The Starz drama series Black Sails is set in 1715, when the Golden Age of Piracy in the Caribbean is at its height and the former British colony of New Providence Island is now lawless territory controlled by the most notorious pirate captains in history. As the British Navy returns to these waters and the threat of extinction looms, Captain Flint (Toby Stephens) finds an ally in Eleanor Guthrie (Hannah New), the daughter of the local smuggling kingpin who is looking to make a name for herself, and together they devise a plan to hunt the ultimate treasure and save their home. From Platinum Dunes, the show also stars Luke Arnold, Zach McGowan, Jessica Parker Kennedy, Tom Hopper, Toby Schmitz, Clara Paget, Mark Ryan and Hakeem Kae-Kazim.
During this exclusive interview with Collider, actress Hannah New talked about how she came to this show, how much fun it is to play the woman in charge, how happy she was to get the Season 2 pick-up before Season 1 had ever aired, why Eleanor is a woman incapable of loving, why she has to forget her guilt and move forward, and that Eleanor and Captain Flint share the same vision for the greater good. She also talked about her experience playing the mother of Sleeping Beauty in the highly anticipated Disney film Maleficent. Check out what she had to say after the jump, and be aware that there are some spoilers.
HANNAH NEW: Yeah! Telling a lot of pirates where to stick it is quite a fun job. When I first read the pilot, I was like, “Wow! Oh, my god! I can’t wait to do that!” She is just such a formidable force. Really finding that and making it real is fun. The stakes are always so high in the show. Everything she deals with either has the threat of violence or the threat of her business going under. She has so much to deal with, and she can’t deal with it lightly. She has to go in heavy-handed, and that’s a very fun way to deal with situations. Sometimes I wish I could do the same.
How did you come to this show?
NEW: I had finished shooting a Disney film in London, and then I came out to L.A. to be here for six months. It was my first audition. I thought, “I’m gonna have fun with this one. I really want it, but it’s unlikely.” And I really enjoyed the audition, so much, because I just got to play. I got to get really into her and just go for it. And then, my second audition was a chemistry read with Jessica Parker Kennedy, who plays Max, and that was phenomenal. She’s just such a generous, incredible actress. She has such an honesty, in the way she plays scenes, that you can’t help but be completely drawn in. I knew that I could definitely work with her. After I had read the pilot, for the fourth time, I was like, “I have to do this! I want it so badly!” And then, I got the offer and had to move to South Africa. It was a fantastic experience. I feel very, very privileged to be able to play her.
What was the Disney movie you were shooting in London?
NEW: Maleficent, which is coming out in May. That was a lot of fun. My role is quite small in it, but I got to play the mother of Sleeping Beauty. She’s still a strong woman, but she’s a princess. She’s a demure, untouchable princess. So, playing a pirate queen is the anti-thesis of that. It’s fabulous to be able to change like that, going from this angelic figure to this very debatable figure. Eleanor does a lot of things that are not very nice. She has to be quite ruthless and Machiavellian in how she deals with situations. So, that switch was quite satisfying, in some ways. Maleficent was a culmination of a lot of dreams. I’d always wanted to work at Pinewood Studios. And then, there was that childhood dream of being a Disney princess. And working with the caliber of actors that are in that is just something else.
Is it reassuring that you’d already gotten a Season 2 pick-up before Season 1 ever aired?
NEW: Yeah. At the end of Season 1, it feels like the story is only just getting started. As we left, we were all going, “How can you leave the season on this kind of cliffhanger? What’s going to happen with it?” And then, when we heard we were getting a second season, we were just over the moon. We couldn’t wait to get back and get started again. And Season 2 is amazing because the story grows, globally. You will get much more of the global context of the story. I think people will really be ready to see what the implications of these activities on this small island really were, and how it affected governments and policy, outside of the Bahamas and in America. The story has to spread to places like Boston, Charleston and London. All of that needs to play into what’s happening in Nassau. It’s the nucleus of what was going on, at the time, with colonialization. It’s a very exciting time period and an exciting place to bring to light.
How do you view Eleanor Guthrie?
