seems real to me.
All of these characters really can only show just what they have to of themselves.
ARNOLD: It can be death.
STEPHENS: In a world like this, a lot of it is about PR. It’s about showing something that will make other people afraid or be threatened by or won’t be able to read, so that you’re hiding something.
ARNOLD: Flint and Silver have a lot of conversations this season about the story that is being told about you and managing that. A lot of what you’re controlling is how people perceive you. Everyone’s livelihood in this world really depends on whether they fear you enough, whether they respect you enough, and what stories are being told about your name. All of the characters really deal with that, this season.
STEPHENS: In Episode 2, they take the ship and you see Flint and Silver observing this process, and Flint describing how this process works, so that an audience also understands it. When you’re taking a merchant ship, you don’t want to have to go through a fight. You want them to shit themselves and go, “Okay, take whatever we have.” I really love that revelation for an audience, as well. They think they know what piracy is about, but this is a pragmatic thing. These people didn’t enjoy this. A lot of it is PR, and it immediately places it in a modern world, where people are still doing that, to a certain extent. Whether it’s commerce, or whatever, we want to put out this image.
Do you think Silver is finally realizing the seriousness of the situation he’s now in?
ARNOLD: He doesn’t realize the weight of the situation he’s in. He doesn’t expect to stay around, so he doesn’t have his guard up, in the same way. When he comes in, he’s pretty open about who he is and what he’s about. He’s like, “Look, I’m just here for this bit of cash. We’re going to work together and get there, and I’m out of here. I don’t want to be a pirate. I don’t want any part of this.” As Season 2 goes on, suddenly he’s realizing that he may not be out of this place as soon as he should be. He has to also start working on how he’s perceived by the crew and by this world. I think that really starts to change him. The Silver of Season 1 is definitely there at the beginning of Season 2, but as this world draws him and he realizes he has to be there longer, he has to start adapting to be more like Flint and to be more like everyone else in this world. You can’t be that smiling asshole, if you have to stick around. He can be that guy and amuse himself and laugh at how serious everyone else is. He just wants to get a big win, get some gold, and go on his merry way. But that does have to change for him, as this becomes a more permanent situation than temporary one.
Nobody knew what they were getting themselves into with this show because nothing of this scale had been done for TV before. Now that you have a season’s worth of experience, is it any easier?
STEPHENS: Season 1 was big, but Season 2 is exponentially bigger, and the pressures on us are exponentially bigger. We have more to do. One of the things that’s great about this, as an actor, but is also exhausting, is the fact that you have huge mounts of dialogue and acting to do, and then it’s coupled with these action sequences that you have to do, at the same time. You’re having to do this mental stuff, and then you’re having to do this physical stuff. It’s the combination of the two that’s just exhausting.
ARNOLD: It’s brutal.
STEPHENS: It’s just gotten bigger and bigger and bigger, and it’s getting bigger, all the time. I love the ambition of it. It remains contained in a real world. It’s not becoming fantastical, but it’s becoming very epic.
ARNOLD: I think the biggest change for Season 2 is the level of ownership that we all feel about the show. Because nothing has been done on this scale, there was a part of our minds that thought we were going to go on the set one day and one of the ships would have fallen down and they’d send everyone home. It felt so colossal. We were always trying to get a grip on it and pull it together and understand what this thing was. And then, with Season 2, even though it was bigger, we knew how to ride it. We knew it was going to be challenging and exhausting, but we knew this world now. We all came back – writers, directors and actors – with a new sense of confidence that, even with the new demands, we could launch ourselves in with a bit more assuredy that we were on the right track.
STEPHENS: The added spin for me was the secondary storyline where we go back to London, 15 years before. That was new. I know where I am in Nassau, and I know where I am on the ships, but I was playing younger, back in London, 15 years prior and with new characters and a new sense of who this person was then. He’s a different person, almost. It was like playing two characters. That was quite exacting, at the time.
ARNOLD: It is something that the writers do, for all of us. They don’t let us do the same thing for too long. You get these scripts that come through and you go, “How did they know I could do this?” They don’t know that I can do it. Even I don’t know if I can do it yet. The faith they have in us is really fantastic.
STEPHENS: We’re doing stuff, at the moment, in the third [season], where they have to figure out how to shoot stuff because it’s stuff that has never been done on TV before. That’s really exciting for everyone because we’re doing stuff that isn’t happening in other shows. We’re not just regurgitating what other people have created. We’re doing something that’s different, and that’s something we’re particularly proud about. We’ve got Treasure Island, but we’re doing it from a totally different angle. We’re out there forging something new, and that’s cool. The first season was us getting used to it. We had to figure out how we were going to do it, and set the whole thing up. We had to figure out how to shoot on ships when we’re landlocked, and how you make it look like we’re at sea.
ARNOLD: Now, it’s about figuring out how to do the coolest thing we’ve ever seen.
STEPHENS: Now, we know we can do that, so we have to figure out where to take it.
Black Sails airs on Saturday nights on Starz.