Talking With The Cast Of Black Sails! Toby Stephens! Mark Ryan! Luke Arnold! Zach McGowan! And More!

Pirates are taking over! Did you catch Black Sails this weekend? As one of the highest rated debuts for Starz, I think a fair amount of folks did! In case you missed it, the premiere is available On Demand with a lot of cable providers so check it out!

Black Sails 2014

In an earlier article, we talked about avoiding clichés and getting introduced to the characters. Here’s more insight into the prep involved in making pirate town and getting ready for a show on this scale (courtesy of the cast and crew at New York Comic Con).

Jessica and Luke

Mark and Zach

Yeah, it’s a big show

“We’re on an epic canvas here,” Toby Stephens (Captain Flint himself) explains, “They’re not small characters. They’re real human beings, but they’re real big personalities and they also have to hold sway over these crews.”

Black Sails 2014

With Michael Bay involved, you know this is going to be a big show. Showrunner Jon Steinberg has nothing but praise for the man who makes robot explosion porn. “[What was it like working with Michael Bay?] Great. Honest to God. There is no one better in the world than doing what he does which is making something look fantastic. He was instrumental in the early look of the show and visual effects and was really respectful. We’ve been very luck with him.”

Mark Ryan (Quartermaster Gates) promises it’s big: “A lot of shows start big and then you get sucked in. And it’s like a bait and switch — it kind of trails off. This starts big and gets humongous…. It builds and builds and builds. It gets more convoluted, more passionate, the relationships get more complex, the risks get higher. It just builds.”

Mark Ryan attributes the scale to the veteran crew behind the scenes: “I think that’s what brings this cinema edge to this particular show is that all the heads of departments worked on Harry Potter, Nick [second unit director] who worked on Gladiator, and Transformers and the Bond movies. The actual feel of it really very filmy, very cinema feel to it.”

Black Sails 2014

Zach McGowan sums up the scale with a simple statement: “It’s going to be an 18 hour movie.”

Pirate school isn’t for wimps

To get ready for all the fun pirate action, the crew went to pirate school. Luke Arnold (John Silver) recounts the tale: “We got to go through an extensive boot camp process at the beginning of this show. Just physically getting into the world of these people was really important. So it was a heavy workout regime tied with a lot of fight training. We went out on a ship and took out all the nice mechanical things that help you sail today off and we kind of felt what it was like to do that back in the day. That was a good call, partly because the demands of the shoot were so physically intensive that it was good to look the part but it was also good to be ready for the big day, fight sequence, sailing and everything we had to do out there.”

Black Sails 2014

A veteran of many on-screen fights himself (in front of and behind the camera), Mark commends the dedication of the cast. “I have to say they trained very hard and it looks brutal and gritty. So I’d just give moral support. They have an amazing stunt team down there. It was a little bit frustrating because I wanted to be in the middle of that, but y’know you have to leave it for the young bucks to do that.”
But he does confess “I was desperate to get into the fights.”

Black Sails 2014

Meanwhile, Zach McGowan’s (Charles Vane) pirate schooling started when he was much younger: “I’m the youngest of 3 boys. I basically have been having my ass kicked my entire life. I think that’s one of the big pirate skills.”

Black Sails 2014

Mark reassures him: “You trained hard. These guys trained hard, let me tell you. I’ve never, for a TV show, seen guys so dedicated to physically keeping in shape and keeping their skills honed. These guys worked hard. You get to a certain age where, an actor like myself, they go…it’s like the sex scenes. You know, it’s the 6-pack pirate era and I kept going, ‘Look, Starz guys. If you really need me to be in one of these scenes, I’m happy to take my clothes off.’ And they went, ‘No. You, you keep your clothes on.’ I went: ‘No! I’m happy if you want me in the brothel.’ And they went: ‘No, we want the show to be a success. You will keep your clothes on.’

Zach: And also during the training process Mark was nice enough to lend me his hair for the project..


Zach:…so thank you, Mark, for that.

Mark: They used to have to pat down my head because they’d get bounce off the light – blinding the other actors. It was a technique I used a lot with Toby Stephens actually.

Zach: You’d blind him? Blind him in a scene?

Mark: When you see him squinting in a scene with me, it’s the glare off my loaf it’s reflecting in his eye.
Clearly some serious pirate work behind the scenes!

Black Sails 2014

They really were in their own little world

Black Sails films in Cape Town, South Africa so they are on the opposite side of the planet from the Caribbean. To create the world of 18th century pirates, the show has extensive sets. Luke describes the “amazing backlot. We have a water tank, then we have 2 pirate ships; it’s to the point where you can swing from one ship to the other over the water. We have this living, breathing pirate town. We have a man-made beach where you can row into the shore, get out and make your way into the street and visit each captains’ camp on the way, go into the tavern, go into the brothel and we don’t have anything that breaks the reality of where you are. So it makes it really easy to go to work each time and do that.”

Black Sails 2014

The sets really helped the actors plug into their roles. Jessica Parker Kennedy talks about her character, the prostitute Max while being interviewed with Luke: “You try to find the sexuality and the beauty on an island that’s really so desolate in a lot of ways. And sandy and hot and your interaction is with filthy, stinky, pirates all day long. I mean it would’ve really just been the …[realizes that one of said “filthy, stinking pirates” is sitting serenely next to her] …you know all pirates back then just looked as strapping as Luke. [He smiles and nods good naturedly.] It just would be a horrifying, horrifying job. It takes a very specific type of a person to be able do that and maintain their sanity.”

Black Sails 2014

Luke: You go on a ship and you don’t see your friends and loved ones for months and you’re stuck with a bunch of loud, dirty, smelly guys. It’s pretty much the reality that we’re in.

Jessica: You’re not that smelly.

Luke: That said, I have been in the water tank a few times and it is freezing and it is terrible. But I’m glad that it’s a tank and we’re not actually out in Cape Town waters…

Jessica: …fighting the sharks….

Luke: …yeah, it’s full of sharks. You just couldn’t do that out there. It’s dangerous enough with stunties falling over you and cannonballs going off.

Black Sails 2014

[Yes, Luke is an Aussie!]

Jessica: The water is literally littered with great white sharks. It’s just ridiculous.

Luke: That’s right. You went diving.

Jessica: I did. In a cage. And I must say that there are some very brave people. The sea paramedics have to go night diving with great white sharks and one of our drivers was talking about that and swimming next to great whites. I was like ‘no thank you I will happily stay in this cage.’ That’s wild.

Wild indeed! Catch more of Black Sails Saturdays on Starz!

Black Sails 2014

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