Warning: Spoilers Ahead
The stakes have been raised this season. A dangerous new threat arrives to Treasure Island in the form of Ned Low, Eleanor fights to maintain her livelihood and stay alive, Silver continues his manipulative, wily ways and Flint intends to be a captain again.
The cast and EPs of Black SailsÂ discuss trying to tell this story as truthfully (and dramatically) as possible, how these characters have evolved since the series premiere and what we can expect to see in season 2.
What were some of the challenges in production and how did the idea for a prequel for Treasure Island come about?
Jon Steinberg: “In terms of production challenges, some of them are inherent to the beast. We try as much as possible to be uncompromised in terms of what we’re showing on the water with the ships, to show that whole world.
The challenge for us for the second season was to make it bigger, louder, deeper, to try to do things that we hadn’t done yet and to do them in a better way.
We wanted to see more of the world. We wanted to see London, which brings a whole host of production challenges with it in terms of trying to not just create new sets, but create a new feeling of a new environment, a new world, a new canvas.
We wanted to make sure that we built to a great big finale that didn’t feel like the first one, that felt both bigger in scope, but also qualitatively differently and that entailed a whole other build of a whole other world.
Robert Levine: “Jon, specifically, had been trying to crack a pirate premise for a long time. We’d been working together on another show and were talking about it.
At some point Treasure Island came up and instantly it was really that relationship that’s not in the bookÂ â€‘â€‘ it’s all impliedÂ â€‘â€‘ between Long John Silver and Captain Flint and the way that Flint looms so large over that book without actually being present.
It just fired in our imaginations. The idea of taking it back ten years, meeting them when they first meet, incorporating everything that we think is fascinating about the history and the period and then somehow finding a way, hopefully, to end the story where you can pick up Treasure Island, turn to pageÂ 1 and feel like it both makes sense, but also is a different story because there’s so much between the lines — that was the original intent.”
When you say you have to pick up at the end of Treasure Island, does that mean there’s a finite number of seasons you want to do this?
Jon: “The intent was never to link up to pageÂ 1. The timeline won’t ever get there. The intent was to build to an end of our story that suggested what the interim looked like. But all of the relationships, you’ll understand what it is. It becomes a new book based on what you understand.”
In your research into pirates, is this heightened or was there this level of infighting amongst pirates common?
Jon: “Is it heightened? A little bit, which is saying a lot, considering that the genre has almost exclusively been very heightened. We tried to dial it down.
The goal for us isÂ â€‘â€‘ this is going to sound strange — to treat it like a job, to try to write these characters and the interactions they’re having like people that are waking up in the morning with something to do and not a lot of choice about it.
Hopefully, the feeling about it is that there is office politics, I guess, to it and that it makes it relatable. Everybody lives in a world in which they have these people they have to interact with.
In terms of the record, it’s spotty and it’s spotty for a good reason in that these people didn’t keep diaries. They didn’t keep primary source material, because it was incriminating.
So it is almost an exercise in interpretation from the beginning in trying to figure out what the truth of it is or what the factual history of it is. For us, it’s about trying to find the human truth in it and just make it feel like these are people behaving like people do.”
The first season, we were pretty confident Eleanor could get by without brute force if you were smart enough. By the end of the second episode this year, we’re saying, no, she needs Vane, no matter what, because there’s some point where you just need a brute. Could you discuss this balance between smarts and power, that in this world, you need them both.
Hannah New: “Eleanor’s in a position where even her life is threatened, threatened by very sadistic, brutal, inhumane pirates that have come to the island. So she’s constantly looking for protection. She’s the most alone she’s ever been in her entire life. She’s lost all of the people that she could trust and who were her confidants and who were her protectors.
Vane and her have such a long history together. She knows how to manipulate him. In a way, it’s not really a pairing of equals because she is constantly trying to get something from Vane and that always leads to potential disaster. So, she sees a lot of value in what he can add to having that strong bodyguard behind her.”
Can you talk about playing this powerful woman with all these manlyâ€‘men pirate guys trying to take that power away?
