Did you catch Black Sails on Starz earlier this year? As the highest rated show on Starz, I’m sure a whole bunch of you did! If not, it’s a great time to catch up on season one before season two sets sails in January. At New York Comic Con, I had the chance to sit down with Black Sails creators Jonathan Steinberg and Robert Levin as well as cast members Toby Stephens (Captain Flint), Hannah New (Eleanor Guthrie), Luke Arnold (John Silver), Jessica Parker Kennedy (Max), Zach McGowan (Charles Vane) and Toby Schmitz (Jack Rackham) to dig into what makes the show tick and where the show is headed in season 2!
“I wouldn’t say that it’s an easy show. It’s a show that demands a lot of the audience,” says Hannah New (Eleanor Guthrie) about Black Sails. Indeed, if you’re looking for zippy pirates being chased by skeletons, well, this may not be the show for you.
Black Sails is a more realistic portrayal of life during the golden age of piracy. The show is careful to avoid pirate movie cliches (“no parrots, no peg-legs” vows showrunner Jon Steinberg) which Toby Stephens believes is key to making “a normal pirate drama. All of that is stripped away and what you get down to is these human characters that you want to follow.”
“We’ve never actually seen real pirate life that was historically accurate and examined what it was really like for men and women in this time,” agrees Luke.
“We’ve had an amazing opportunity to develop the story in an intricate way; making sure there are lots of layers to it. It was really exciting to go back and create more depth in season two. It was interesting for us to see how dark it was going to get,” enthuses Hannah.
In season 2, the story will get more expansive as we’ll see the world beyond Nassau. Co-creator Jonathan Steinberg promise to “dramatically expand and understand the world that they lived in, and what London was, what England was; what the world they were running from was like.”
Co-creator Robert Levine goes on to say that the new season “has elevated the show in terms of what we set out to do: the storytelling, the depth of the characters and also the production value. We explore the past and the present.”
For instance, we’re going to learn a lot more about the inscrutable Captain Flint. “We wanted to focus on Flint and we felt that he was the center of the show, his relationship with Silver is the center of the show and it’s all building to Treasure Island eventually,” says Robert.
“They were originally looking to do more back story in the first season,” explains Toby Stevens, “but then they said they were going to save it for the second season. That’s what I quite like about the first season. In the first season, the audience is very challenged by Flint because they are going ‘I don’t get what’s driving you. What is going on? What is your agenda?” And then in the second season you get this whole back story of 15 years prior and you find out what has been driving him, but even that kicks up even more questions. It answers things, but then he remains quite enigmatic.”
Robert teases a bit more about our mysterious Captain Flint’s story: “I think you will be very surprised and hopefully, by the end of it, you’ll understand. He’s trying to figure out if he’s a man or a monster.” Yep, there’s that darkness that Hannah mentioned!
Far away from the ordered Old World, the characters of Black Sails struggle to find a way to survive by any means necessary. It’s really more like Game of Thrones where all the characters fight to survive, any way they can. Hannah gives a glimpse of what’s in store for the most powerful woman in Nassau: “Eleanor is definitely grappling and trying to hold everything together as threat of colonial powers and the British are really on the horizon. She has to mature very quickly and become a lot darker and a lot more ruthless in the way she runs the island.”
As a feared pirate captain, Flin joins forces with Eleanor in an “alliance of what we want for Nassau,” says Toby. “Eventually we want it to be somewhere where people don’t have to result to piracy anymore. They can function as an independent colony away from the power of Britain, so that’s really what we’re driving at.”
Another powerful lady, Max, pretty much went through the ringer last season, but ended up in a position with some power. Jessica Parker Kennedy warns that Max won’t be complacent in her new position: “I think there’s a part of her that wants revenge, but she’s going to do it in a really smart, slow, sneaky, scary kind of way. She’s smart and she’s not irrational.”
Silver will also go through a change this season since, as Luke spells out, Silver “began the show as an outside. He doesn’t want to be a pirate. Slowly through season 2 he gets drawn into this world.”
Charles Vane also had a tough first season, but Zach McGowan wouldn’t have wanted it any other way: “The best thing for a character is to get kicked in the nuts. You only like people who get kicked in the nuts and get back up.”
Toby Schmitz agrees that Vane is “not happy being land-locked. Even with that lovely image of Vane up at the fort and staring out at sea, you know he’s not going to be happy until he’s a pirate captain again, on a ship.”
As Zach puts it “What good is being called a pirate captain if you don’t have a pirate ship?”
Meanwhile, Jack Rackham will have to find a way back from being an outcast, but he’ll continue to have problems with women. “What you glean from the first season is that his Achilles heel is the female. He’s on a feared pirate ship, but when it comes to women, he’s thwarted. He can’t quite get his head around them and I think it’s very obvious that he has a complete mental attachment to Anne [Bonny] and that’s not going anywhere.”
It’s not as if the women of Black Sails aren’t formidable forces. In most pirate stories, the women are weak characters which isn’t true in Black Sails. Having such fierce and complex female characters “feels bloody brilliant!” laughs Hannah. “That’s obviously why I was initially attracted to this role. A female character who is a rebel and a trailblazer and someone who is not subservient in any way to any man is just a dream. For me to play someone who has such economic and political power, even in contemporary stuff, it’s hard to find those roles. I definitely felt I hit the jackpot.”
Mark your calendars for January 24th and the second season of Black Sails on Starz! Here’s a look at the season 2 trailer to whet your appetite!
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