NYCC 2013 – Black Sails: “It’s THE Pirate Show”

“Not a pirate show, it’s the pirate show,” Mark Ryan reassured audiences at the Black Sails New York Comic Con panel. In fact, Starz’s upcoming show has already made a significant impression upon audiences. The fan reaction to the trailer was so intense that the show has already been renewed for a second season, before the first season has even begun to air. Starz gives us a good description of this upcoming show:

The eight-episode first season of “Black Sails” centers on the tales of Captain Flint and his men, and takes place twenty years prior to Robert Louis Stevenson’s classic “Treasure Island.” Toby Stephens (Die Another Day) stars as Flint, the most brilliant and most feared pirate captain of his day, who takes on a fast-talking young addition to his crew who goes by the name John Silver.  Threatened with extinction on all sides, they fight for the survival of New Providence Island, the most notorious criminal haven of its day – a debauched paradise teeming with pirates, prostitutes, thieves and fortune seekers, a place defined by both its enlightened ideals and its stunning brutality.

At the panel, we heard a little from some of the main actors about the wide array of characters we will see. Toby Stephens spoke to the audience about how he approached his character of Captain Flint. They looked at both the facts and the myths surrounding this historical figure, but there was very little information to be found. This meant that the creators of the show, as well as Stephens, had a great deal of leeway in creating this Captain Flint. For Stephens specifically, the character needed to be scary (as all true pirates in history were), not just act scary. Being feared is important, but Captain Flint must also have the respect of his men. The stakes are high for him, and will only increase as the series progresses.

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Hannah New (ReVersion, Super Mario) stars as Eleanor Guthrie, a young business woman who makes an alliance with Captain Flint that will either save or ruin her, and faces a decision between her love and her survival. New said that her character has a vision beyond herself of a more civilized place without rules or having to be told what to do all the time. This vision is a key motivator for Eleanor.

Another pirate we will see is John Silver, prior to having a peg leg. He will be played by Luke Arnold (The Tunnel Movie, Broken Hill). It is common knowledge that this historical pirate will, at some point, lose his leg, so those working on the show are more concerned with how he will lose it. There is no reference as to how this happened. For John Silver, as for most of those living in this dog-eat-dog world, survival is the highest priority.

Jessica Parker Kennedy (In Time, The Secret Circle) will play Max, another woman fighting for survival in a world dominated by men. She is working as a prostitute, but is looking for a way to escape that life. Max is an opportunist, searching for what will bring the best benefit to herself. However, she is also in love, and these feelings come into conflict with her goals. Kennedy likes that the audience will be able to watch how her goals shift during the course of the season as her character grows.

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Captain Charles Vane, portrayed by Zach McGowan (Shameless), presented a particular challenge, due to his reputation for brutality. McGowan felt that he needed to find a way to make this character more human. The realization he came to was that Captain Vane is living in a brutal world, that people commit brutal acts either because they want to or have to, and that Vane does not feel he has another choice but to be brutal. As with the other characters in the show, he is willing to do what is necessary to ensure his own survival.

Mark Ryan (Transformers, The Prestige) plays Gates, the quartermaster on Captain Flint’s vessel. He is the most senior member of the crew, but is also fiercely loyal to his captain. It may be a surprise to see such loyalty in a world of death and violence, but Captain Flint is the best captain he has ever worked for. Perhaps his loyalty is tied to his own survival instinct, knowing his prospects are better under Flint than other captains he has known. Gates is also former military and carries with him many of those values, including loyalty to superiors.

All of these vivid characters combine to create a story full of grit and intrigue. Toby Stephens called the experience “visceral” and “real.” The show does not seek to glorify pirates, but rather to show that it was not a fun world to live in. These pirates were human beings dealing with human situations and that is what they want audiences to see. Within the first six minutes of the first episode, the tone is set, with a violent pirate attack upon a merchant ship. The most powerful moment is when the crew of the merchant ship hides in silence, preparing their weapons while knowing they are being boarded. The sudden violence and swiftness of the killing that follows starkly contrasts with the silence preceding it and, in my opinion, lends strength to the impact. All I can say is that audiences are in for one hell of a boat ride!