On the fourth and final season of the Starz drama series Black Sails, Eleanor Guthrie (Hannah New) has helped Woodes Rogers (Luke Roberts) transform Nassau into an impenetrable fortress while Captain Flint (Toby Stephens) amasses a fleet of unprecedented strength, in the hopes of striking the final blow against civilization. But the closer they come to defeat, the more they fight back, setting Flint, John Silver (Luke Arnold) and their allies up for inevitable defeat.
During this 1-on-1 phone interview with Collider, actor Luke Arnold (who’s taken such an incredible journey on the road to becoming Long John Silver) talked about what he’s most proud of with Black Sails, being aware that they were shooting the end of this story, what he took home from the set, the learning curve in finding John Silver’s physicality once he lost his leg, just how much Silver will be tested this season, how much Silver’s goals have changed since the beginning, the crazy stunt and action sequences, and why he’s just not ready to jump into another long-term role yet.
Collider: I’m simultaneously very bummed to be talking to you about the final season of Black Sails and very excited about how amazing this season looks!
LUKE ARNOLD: I think we all have that feeling, as well. We’re so excited to have a final season and finale that we’re really happy with and that we think feels like the right way to go out with the show. And then, it’s also sad to not get to do this anymore.
This show has undoubtedly pushed the limits of what a TV show can do, and it’s been a massive undertaking, for four seasons. Looking back on it, what are you most proud of having been able to accomplish with this show?
ARNOLD: Personally, for me, it’s the journey of Silver. It’s really gratifying for me, every time someone who’s watched the show up to now, goes back to Season 1 and forgets who he was at the beginning of the show, or remembers how they felt about him and who they thought he was and was going to be. It’s such a testament to the writers that you get to go on a journey that is so dramatic, where the character is almost unrecognizable from the beginning to the end, but you believe it, every step of the way. For me, taking him on that journey is exactly what I wanted out of the show. What I want from any role, and especially in television, is to start somewhere, and then end somewhere completely different, but have that journey be believable.
Knowing that this was going to be the last season, did you try to savor every moment while you were in it?
ARNOLD: Yeah! Generally, there isn’t too much time to think about anything else. This season is very physical, and most of it was just trying to physically get through all the action and mentally get through the epic scenes that were so important. Those last few episodes, you know that this is it. If you don’t make the scenes work, then the whole thing is for nothing because it is the end of our journey. So, we were definitely aware that this was going to be the end and that everything had to count. It probably also made us more appreciative. On days when we were suffering with the heat and the physical side of things, we also remembered that that was it. As much as you complain about how tough it is, we only had to do it once more, and then it would be over. It was nice to know that everything we were putting in the can was the final pieces of the story.
When Black Sails was done, did you take anything from the set, or did you just want to leave it all behind?
ARNOLD: It’s interesting, it’s that strange thing where everything changed so much. Nassau was always there, but every character was different. For me, Silver’s look changed so much, and he changed again, a few times, in Season 4. It’s not like some of those characters where you have a particular thing that’s with you from the beginning. There were so many versions of the character that there wasn’t a particular thing that I felt [represented] him. And then, there were the things I wanted to get rid of, like the crutch in Season 4. I was so happy to see the ass end of that. It was great to have, but it caused me so much pain and was a real thing to deal with. But, I did get one present. We were shooting a scene in Season 4 that was back in Eleanor’s office, and I found the piece of paper that I was writing the directions to find the Urca de Lima on, which was the very first scene we shot in Episode 103. Nina Jack, who was one of our producers on Season 4, got it framed and gave it to me as a gift, so I’ve gone away with that. That was amazing! I look at that, and that was day one. Most of the cast had barely met, and we didn’t know what the show or the journey was going to be. So, that’s really good to look at, at the end of the whole thing.
Was there a learning curve, in figuring out how you wanted John Silver’s physicality to be, after he lost his leg?
ARNOLD: Yeah, absolutely! It all changed, at that point. Once the leg was gone, it was about working out how much he was struggling with it and how to go on that journey of him dealing with it. And there are so many stages. In the beginning, he was a man in pain who was scared of showing that pain and wanting to be seen as a complete man still. In Season 3, Silver was worried that, if he showed weakness, he’d be kicked off the ship and be let with nothing. There was a big change between Season 3 and suffering the pain of wearing the peg leg while worrying about how that looks, and Season 4 and being able to discard that and tell a new story. Now, there’s a power in showing that his leg is missing and that defines him. He looks different to everyone else and he moves different to everyone else. Him owning that really becomes a part of him becoming Long John Silver in the fourth season.
John Silver’s gift has been being able to talk and manipulate his way out of just about any situation. Would you say that that’s tested more than ever, this season?
ARNOLD: Yeah, from the beginning. From the first moments of Season 4, he’s put through hell, really, and that does not let up. There are new physical tests and emotional tests. Now, he’s on the front line leading men into battle. Before, he didn’t care about anyone and no one cared about him. There was no emotional pressure put on him. He has really important relationships now, with Billy, Flint, Madi, and all of his men, which puts him under a whole new kind of pressure that we’ve never seen him go through before. Whether it’s the physical stuff or the emotional, Silver is put through all kinds of things that we didn’t even think would be pressure on him before. It’s a big season for Silver.
Do you think Silver’s goal or quest has changed from what it was when he started on this journey?
ARNOLD: I think it’s completely changed. In the beginning, the last thing he wanted was to be a part of anything, especially with these pirates, which seemed like the dumbest career you could ever get into. He wanted to put himself in as little danger as possible, get as much cash as he could, and move on his way. Slowly, he’s become seduced by this world and the people in it, to the point where he really seriously takes responsibility for his role. He wants to do right by not only the pirates and his crew, but also every one of the marooned camp, and Madi and everything she represents. So, it’s completely changed. He’s an absolutely different man, at the beginning of Season 4, than he was at the beginning of Season 1. And he evolves more during Season 4, but I won’t get into that yet.