Hannah: “It’s just such a pleasure to bring to light this aspect of pirate history — which we’ve never seen — seeing the way in which a young woman played such a pivotal role in the mechanics of piracy and the economics.
SeasonÂ 2 really does challenge her authority. There are plenty of figures that are going to come in and completely threaten this way of life on the island and threaten her own life.
So as much as she has been a figure of power and authority for a long time, she is suddenly thrown into a very, very difficult situation where she’s balancing not only threats from outside — we’ve got the threats of colonial powers of Britain, you’ve got the threat of very, very dangerous pirates — and you also have the fact that she’s balancing these two big powers of Flint and Vane on the island as well.
Eleanor gives Captain Vane a piece of her mind
She’s constantly having to manage a lot of men and she does it well sometimes, but suddenly you see that other women are coming to challenge her authority as well. Max really comes into her own in seasonÂ 2 and I think that’s a really interesting dichotomy to play because it’s not just a maleâ€‘female thing. It’s about how each individual can wield power on this island.”
Toby, do you think there’s any hope for redemption for Flint?
Toby Stephens: “In the long term there’s no redemption for him because we know that he ends up dying before Treasure Island. But what I hope the audience will get from the second series is we take Flint back to these flashbacks, which are 15 years before, and we start unpeeling him for an audience, his story prior to Nassau and how he became the pirate that he now is.
We get to know a lot more about him and what is motivating him and what is driving him to do these quite extreme things and that he’s perhaps a lot more complicated than you think at the end of seriesÂ 1.”
Can you talk about playing the scene where Flint kills Gates, since Gates seems to be one of the only two people that Flint actually likes, the other being Mrs.Â Barlow?
Toby: “It was, obviously, a pivotal scene for me and for Mark [Ryan]. But it just shows the extent to which Flint will go to achieve what he needs to achieve.
I think what’s interesting dramatically about putting that at the end of the first season is that it makes Flint an extremely difficult character for the audience to empathize with.
What’s great about seasonÂ 2 is we force the audience to look at Flint in a totally different way. We understand, hopefully, by the end of seasonÂ 2, why he’s done what the demons that are driving him to do what he’s doing.”
Can you talk about how that scene was to play? In seasonÂ 1 that seems to be the only time he apologizes to anybody, living or dead, for anything.
Toby: “For him it’s one of the most difficult things that he’s ever done. It’s an appalling thing for him to do, and it costs him enormously. Hopefully, [that] comes across in the scene.
It’s a traumatic thing for him to have to do, but the irony is that at the end of that, he’s just killed his best friend and the only person he’s left with is Silver, who is the last person he wants to be allied with.
But the second season, what’s cool about that is it shows this really uncomfortable alliance, between Silver and Flin and where that takes us is quite fun, I think. I hope.”
Captain Flint and the cunning John Silver
Luke, is playing Long John Silver as much fun as it is to watch? You had the big nasty pirates, but you’re an opportunist. You’re having fun manipulating everyone and trying to gather wealth.
Luke Arnold: “It’s absolutely fun. The thing about seasonÂ 1 for Silver is that he isn’t invested in this world the same way everyone else is. So he has the ability to smile and amuse himself and make some jokes because he expects he’s going to leave this place.
I think that’s the tragedy of it as well. Where everyone else has to keep face and make sure they’re intimidating people and they seem to be scary and have that level of respect, all that seems like a joke to Silver, because he’s here for one prize and then he expects to be out the door.
So that’s really fun in seasonÂ 1. The sad realization for him as we go into seasonÂ 2 is that he realizes he might not be out of this place as soon as he hopes, but that also there might be opportunities here that he didn’t foresee when he first arrived.
Silver annoying Flint is one of my favorite things in the show, like watching Toby get frustrated with whatever I’m doing is a real joy. I think it’s as fun, if not more fun, for me to play than to watch.”
Zach, what is it like to play a guy who just is that nasty sometimes?
