Zach McGowan and Hakeem Kae-Kazim on ‘Black Sails’ and Their Time on the High Seas

     March 20, 2016

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When a story, like the one in Starz’s epic drama series Black Sails, is being told in a world that’s extremely dangerous and with ultra high stakes, it’s not a matter of if some of your favorite characters might end up dead, but when. And when the British Empire is vying for control of Nassau, as much as you might hate to admit it, you know that not all of your favorite pirates will survive the battle.

**Be aware that we will be discussing major spoilers, if you are not caught up with the series**

After getting the chance to view “Episode XXVII”, Collider had the opportunity to speak with actors Zach McGowan (“Captain Charles Vane”) and Hakeem Kae-Kazim (“Mr. Scott”), who have both been on the series since the beginning, about the departure of their characters and the affect that they might have on what comes next. They talked about how they felt about the final outcome of their character, how they got the news, and the experience of shooting their last scene.


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Image via Starz

Collider: Zach, it’s so sad to see your character depart the show because Captain Vane was such a great character.

ZACH McGOWAN: Well, thank you! Know that, as sad as it is, and it’s bittersweet in many ways, for me and for everyone, it is what it is, in the end. As much as you can kill Charles Vane off of Black Sails, Zach McGowan is still around, alive and kicking, and I get to bring a lot of the aspects of myself to many other roles. I’m making a movie right now where I’m not playing that different of a character, and I’m having a blast doing it. I get to bring parts of myself to these roles and have fun doing it. I had a fun time doing it for Black Sails, and I’ll have a fun time doing it for a lot of other things.

Hakeem, Mr. Scott has been such an interesting and complex character who keeps so much inside, and it will be sad not to get to know him even further.

HAKEEM KAE-KAZIM: Yeah. The roots of where he came from and the world that he lives in is one that he’s been forced to live in and make do with. That made him a very watchful, introspective guy who keeps his cards very close to his chest. Whether they’re pirates or not, this is not a world full of men who, as far as he’s concerned, have the spirit of humanity in them.

How did you feel about your character’s final outcome? After playing this guy for three seasons, as you at peace with what his end point ultimately was?

McGOWAN: Oh, yeah! I couldn’t have asked for a better arc and for a better story to be told through a character I was playing. He is as close to me as he is to everyone else, as far as the love for him goes. When the show started, he was the villain. As you do on any cable series, if they introduce you as the villain, then you better start working towards making him a really good guy, or if they introduce you as a really good guy, then you better start working towards being the villain. Your character has to go somewhere, or else they become very uninteresting. I felt like Jon [Steinberg], Robert [Levine] and the crew gave me such a gift, in that. I was so happy that I got to be the first one to get hung. My dad is a marine. You lead from the front, not from the back. They let me do that, and let me do it so fearlessly. That was important to me. He’s not saying sorry. He’s not sorry. He’s sorry that Eleanor didn’t want to have a life with him. That’s what he’s sorry about. He’s not sorry for the people who wanted to kill him that he killed, or for stealing things from the British Empire and people who worship kings and queens.


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Image via Starz

KAE-KAZIM: It’s really hard because, on one level, with any of these shows, you never know where you’re character is going to go. When one breathes life into a character, there’s always so much more that you want to get into, but you don’t have that control over the arc of your character. It’s a mixed blessing. For me, as an actor, I would have wanted to explore more. I thought there was so much more that could have been and should have been explored with this character, but there are a lot of other things that go into the mix. I’m talking from the point of view of a selfish actor. Somebody asked me, the other day, why I had those scars on my face, and they’re tribal marks. I’m from Nigeria and I’m a Yoruba, and those are the tribal markings that our people used to have, but don’t have so much anymore. This was a guy who was kidnapped, probably in his early teens, from Africa and he was sold into slavery. There was a character who was very similar to him and had a similar rise, and his name was Black Caesar. He was kidnapped off the coast of Africa and the ship came into the Florida Keys during a big storm, and he was shipwrecked along with one other guy. He became a well-known pirate, all along the Florida coast. I think there’s a place in Florida called Black Caesar’s Cove. He was a prolific pirate, and he worked with Blackbeard, at one point. He was finally arrested and hung by the British, and that was his final demise. So, that was who I based my character on and I would have loved to have explored much more of that side of things, but I’m talking from an actor’s perspective.