NEW: She was thrown into the position, in the sense that her father is the legitimate front and she is the illicit side of the business. She’s left with the dirty work of actually getting the loot off the pirates, organizing it all, selling it back, and making sure the rates are the right rates. She’s left with a lot of responsibility, but it’s a responsibility that she relishes. She has a lot to prove. Some people might say, “There’s no proof that women actually did that,” but if you just think about the logistics of it and how these places were run, when the men were off looting for prizes, perhaps those women just didn’t make it into the history books because it’s an uncomfortable truth for a lot of people that women could wield that kind of power. It’s a real privilege to bring her to light. More than anything, it crystallizes a lot of things in society today. Maybe these societies that were young and newly forming were more advanced than we are, in lots of ways, today. Women in business are still having to fight to get the top jobs. It’s a fabulously fun thing to do, as an actress, to take all of those elements into a melting pot, and run with it and play with it.
Can Eleanor truly love and allow herself to be loved?
NEW: She is someone who is incapable of loving, in that abandonment sense of actually letting herself completely be vulnerable. She’s self-sufficient, and she has to be. So, giving over everything to anyone is never going to happen. She has to rely on herself. Being a visionary and having an ideal that goes beyond her own personal desires or emotions means that she constantly has to subjugate her own desires, in order to fulfill this much bigger ambition that she has. That’s a constant trial. I think she’s constantly internally battling with that. She thinks that she’s making the right decision. The casualties that are left by the wayside affect her, but she has to see beyond that. In some way, she feels a greater sense of responsibility toward the island than her own personal desires. It’s amazing to play a character that has that kind of ambition. There’s something very egotistical about it. But at the same time, her vision is something that will benefit everyone else on the island. The greater good is still something that she has in mind.
Do you think she even has an awareness of how she treats the people who care about her?
NEW: I think she does, but I think she has to forget that guilt to be able to move forward. Like any psychological trauma, she puts it in a little box and thinks it’s never going to come back to bite her in the ass, but it probably will. With regards to Max, she does realize that she doesn’t have that confidante anymore. She doesn’t have that other person that she can really rely on for mutual support. She becomes a lone fighter and a lone figure, so very quickly. She has such a fall from grace, so early on, that when I first read the first three episodes, I was like, “How the hell is she going to pull back from that?” Not only is her business in a very perilous position, but her emotional life is a wreck and her relationships are wrecks. But she’s only striving for one thing, so she puts everything behind that one thing. Her determination is absolutely un-fallible. It’s amazing to play someone whose objective is such a big one and who has such grandiose ideas and who is a visionary.
What keeps her so faithful to Captain Flint, when everyone else tells her not to be?
NEW: I think she sees in Flint that same ideal, and I think that’s what keeps her going. She sees in him the desire for a new civilization and the desire for a nation that can be self-sufficient. Ultimately, that’s what she thinks the solution is, and that that’s the only way they can maintain their freedom. Fighting for economic and political freedom is something that Flint is the biggest advocate of. Even though what he’s searching for is essentially a capitalist gain, he’s talking about coming back and building forts and investing in an island, and making the place she grew up safe. She’s seen this place burned to the ground, twice in her lifetime. Her mother was killed because of it. When you hear about children who have experienced war, they have a very different attachment to the place that they were born in and grew up in. She sees that Flint is the only one who shares that vision. He sees beyond. In lots of ways, that’s their connection. It’s an ideological connection. There’s such a profound level to how she functions that there’s so much ground for narrative, with regard to that. Flint comes from a different background, as well, and he’s fighting against that background, in the same way that Eleanor is. That’s another point of identification that they both get and identify with and strive for. You get the sense that he’s the one person she knows that can make this better.
Since Eleanor has a tendency to burn bridges, any chance she gets, who can she rely on?
NEW: In a lot of ways, burning bridges is about creating a reputation, just like pirates create a fearsome reputation that strikes the fear of God into every ship that they board. The reality of it is that most pirate prizes aren’t much of a fight. They surrender pretty quickly, and the ones that don’t surrender are ripped to pieces. That was their propaganda. If you ever try to fight against them, they will burn you to the ground. And Eleanor does that, the same way. She has to make a stand, and if anyone crosses her, the consequences are dire. She lays that groundwork with such strength that she cannot ever regret it, and she doesn’t. It’s part of her politics, and it’s part of how she manages to maintain a position of power. Sometimes it doesn’t always work out for the best, and it creates awkward situations, but ultimately, she makes a stand that shows everyone that for anyone who tries to cross her, she’s a formidable force and she’s not going to be crossed lightly.
Black Sails airs on Saturday nights on Starz.