There are high stakes on the high seas in Starz’s new drama “Black Sails,” and no one is more aware of that then Toby Stephen’s Captain Flint.
In the new series, premiering Saturday night, Captain Flint is one of the most feared pirate captains based out of New Providence Island, in 1715.
But, in his quest to capture a once in a lifetime haul, he faces obstacles from grumbling crew members, rival pirate captains and the British Navy. And, there’s something going on with a young John Silver (Luke Arnold) too.
Toby (“Die Another Day”) spoke to AccessHollywood.com all about his role as Captain Flint in the new series. He also revealed which other character’s pre-“Treasure Island” life will be depicted on the show.
AccessHollywood.com: Congrats on a Season 2! That has to be great as an actor to know that before a Season 1 has even aired, a Season 2 is coming!
Toby Stephens: Yeah. It removes some of the neurosis that normally kind of attaches itself to being an actor on a TV show. You can relax and you can just get on with what you’re doing rather than going, ‘Ooh! Am I gonna survive?’ (laughs).
Access: One of the cool things about this show — before we even see the show — is the opening title sequence, which has music from Bear McCreary (‘The Walking Dead’ theme). What did you think when you saw that?
Toby: I actually saw most of the episodes… before I saw the credits. … I loved the show anyway as I was watching it, just as an audience member. I was like going, ‘This is a great show.’ And then I saw the credits and I just went, ‘That is just so cool!’ It’s so understated, but yet totally encapsulates the themes of the series.
Access: What can you tell us about Captain Flint?
Toby: Captain Flint is a very enigmatic character. He’s the captain of a pirate ship in New Providence Island where there’s a whole bunch of pirates. … Historically, he’s been the prime earner out of all of the pirates. But, at the beginning of the series, [when] we see him — he’s slightly on the ropes. He’s going after this big prize, which none of his crew know about, which is this treasure galleon — a massive, Spanish treasure galleon, which is heading back from South America to Spain and he knows that it’s coming and he’s trying to track it down… what coordinates it’s going to be at at a certain moment, so it’s like a kind of jigsaw puzzle that he’s figuring out. But, this is unbeknownst to his crew, so they’re going, ‘Why aren’t we going after bigger prizes? Why aren’t we earning more money?’ and they’re getting very discontent. Now in those days, on pirate vessels, you voted your captain on and off. These guys all worked on naval ships, merchant ships, they’d all been treated really badly, and when they got a bit of freedom, they were like, ‘Well, we wanna run our own show here.’ So, they voted their captain on and off and they’re about to vote me off, so I’m fighting for survival.
Access: What lengths will you go to?
Toby: Any lengths.
Access: Is it because of the prize or does he just crave power so much?
Toby: He’s a complex character. I mean, what’s so great about TV nowadays is you can tell these incredibly complex stories. It doesn’t have the sort of simplicity of film where [you’ve] got your good guy, [you’ve] got your bad guy, [you’ve] got your romantic interest. This is something where you can deal in human complexity. You can go, ‘He’s good, but he’s also bad and he’s got these character flaws and they’ve all got their motives that change all the time.’ And these characters challenge an audience — especially Flint. I think they want to like him, but then he does terrible things and they’re like going, ‘I don’t know whether I can like you anymore, but why are you doing these things? I want to know.’ And that’s good storytelling, I think.
Access: Tell us a little bit about Billy Bones, who is an adorable character, but also the muscle.
Toby: I remember when I got the part, he’d already been cast, and I remember going, ‘It’s this guy Tom Hopper. I’m gonna look him up,’ so I IMDB-d him and these photos of this kind of brute came up. I was like, ‘Oh my God! I’m supposed to be the frightening guy on this show, so what am I gonna have to do to make myself more frightening than this?’ I mean, he’s huge! But, he plays Billy Bones. … All of these characters, by the way — like Flint, Silver and Billy Bones — are all in ‘Treasure Island,’ and in ‘Treasure Island,’ Billy Bones, at the beginning, is this embittered alcoholic wash-up of a pirate, so he’s kind of this tragic figure. But yet, in our series, he starts off as this wide-eyed innocent, kind of wanting to do the right thing.
Access: Do you get seasick?
Toby: I was only seasick once. I went on the QE2 [Queen Elizabeth II ship] when I was a kid. I went from South Hampton to New York and about midway, there was a massive, massive storm and I was doing fine. I was actually doing really fine until I ate this huge breakfast. … we call them a greasy gut buster in England. … It was like eggs, bacon… and I was so sick. I was like really, really sick, but I’ve never been sick since on boats.
Access: Did you ever imagine yourself as a pirate when you were [playing a child]?
Toby: ‘Treasure Island’ had been read to me as a child. I’d seen countless films of it and also Captain Hook was a big figure in my life — like Peter Pan and Captain Hook and all of that stuff. But… it’s strange — when you get to what we’re doing, it seems very remote from that. So I’d had a sort of romanticized version of it, fantasized version of it. This is much more kind of like pragmatic, how it actually worked, but without being boring. At the same time, it’s an adventure story. It’s epic.
“Black Sails” premieres Saturday night at 9 PM on Starz.
-- Jolie Lash
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