How were you told about the way this character’s journey would end?

KAE-KAZIM: They were very nice and gave me a heads up in a phone call. That didn’t make it more palatable, but it’s been a good three years working with everybody. The writers are fantastic, and the cast has been wonderful. It’s a mixed blessing because you want to explore and really get into the depth of your character, as an artist and actor. But, it was a wonderful ride.

McGOWAN: I was actually in the writers’ room with Jon Steinberg, Robert Levine and Dan Shotz, and it was so funny because they were so sad when they were telling me and I was like, “Cool, but he doesn’t say sorry, right?” They were like, “What do you mean?” And I was like, “He’s not begging for his life, right?” They were like, “You’re not begging for your life, either.” I was like, “No, I’m not going to beg for my life! Are you kidding me?! What do you mean?! Let’s be a little more realistic here.” So, they broke it to me and they were like, “What do you think?” I was like, “Well, I think it would be a great tool for the show.” They do a great job of grounding the show in reality. You can’t fight the British Empire as one singular fighter. The pirates are so fractured that maybe it will be something that brings them together. I think it’s something that could have tremendous impact on everyone. I feel like Charles Vane’s legend is greater than who he is. As much as you can kill the man, you can’t kill the legend, so to speak. The way he is will affect others. I think it was a gift, in that way. There was definitely sadness to it, but I can play Charles Vane right now. I have him in me forever. Everyone else is sad because they don’t have him, but I can look in the middle and be like, “Hello, Charles.” I see him all the time.


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Image via Starz

How do you think your character’s death will affect what’s to come?

McGOWAN: When Vane standing up there, I think he’s thinking, “They can kill me, but they can’t kill what I stand for.” When I read it, I called Jon and said, “Thank you!” He said, “Why are you thanking me?” I was like, “‘Cause I’m going out like Braveheart. That’s one of my favorite, if not my favorite, movie of all time, and I was going out like William Wallace. That’s definitely thank you worthy.” There’s sadness and celebration to the fact that, even facing death, he couldn’t be broken from what he believes in. I feel like, if I had pleaded for my life on the show, he would have pleaded for his life to Eleanor, but I wanted to do it right. I wanted to show how terrible it is to hang an unarmed, chained man, and make it about killing someone who’s defenseless. That’s just the greatest cowardice in the world.

KAE-KAZIM: It’s really hard to know whether that side of the story is going to be taken forward. He’s left behind a very strong wife and a strong-willed daughter, and his people are part and parcel of this new tribe now. I imagine them becoming more and more isolated when they realize there is no one they can actually trust. That’s how I imagine it could go, but I have no idea.

Do you think that Mr. Scott died with confidence in his wife and daughter, or do you think he would have preferred that they not have to be in the situation that they’re in?

KAE-KAZIM: He understood it, from his Africa roots, that it’s his job to look after and guide his people, and I think he would have preferred to have been around for that. But also, he has left two very competent people who will do their utmost to do what they can. They’re women in a man’s world, and one mustn’t forget that, especially in that particular period of history. Not only are they women in a man’s world, but they’re black women in a treacherous pirate world. What they can affect and effect is very limited. But like most societies, behind every great man is a great woman.


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Image via Starz

His people would probably have never united with Captain Flint and his pirates, if not for a common villain.

KAE-KAZIM: Yeah, and the common villain for them is slavery, obviously. These people are not free. These people have been ripped from their home, brutally treated, and left with a sense of, where do we go from here? They can’t get back to what was their home, and they’re in a no man’s land that they’ve got to make the best of.

What do you think Mr. Scott saw in Captain Flint and John Silver that led him to encourage his wife and daughter to listen to them?