Zach McGowan: “I don’t really find Vane very nasty. I find him very straightforward. For a long time me, Jon, Robert, Dan [Form], Brad [Fuller] and everyone have talked about how at some point talking doesn’t work anymore. There’s always that need to have something there to back up the words. That’s something we explore a lot in this season. A lot of Eleanor and Vane’s relationship, is the difference between actions and words.”
With Vane, there’s a Lazarus quality to him.Â He rises from the deadÂ â€‘â€‘
Zach: “A few times.”
What’s the challenges in playing that level of comeback?
Zach: “In this world, we know everyone is going to die eventually, maybe with the exception of John Silver. You can be afraid of that, or you can embrace your life. The challenge of that went away as soon as I realized that Vane wasn’t afraid of dying. In fact, he was looking for a good death.”
Jessica, you had a very, very difficult sequence in season 1. Can you talk about how you dealt with that? Did you have to go with it or distance yourself from it?
Jessica Parker Kennedy: “The thing, as an actor, is that you always want to put yourself in the moment as much as you possibly can. The gentleman who did that scene with me, we talked so much before shooting that and talked to the producers about shooting that.
He is the loveliest man you will ever meet. There was a tremendous amount of love between us on the set that day. We would hug and look each other in the eyes and go, ‘Okay. I trust you.’ ‘I trust you too.’ And we would do this.
The rape is an important part of the story. We show sex on the show. We show violence on the show. This isn’t something that can be ignored, because it was happening a lot and it’s something that happens to her.
I don’t think it would have been right for it to have been a hint or an idea of ‘Okay. This must have been what happened.’ It was important to show it.
I know, when I watch something myself, I like to be gutted by it. I like to feel as much a part of what’s happening as possible. So for me, I guess it’s a part of making the audience not be empathetic, but just feel how absolutely traumatizing and horrendous that might be was really important to me.
It was a difficult night, absolutely. But I was in the safest possible place I could have been in.”
The sets are so elaborate. How much does that add to your performance, being in South Africa instead of a sound stage here in LosÂ Angeles?
Jessica: “It’s the easiest job I’ve ever had in terms of playing makeâ€‘believe. It’s so seamless. You get in these incredible periodâ€‘piece costumes and go to this exquisite, giant, massive set that feels so functional.
We have 500 extras on any given day. Everything feels so tremendously realistic that it gives so much to us. It informs what we’re doing in a really, really big way.”
Hannah: “It’s really on a global stage, isn’t it, for seasonÂ 2 because we expand out geographically. It’s exciting having all the extras and animals on set that bring it to life. When you get geese interrupting a dialogue scene, it’s pretty funny too.”
Zach: “There is CG in the show; but as actors, it’s something that we don’t deal with very much. Everything that we see close to us, in this proximity, is real. So it’s not like we’re standing there in front of green screens all the time. In fact, it’s very real and very grounding for us creatively.”
Jessica: “And just the ships, those ridiculously giant, lifeâ€‘sized ships. We have so many of them now and I just envy the boys so much for being on them all the time.”
Edited for space and content.Â
Season 2 synopsis, from Starz:
The Walrus crew is stranded, with an army of Spanish soldiers standing between them and the precious Urca gold. Their crimes against their brethren no longer a secret, Flint and Silver must join forces in a desperate bid for survival. Meanwhile, Eleanor struggles to maintain her grip on Nassau as a new breed of pirate arrives in the form of Ned Low, a man for whom violence isnâ€™t just a tool, itâ€™s a pastime. As blood is spilled and tensions mount, Vane must decide which he values more: Eleanorâ€™s life or the respect of his men. Unbeknownst to all of them, a prize of immeasurable value has already been smuggled onto the island, one whose discovery will alter the very landscape of their world and force everyone in Nassau toward the ultimate judgment: are they men or are they monsters?
Season 2 of Black Sails premieres Saturday, January 24th at 9/8c on Starz. All images courtesy of Starz.
MeetÂ Ned Low
Captain Flint proposes a plan
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