‘Black Sails’ Exec Producers Talk Blackbeard, Big Season 3 Stories and ‘Sweeping Romance’
The swashbucklers of 18th century Nassau are back for a third season of conniving, plundering, lusting and fighting for the pirate way of life, while the most legendary brigand of all time, Edward Teach, aka Blackbeard (Ray Stevenson) arrives on the island. Executive producers Jonathan Steinberg and Robert Levine preview the new season and Blackbeard’s plans. (Warning: Some mild spoilers ahead.)
So why bring Blackbeard to Black Sails now?
Steinberg: It’s a losing battle to try to tell this story without Blackbeard in it. For us, the challenge was not if but when. We had to resist the chance to bring him back a few times before Season 3. How do you enter him into the story for a reason better than because he’s Blackbeard? The answer: he’s important to someone who’s already important to us—Charles Vane (Zach McGowan). They have a strange and powerful relationship that’s been broken. He’s come back to try and put it together again. He casts a big shadow, but there’s really human vulnerability in terms of his relationship with Vane. In wanting this father/son thing back together, he became a character in our story and not just a cartoon villain come to stir things up.
Historical records have Teach interacting with Sail’s real life pirates Vane, Jack Rackham (Toby Schmitz) and Benjamin Hornigold (Patrick Lyster), among others. True on the show?
Levine: Yes. He was fundamental to the birth of Nassau, was cast off and now has come back and has to reckon with what it has become. Prosperous and soft.
If Vane’s his old buddy, who are Blackbeard’s enemies?
He’s got a number of them. He blames Eleanor Guthrie (Hannah New) for the estrangement with Vane. [They were lovers at the time.] It’s not unusual with estranged fathers and sons to have a woman in there somewhere.
What are Season 3’s major arcs? Does the cache of stolen Spanish gold hidden in Nassau’s fort play a large part in the story?
Steinberg: The character story is a bit of an odyssey for Capt. Flint (Toby Stephens). In prosecuting this war against civilization that he promised at the end of Season 2 (after the murder of his friend and lover Miranda Barlow by the English), he gets sidetracked on the way home and England shows up before he gets back to Nassau and takes the gold back. It becomes the story about Flint wrestling with what it means to decide you are a monster and try to will away your humanity.
Is Flint unhinged as the season begins?
Steinberg: The beginning of that story is him desperately trying to accept that he is a monster and finding that is a lot harder to do that when you are not one.
He does act in some monstrous ways, killing lots of perceived enemies without mercy. Where is John Silver in all this? Will he betray Flint, his captain?
Levine: Silver finds himself with the dubious honor of being the one person who understands Flint. That, in terms of the stakes of the show, has become a matter of life and death. He tells Billy Bones (Tom Hopper) that he understands the things they’re forced to do at Flint’s behest [which] are the acts of someone who is in despair. Silver has to find a way to return Flint to a place where he gives a s–t about the people around him and not thrust them into this nihilistic war on civilization.
Back on Nassau, what’s doing with the romantic ménage à trois of the pirates Rackham (Toby Schmitz), Anne Bonny (Clara Paget) and Max (Jessica Parker Kennedy), the enterprising prostitute?
Levine: They’re a big part of the emotional story as they react to the return of England to the island. It’s one thing to live as they do when it’s just a pirate haven, but they know the party’s going to be over when the law comes back.. We try to make that relationship strain under the weight of everything coming down on them.
Any other romances brewing this season?
Steinberg: It’s important for Edward Teach to have an emotional platform. It’s also important for our new character Woodes Rogers (Luke Roberts), the former privateer and explorer who is determined to bring law back to the Bahamas and to end piracy with his privately funded navy. There’s a sweeping romance between him and Eleanor, whom he brought back from London and prison.
Between Eleanor, Max, Anne and the late Miranda, you have some very strong, cunning women. Is that modern feminism or historical truth?
Steinberg: A little of both. [Robert and I] both have daughters. [Laughs] You can read the historical record and assume that women were subservient, but I have a hard time believing that that’s the way Nassau functioned. We didn’t impose strong females just because we felt like it; we believe that in an environment where there weren’t any rules, and ambition and courage was rewarded, there would be women who found a way to gain power. Through Season 3 and even into 4, we want to tell a story of a woman who had power in the absence of rules and who keeps it when the rules come back.
Levine: Yes, though Eleanor has to make compromises she never imagined she could to maintain a foothold on the island.
How did you pull off that amazing, terrifying storm sequence on Flint’s ship in episode 2? Those actors got soaked!
Steinberg: It’s the biggest episode we’ve done.
Levine: We wanted to be everywhere we could possibly be. We wanted to be on the deck with Capt. Flint, we wanted to be up in the rafters with the men manning the sails, which was probably the most dangerous. We also wanted to be below deck with the sea rushing in with Silver.
Steinberg: It’s amazing what you can accomplish with time, money and human suffering. A lot of that suffering was Toby Stephens. He took a lot of bullets for the team, standing in front of jet engines and having water thrown at him at 70 miles an hour. There’s not a lot of performance on the deck of that ship. That is genuine misery.
Black Sails, Season premiere, Saturday, Jan. 23, 9/8c, Starz