Interview with Black Sails Stars Toby Stephens and Hannah New
Toby Stephens: I play Captain Flint who is the captain of the Walrus. When we join in, historically he has been the most successful pirate on the island. He’s brought in the most money, but he’s hit a foul patch and his crew is becoming discontented and beginning to doubt his captaincy. There’s a guy on the crew who is trying to get him kicked out because these crews are democracies. They’d all be pressed, the crews and pirate ships have all been pressed to naval ships or onto merchant ships. They were taken away from their families, they were treated appallingly, they were paid very little, it was a very hard life, so when they became pirates, they imposed this real democratic system which was terribly inefficient because every time there was a decision to be made, they all kind of had to go by show of hands. The only time the captain had absolute power was in battle. So anyway, there’s this sense at the beginning of this that Flint is this terrifying figure, but he’s on the back foot, he’s in trouble, they’re going to vote him off, and he has to survive.
Q: So I know that John, we were talking about, you know, Treasure Island, the original book, and Flint is all over it. His influence is there, but we really don’t see Flint. And this is the first time at least for myself that I’ve seen a treatment of the Flint character. For you, was it a blank canvas or did you go back to the original source material?
Toby Stephens: I read Treasure Island, but it wasn’t really that much help. The only things that are really in there is that he was this terrifying figure, that the treasure on Treasure Island is his, he is dead, he went to the island with 10 crew members and came back alone, so we know this about him and that he still has this hold on these characters at the beginning of Treasure Island, they all have, you know, they’re all sort of generated from Flint’s power, but really there was a blank canvas. It was more John that really, he went back and wanted to paint something totally credible and much more complex I think than the book. This is a prequel, but there’s so much more we can do to tell this story, you know. We know we connect with it there, but there’s so much more in between that we can, and so much fun we can have. And also, you know, John was saying Treasure Island is a kind of children’s camp fire story. We want to tell something that’s much more complex and adult.
Q: What is it about Treasure Island that has made it such an archetypal story?
Toby Stephens: I think piracy is something that has a very strong connection with people. I think piracy is a prequel to Western. You know, these guys are outside the rules of society. They are free booters, they do what they want, they live by their own rules. I think there’s something very appealing, especially in the male side, about that. And there is this feeling that they are, there’s this kind of combination of all kind of things in there like The Man With No Name, you know, walking into town. They’re bad, they’re good, we’re not quite sure if we side with them or we don’t side with them. There’s a lot of parity with that, and I think that’s one of the reasons why it’s perennial. The thing is that it hasn’t been done before in this way. You know, I think Westerns, they’ve gone back and they’ve done Westerns where they’ve gotta strip back a lot of the mythology and they’ve done this gritty kind of blend on it with piracy. And I think that’s, it’s ripe for doing it, and it just lends it so much more complexity and a real texture. That’s what it would have been like.
Hannah New: I mean, I think piracy has kind of fantasized in people’s minds because of the kind of terror it inspires. I think in some ways, people go to the fantasy side in order to create some kind of relief, but this show in lots of ways is intertwining so many historical facts and finding the truth in all of the kind of piracy genre, and I think that we have an incredible team around us who are kind of managing to weave together in a way you’re making a show where you have real human characters who are engaging, gripping, and you want to know if they’re going to survive or not, and I think in that way these stories as Toby was saying, it is a Western. It has that kind of idea of trailblazing, and you know, it’s such an important historical time, the beginning of capitalism as we know it today and the way in which all of those storylines do relate to aspects of our lives today and the show does it in a really intelligent and non-patronizing way, and I think that TV audiences now are far more informed and want to be informed by the television they watch. And I think that the show is really kind of pitching at that level and making sure that the information that we’re giving over is engaging and real.
Toby Stephens: And historically, it’s been there from day 1. As soon as people started taking merchandise on the sea, there was pirates. And in fact the heyday of what we’re talking about in piracy in the Caribbean, it happened over about 6 years before the British stopped them. Because it was one of those things at first that was working in Britain’s interest. As long as they were raiding French and Spanish ships, hey, we don’t mind, you know? Go ahead. And then when they started affecting British trade to the Americas, then there was a problem and then they had to go down there and stomp on them. And so what we’re really talking about is a five year period where it really, you know, these people flourished and it ended and we know that it ended, and that’s a great start for a piece as well because there is a finite, we know that Flint dies, but I mean, how does he get there and what happens? So it’s a tragedy as well as a…
Q: Does the finale have a finite end to it?
Toby Stephens: It is a cliffhanger, but it could, you could look at it, it has a sort of, it has some sort of, well, it is a cliffhanger. But it’s satisfying in itself.
Hannah New: It’s satisfying in itself, but it will lead to-
Toby Stephens: I want to watch comes next! I want to know how they get out of it.
Hannah New: I know, I mean I’ve been lucky enough to see the end sequences and I kind of like, and now not having any of the scripts for season 2. I’m just chomping at the bit, I’m like “Ahh, when are we going to get these scripts?”
Q: When do you go back to work?
Hannah New: We travel to Cape Town on the 8th of November and then we’ll be in training for a couple of weeks and I think we still have shooting on the 20-something of November. I mean, it’s a short time. It’s kind of flying by and I think, you know, January is very quickly coming upon us and it’s gonna be amazing. I think one of the amazing things as well about shooting a show where it has an end is that you kind of, you are in this kind of bubble of the storyline and you don’t have to be kind of affected by, you know, audience reactions in some ways. Which is interesting because it gives a sense of longevity to the storylines. You don’t kind of influence by, because next week somebody wants to see this happen, and I think that’s a real kind of freedom and something that we’re very lucky to be given by (couldn’t understand) and by Starz who are incredibly like supportive and I’m sure John was being, they have given a lot of freedom in regards to which the storylines. And John’s such a mastermind with it all, you know? So there’s no one who’s kind of the authority on this other than the writers, and that’s a great situation to be in.