The Starz series Black Sails is back for Season 3, it’s biggest and most ambitious season yet. In the wake of the burning of Charles Town, the New World lives in fear of Captain Flint (Toby Stephens), who’s struggling over whether he’s the pirate myth that he’s created or the man who still lies underneath. At the same time, Eleanor Guthrie (Hannah New) is facing judgment in London, Jack Rackham (Toby Schmitz) is sitting atop a fortune in Spanish gold, and Charles Vane (Zach McGowan) is having to deal with the return of one of history’s most notorious captains, known as Blackbeard (Ray Stevenson). And with Woodes Rogers’ (Luke Roberts) desire to end piracy for good, Nassau will never be the same again.
While at the TCA Press Tour, actor Toby Stephens spoke to Collider for this exclusive interview about how proud he is of the work they did this season, the huge action and effects sequences, where Captain Flint is at now, the co-dependent relationship of Flint and John Silver (Luke Arnold), the return of Blackbeard to Nassau, what Woodes Rogers arrival means for the pirate way of life, and why it all ultimately has to be about the characters. Be aware that there are some spoilers.
Collider: Are you just as impressed with how epic Season 3 is, as the audience will be when they watch it?
TOBY STEPHENS: I must say that when we finally got to see Season 3, I was so proud of it and impressed by it, as a piece. It’s very difficult when you’re in something to be objective enough about the material to just see it for what it is. You either read too much into it and become too passionate about it, or you’re disappointed. There was so much of it that I hadn’t seen with the storylines I’m not involved in, but also with the great big canvases that are suddenly there. I was blown away by it. It’s really extraordinary.
With as big as things get this season, including that stunning storm sequence, how many times did you wonder if you were actually going to make it through?
STEPHENS: There were a couple of points where I was very beaten up by it, but it’s so worth it. Where else would I get the opportunity to do this stuff and be involved in something that’s so satisfying? It would be one thing, if the special effects didn’t match what you were doing, but it meets that and it’s even bigger than you could imagine. But, there were some times when it was really tough. There’s a sequence towards the end, and there was that storm sequence, which was very arduous and painstaking for me, but great.
Where is Captain Flint at now, especially mentally?
STEPHENS: His struggle to try to make some kind of sense of it for himself is part of his journey. It’s about, “How do I do something with this that will satisfy my need for revenge, but also make something positive?” In the end, that’s the thing he’s on. In the beginning of Season 3, he’s gone inside himself. Anybody he becomes close to gets killed and he can’t cope with anymore of that pain, so he goes inside and blocks out all of that stuff. He wants to create enough chaos to bring England to him, so that he can take it out on them somehow. That’s really where we meet him, at the beginning. He’s closed himself off and he’s taking his crew with him on this very dark journey, which is only going to lead to his death and the death of everyone else, but at least he’ll go out having exacted some kind of damage. Through the season, he weirdly finds his humanity again through a purpose. That’s really his journey. In the beginning, he’s lost. I think (showrunners) Jon [Steinberg] and Robert [Levine] were trying to find his odyssey. He is Odysseus, trying to find his home again and trying to find his center.
Captain Flint is not someone who likes to share his feelings with people.
STEPHENS: No, exactly. What’s great about the season is that we are allowed in to his head through the dream sequences. In the second season, you had flashbacks. Otherwise, he would become too remote. We’re allowed into him to see that there’s this seething turmoil that’s going on underneath. You will see a bit more, later into the season.
How difficult is it for him to not have someone left in his life that knew him before he became this dangerous pirate?
STEPHENS: In a way, I suppose it’s easier because you’re no longer tethered to the past, but it’s more lonely. One of the things that Season 3 deals with is how Silver is going to penetrate this guy. The only way that he can save the crew and himself is by somehow getting through to this guy and influencing him. He has to become the next Barlow or Gates to Flint, but that’s a dangerous thing.
That’s not a relationship that either one of them really want to have, but they’re really stuck with each other.
STEPHENS: Yeah, they become co-dependent. I won’t give much away, but their journey is really cool. We’re starting Season 4 and it’s going further into that. It’s a tragic relationship. It could never sustain itself. But for awhile, it’s sweet.
People really enjoyed the teaming of Captain Flint and Captain Vane, last season. Where are things at between them now?
STEPHENS: They have entered into this uneasy alliance, but they’re never going to be buddies. I think there’s a mutual respect there, but there is a difference between their world view. What Flint wants and what his bigger picture is differs from what the bigger picture is for Vane. Vane’s journey is sorting out what he really wants. He was an anarchic world where everybody is killing everybody and the strongest person wins, and he’s never going to be anybody’s slave anymore. Teach represents that for him. He’s the ultimate guy who has no alliances and has no debts. He’s just on his own. But when they come together, for Vane, he has to decide if it’s really what he wants, in the end. For him and for Flint, there’s an interesting journey to how they end up almost on the same side, really. Vane comes over more to Flint’s world view.
What does Flint think of Blackbeard showing up in Nassau?
STEPHENS: He comes in like the old school guy going, “It was better in my day.” But, what’s fun about it is that it plays with our sense of who the good guy is and who the bad guy is. In a way, you want Blackbeard to be this guy who comes in as the real pirate that shows everyone. He becomes someone where you go, “Actually, no, your way is not the right way. You’re old school and things are changing. This is no longer that world. You can’t hold onto that.” Things are slowly drawing into a point and all of these guys are being forced together. Where they were so disparate in the beginning, everything is beginning to come together. They all end up basically having a common purpose, which is survival. What’s interesting is the moment they find common grown through necessity. They’re never going to be buddies, but necessity demands that they actually come to some kind of agreement.
What sort of wrench does Eleanor Guthrie throw into things?
STEPHENS: In terms of her relationship with Flint, they’re no longer. They’ve parted ways. Flint thinks she’s gone to England to be tried and formally hung. When she comes back with Woodes Rogers, for Flint, that’s a very dangerous thing. What Woodes Rogers represents is a very dangerous thing. It’s different from what it was when he and Hamilton had come up with this idea of the pardons. It’s now something that’s different. England is using it as a tool to control. So, Woodes Rogers is almost like this warped version of James McGraw. Also, inevitably, it’s all commercially driven. It’s all about money. And Eleanor has just got to survive somehow. She is trying to go from almost being hung to somebody who has influence again. It’s a long journey for her.
After what will clearly be a big Season 3, will Season 4 get even bigger?
STEPHENS: What it’s about is taking the audience with you. It’s one thing to be bigger, if you’re not pulling the audience along with you. It has to be about the story and the characters. As long as the story and characters keep going and expanding in a real way, then I think it will keep up with itself. For me, some of the greatest sequences in Season 3 are not about big CGI stuff. Towards the end of it, you get the weight of this series, which I’d never felt before. You’re like, “My god, this is actually quite profound.” It does become like one of those big, beefy novels that you read. It’s dealing with big stuff. There’s some stuff that happens towards the end of the season, in each episode. I wouldn’t want to binge-watch the season. I’d want to watch it piece by piece because I’d want to digest it. You don’t want it to mulch together. It’s cool.
Black Sails airs on Saturday nights on Starz.