NYCC 2013: Black Sails Roundtable Interview #4

Interview with Black Sails Stars Zach McGowan and Mark Ryan

Q: They were talking about doing the training. I remember the Spartacus guys and the Da Vinci’s Code were on a strict diet. Is it the same for you guys?

Zack McGowan: It’s not that they keep us on a strict diet or whatnot. I mean, you know, they have kind of goals, creative goals, and you either do them or you don’t, depending on, I mean I was just told that I have to go off of any kind of diet because they said I’m in too good of shape, so I’m going back to something. You know, to me, I always stay in shape. For this, I definitely kicked it up a notch. It’s not like you can go to the grocery store in this world, so there is a nature of being on boats, not having a lot of supplies and sick, not having safe drinking water. You know, the Bahamas is a really tough place to get drinking water because they’re small islands that don’t have very high elevation and not very large forests that there was not much clean drinking water around. You get the sense that being lean in this world is pretty specific, so yes and no, but I tend to eat well anyway.

Mark Ryan: I was on a special diet, South African Savignon Blanc, oysters, I ate a lot of kudu, a lot of wildebeest, a lot of kinklet, some lobster. Yes, as you can see, my body is a temple.

Zack McGowan: You guys will have no problem with that, you’ll like everything with that.

Q: Tell us about your characters that you play.

Zack McGowan: I play Captain Charles Vane who is a pirate captain, and he’s a historical figure that really existed. You can go online and buy a bunch of books about him, but what you would find out would be chronology of ships he took and when he became a captain and blah blah blah, but you wouldn’t find much about the man himself and the person that he is and how he felt about it, why he did it, where he grew up. You know, Charles Vane wasn’t, a lot of captains came out of privateers, the navy. Charles Vane has no record of being in the navy or any of that stuff, so it was fun to kind of create a guy that, I kind of call him a blue-collar pirate. At one point, he was swabbing the decks and just happens to be a pirate captain now. He’s kind of just like, he’s a man who doesn’t like structure, who has clearly gone the other way from the system and he’s someone who would rather be feared than anything else and he’s fun to play.

Mark Ryan: Bad guys are always fun to play. I play the quartermaster of the ship, Gates. Mr. Gates is at the center of a lot intrigue and political machinations, which historically in that period it was actually a democratic system. The crew voted in the quartermaster and particularly the quartermaster was the nexus of the will of the crew. If the captain didn’t do what the crew wanted, they could vote them out, and so Gates’ job, not just because he respects Flint because he’s one of the finest captains he’s served with, but he’s also, they’ve been friends for a long time and he understands sort of Flint’s machinations and motivations and so his job is to balance the different racial, cultural, political groups on the ship and get them all together so that they can serve the will of the captain in battle to succeed in their mission, so it’s a great character to play. I get to be funny, ironic, angry, violent, political, I get to be all these different facets of middle-management of a military operation which having served in the military myself and we first talked to John about it, I said, he said to me, “You know, what do you feel about this character, about the role of the quartermaster?” I said, “When I was serving, we had a saying that the officers give the orders, but it’s the sergeant’s mess that carries them out.” And that is the middle-management job of officers that they have to get those men to take risks and throw their lives basically into a battle and convince that they should do sometimes this quite impossible sounding goal. So it’s something, it’s a great part to play and it’s kind of like the inner eye of the audience because he’s in the center of a lot of this intrigue. He’s kind of like the reflective eye of what the audience is experiencing.

Q: What aspect of pirates is the most fun, like what’s the best part?

Mark Ryan: There is no part of being a pirate that isn’t fun. Who doesn’t want to be a pirate?

Zack McGowan: For me, I don’t know if it’s the most fun but just a thing that I’m proud about, but for me, I always kind of wanted to play, to do an on-camera role doing like an English accent and whatnot, so for me, that’s a really fun part of it, to go through a day with these guys and shoot a scene and realize, “Alright, I’m doing this and they didn’t seem to mind.” That was kind of one of those fun bits, not, “Stupid American here is doing a fucking accent!”

Mark Ryan: It was a good job, you did a good job. It’s a very difficult thing to do, to act in a different accent. I’ve done it, I’ve played American before, and I’m always looking at the American actors looking at me going, “That sounds absolutely awful.” So no, you did a good job, and we did a couple of ensemble scenes that are some of the most fun scenes, when we were actually all together, the negotiation scenes and the whole bunch of us bouncing off each other.

Zack McGowan: People who think they’re in charge in the same room is great.

