‘Black Sails’ Said Goodbye to Another Pirate—and Here’s Why

Black Sails Season 3
Zach McGowan (as Captain Charles Vane), Toby Schmitz (as Jack Rackham), Clara Paget (as Anne Bonny) - Episode 308

Spoiler alert! Don’t read further if you haven’t watched the most recent Black Sails episode.

If you watched tonight’s Black Sails, you know that pirate Charles Vane (Zach McGowan) walked the plank. Well, actually…he was hung by those rotten Brits who have taken back Nassau. But either way, we’ll miss the husky-voiced lovelorn brigand.

We caught up with the New York-born-and-raised actor who’s currently in Sofia, Bulgaria making a movie. “I’m playing a character not unlike Charles Vane in a feature that’s part of a franchise, but without an English accent,” is all he allowed. We spoke to McGowan in an exclusive interview to find out why Vane had to face his maker.

Wow, so Charles Vane is really dead.
That is true.

Black Sails Season 3

Zach McGowan as Capitan Charles Vane

When were you told that Vane would hang?
Before I took the part. I just didn’t know when it was going to happen. Pirates have one end. I found out in the middle of shooting—around Christmas 2014. [But] I always said to them, “When are we going to do it and how are we going to do it?” That was important to me. You can’t save everyone all the time. The actual Charles Vane was hung. The tone of the show is very real, which I like very much, and you can’t keep having the situations Vane was in, where he’d always make it out. I lived a lot longer than I ever expected on that show. But, also, I never expected to live seven months of my life in Capetown, South Africa. As much as I love it there and the show, it’s so far away from my family in Los Angeles, and I have little children.

How much of the hanging scene did you do until a stunt man took over?
I’ve never been doubled. That was me hanging on there and having a blast. I kept my neck muscles flexed and swinging on a little swing. I was asked if I wanted to do a long drop with a snapped neck or a slow strangulation. I said slow is better; I could fight it for a while. I tried not to blink, and I said if my eyes close, come get me.

Vane died because he helped rescue the pirate Jack Rackham (Toby Schmitz). How will Vane’s death impact the story?
It’s fair to say that Vane’s death will affect all those pirates in a very profound way. I always told [producer Jonathan Steinberg] that I wanted to be the first one that they hang. I want it to be awful for the audience. Killing defenseless people is pretty awful. I wanted to be fearless about it as an actor, and I wanted him to be fearless in that moment of death.

Mr. Scott (Hakeem Kae-Kazim), the former slave who was later revealed to be the leader of an island with escaped slaves, died in the same episode. Was Vane’s violent death a comparison to Mr. Scott’s peaceful one surrounded by loved ones?
I think so. Mr. Scott had a family and Vane, unfortunately, was denied that in life. He had to die alone.

Black Sails Season 3

Hannah New (as Eleanor Guthrie) – Episode 309

Vane’s former lover Eleanor (Hannah New) came to see him in prison and wouldn’t admit any love for him. He seemed resigned to dying then. Was that the case?
To me, it was very much that. He loved Eleanor and would have been happy to marry her and have kids. But she had ambitions of her own that were greater than that. That was his chance to have something good in his life, and she didn’t want it. Eleanor loved his nice side, but the beast in him scared her away.

Edward Teach (Ray Stevenson), aka Blackbeard, saw Vane as the son he never had. Will Teach take revenge?
I can’t tell you that! But I think that Teach loved Vane, and Vane loved him like a father, even though he kept Teach from killing Vane’s friend Flint (Toby Stephen) as he laid unarmed on the beach. And then he went off with Flint.

So now that Charles Vane is definitely gone, how would you describe him?
He’s a pirate but, in reality, he was more of a freedom fighter. If he was going to be martyred, he wanted it to be for the right cause. That was the goal with him, and we did that. England stands on this pedestal, portraying itself as so civilized, but they kill people in chains who can’t defend themselves. Vane would fight if someone wanted to kill him, but once his opponent was no longer dangerous, like when he fought the Spaniard on the boat who pleaded not to kill him, Vane said, “You want a drink?” He lived by a code.

Black Sails, Season finale, Saturday, March 26, 9/8c on Starz.