KAE-KAZIM: I think they’re just a means to an end. They are rogues on the outside of society, very much like him and his people. I think that’s where the common link is. They cannot go into the establishment and be a part of that establishment that doesn’t want them and is fighting against them. The practicality of forging allies, even if, deep down, there isn’t a complete trust of these people, it is better than anything else that is around, at that time, that he can see and foresee. He’s also grown with these men and spent years with these men, and he understands what they’re like. They can turn on a dime, but they are the closest we can get to allies.

What was it like to shoot your last scene for the show?

KAE-KAZIM: Game of Thrones, and shows like that, have set a precedent and you never know if you’re going to last, at all, even if you start as a main character. You expect it, and it’s just another good day at work. It’s just the end of your particular time on this particular part of the journey. That’s the way I take it. It is what it is. You’ve had a great time, you’re blessed to be in a show which has done very well, and you’ve had fantastic people around. For me, it’s a mixed blessing, but it’s a blessing.

McGOWAN: [The death scene] was the second to last scene I shot. The last scene I shot was the horse sequence, which by the way, would have never been possible, unless we had done it as the last thing that season. They weren’t going to let me do it because of the insurance, so everyone was going to have to be in masks. So, I was like, “Well, let’s just do it after, and then I can do it. You won’t need me anymore, if I fall off a horse, or hurt myself jumping off a horse.” I didn’t know I was doing that stunt, for sure, until about two seconds before I jumped onto the horse and pulled it into full gallop chasing the carriage. They were like, “So, do you want to do it?” And I was like, “I didn’t get all dressed up for nothing.” I think we did 12 takes of that, and some were better than others. By the way, one of the most fun moments of my life was doing that sequence.


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Image via Starz

Zach, do you think Captain Vane was misunderstood, and do you think there was anyone who truly understood him for who he was?

McGOWAN: I think he was definitely a misunderstood person, as many people are. It’s very hard to understand what’s going on in someone else’s head. I think the people who understood him the best are probably the people on that show who understand me the best, and that’s definitely [Toby] Schmitz and [Clara] Paget, who play Rackham and Bonny. I think they definitely understand him, and those two actors understand me. We had a pretty great connection. I feel like Vane wishes he was as eloquent as Rackham, and Rackham wishes he was as bad-ass as Vane. And I think that me and Schmitz are like that, as actors. I’m always like, “Schmitz, how are you doing that? That was a monologue that was just meaningless, and you made it so impactful. You hid the fact that you were basically just telling the whole story of this episode, just now.” And he was like, “Dude, how do you get in there with those people and do that?” I was like, “I don’t know. I played football. I’m used to people who are trying to kill me.” What was great was that they wrote me a bunch of exposition towards the end of Vane’s run. I called Jon and said, “Dude, am I doing exposition now?” He was like, “Yeah.” And I was like, “Sweet! I’ll do my best!” I feel like, by the end of his storyline, the audience finally understands him and what’s driving him more. In many ways, he dies a hero’s death. What more can you ask for?

Hakeem, this was a character that we didn’t know much about in the beginning, but we did learn more about him, as time went on. Were you aware of that backstory and history, when you signed on, or did you learn about that along the way, as well?


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Image via Starz

KAE-KAZIM: It’s a mixture of both, actually. Obviously, one does their research and you have a rough idea of the character and his inner life, where he wants to go, and where he should go. But, those are things that you’ve developed on your own. And then, you have the writers and the show itself, which put on these other things. You are part of the learning journey of it. It’s part of the discovery. As we go through life, we never know. We think we’re going in one direction, but life throws curve balls and you adapt and develop, as per.

Obviously, you didn’t know where Mr. Scott would end up or what would ultimately end him, but did he turn out to be anything like the man you envisioned him to be?

KAE-KAZIM: Yeah, deep down, he was spiritually and emotionally very much where I wanted him to be. I would have loved to have explored the other side of him, which was the more combative side of him, but I think he was very much where I wanted him to be.

Black Sails airs on Saturday nights on Starz.

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Image via Starz


black-sails-zach-mcgowan-interview

Image via Starz

black-sails-zach-mcgowan-interview

Image via Starz


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