Q: What’s the relationship to each other? Because you’re the rival captain and you’re the loyal-

Zack McGowan: So he is the quartermaster of the Walrus, and I’m the captain of the Ranger, and the Ranger is, you know, there’s a bunch of pirate ships and pirate captains in this world and I’m always kind of, if this was a very traditional show, I would be the antagonist. Always bumping into them and whatnot, but in reality, it gets a little dicey and our relationship is one of kind of mutual respect of each other’s abilities but also like, “Fuck you, you’re on the other crew.”

Mark Ryan: Jack Rackon is the quartermaster of your ship, the Ranger, as would have been. My relationship is with, we have a relationship with Jack Rackon because we’re both quartermasters, quite a powerful position on the boat. He can’t capture the ship without Jack Rackon’s support.

Zack McGowan: Because I need the crew. Can’t have one of these things by itself.

Mark Ryan: So it was a very political interesting balance of power they had, so they were rivals. They were all outlaws, so they don’t do something that’s going to bring the whole thing down because at some point in the proceedings, we have to support each other in these ventures, so a very interesting dynamic.

Zack McGowan: You ever see like Goodfellas? Remember how he’s talking about what the mafia is and he’s like, the mafia is just like the police for the guys who can’t go to the police, and that’s like kind of the relationship in that way that we have, it’s like we’ve gone outside of the system, so we can’t use the system to help us. So the only other way, people that we can even talk to about whatever problems we’re having or whatever is going on are the other people who are doing what we’re doing. So we’re kind of like, you know, it’s like the enemy of your enemy is your friend, it’s kind of that going on.

Q: Create your own system.

Zack McGowan: Yeah, I mean essentially what is great about it is, it’s funny that a bunch of people who basically went away from this system, a bunch of pirates, were the people who brought democracy to the New World. They were the first people who said one man, one vote in the New World, so kind of funny to think that in some ways our system here is, this was 60 years before the American Revolution this takes place, that our system here may have actually been an extension of what these guys were doing down there.

Q: Does Gates see the impending threat of Silver?

Mark Ryan: Yeah, well, without giving anything away of the plot, I think Gates’ feeling about this whole thing is that he’s very antagonistic to Silver because he’s aware of all the different things that are functioning within this world and so he’s, he’s very wary and very distrusting of John Silver. He’s the first person that finds him on the boat, without giving the plot away. So it’s very, it’s a very interesting dynamic.

Q: And that’s all in the first season?

Mark Ryan: That’s all in the first season, yeah. And it’s great that really, the arch of the show, we’ve talked about this before. This is an 8-hour movie.

Zack McGowan: And it’s already going to be an 18-hour, because we’re already going to do 10 more, so that’s 9 movies.

Mark Ryan: If you look at the scale of it and the way it’s shot, Michael Bay is not a dummy. I’ve done 4 films with Michael, just finished on Transformers 4, and he has a grasp of what audiences want which I’ve not seen the like of and I’ve worked with quite some interesting directors. But Michael’s got a really good, brilliant visual mind, so when it comes to making a picture, a big picture work and you’ve been sucked into it, even if it’s about giant alien robots that disguise themselves as cars, people get sucked into that world. And this is of that scale. Everybody we had from the make-up people that worked on Harry Potter to the second unit action director that worked on projects like the Bourne films and Gladiator, across the board, the DP who worked on Transformers with me previously, everybody is of that world, so the way this thing looks projected, it’s an 8-hour movie. It’s quite epic in its scale.

Zack McGowan: I just had the pleasure of watching, I’d seen 1 but I had the pleasure of seeing 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, and 7 about 3 days ago in France, and I was just going, “I can’t believe I’m in this because oh my god!” And I asked if I could watch the last one, and he said no, you can’t watch the last one!

Mark Ryan: And just to repeat what I know has been, John said it before, some shows you get into when it starts, the big opening flashy thing and then you go whoa, and then it goes (farting sound). This one starts big and gets ginormous. It gets bigger and more complex, more relationships and more entangled and entwined and strained and passionate. There’s a lot of, it just gets bigger and it gets richer.

Zack McGowan: It is THE pirate show. And I sometimes, I watch it and I go, “How did we pull this off?” I’m like, what the? Because most of it’s shot on a backlot, in a studio in Cape Town, so it’s really quite, when you’re watching it, you’re like, how did this happen? It’s really fun.

Q: I don’t know if you know David S. Goyer, but the way you two are dressed, you’d make great villains in the next Batman movie.

Zack McGowan: Okay then! When does that start shooting? Quick! Oh, unfortunately we’re unavailable.

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