“Black Sails” returns for its second season on Starz on Saturday, January 24. Picking up right where the first season left off, Captain Flint (Toby Stephens) and John Silver (Luke Arnold) are stranded with their crew on an island. I’ve seen the first two new episodes and got to speak with Arnold and Stephens when they were at the Television Critics Association winter press tour.
Some light spoilers for season two follow, as it entails Flint and Silver boarding another ship, battling with other boats in their quest for gold. The action is only going to get bigger, the actors say, but we’ll never quite know whether to trust Flint or Silver, names you’ll also recognize from Treasure Island.
ComingSoon.net: Are Flint and Silver pretty inseparable now?
Toby Stephens: Yeah.
Luke Arnold: Yeah, we do. Season one, we had little bits to do with each other, but especially second season, we got to spend a lot of time together and luckily we don’t hate each other.
Stephens: You were sick of me by the end of the season.
Arnold: No, it’s been pretty nice. It is one of the great things in the show for me is to work with this guy.
Stephens: Mine as well.
Arnold: A big highlight of the season.
Stephens: It’s a lot of fun, because they’re such a mismatch. It’s a great relationship between the two of them stuck together. Circumstances have thrown them together. They don’t trust one another, they don’t like one another and yet they need one another. That’s kind of a cool dynamic.
CS: Is there less duplicity now that both of their agendas are right out in the open?
Arnold: It definitely begins that way. Without saying too much, I think that’s where they start. They’re very much on the same page. They go, “Well, we both want the same thing so let’s team up.” But I think their alliance is very dependent on that remaining true or remaining the same as the season goes on. So yeah, I think it constantly changes. From moment to moment they can be honest with each other and then you see maybe one of them. They’re never sure who’s going to cross whom.
Stephens: It’s also trying to work out what the other one’s bigger game is, because they’re both people who think ten steps ahead of the next person. It’s the reason that they kind of actually are similar. They’re chess players, but it’s trying to work out where are your ten steps ahead compared to where my ten steps ahead are. They’re both trying to figure out, okay, when you get this gold, what are you going to do with the gold? Do you really intend to get the gold? Where are we going with this? So they’re constantly trying to second guess each other. It’s not that they’re lying to one another. It’s just that we’re very economic with the truth.
Arnold: And it’s quite strange because Silver knows as much as anyone, if not more so, what this man is capable of and what happens to the men who are close to him. So he knows he has to be on his guard the whole time because he was in the room when Gates got choked out. So he’s very aware not to put too much trust in this man’s world.
CS: Do you catch up at all to Treasure Island this season?
Arnold: I think the shadows of Treasure Island start to hang over “Black Sails” much more in this series, which to me is my favorite thing about it. Plotting that chart for Silver between this young kid we see at the beginning of season one and the man we know he has to become. That’s both with Flint as well. You only hear about Flint in the book. Definitely the ghost of him is so strong.
Stephens: There are more references to the book, but what’s great is that it doesn’t become tied down by it as well. I was saying earlier, it’s like Robert Louis Stevenson saw “Treasure Island” from this vantage. We’re looking at it from this vantage. So it’s the same story, they’re the same characters but perceived in a totally different way. Robert Louis Stevenson wrote it in this kind of romanticized children’s almost naive point of view. We’re looking at it from a very 21st century adult way. It’s the same kind of thing but from a different angle.
CS: Speaking of literature, did you have a preference for Captain Flint or Rochester in Jayne Eyre?
Stephens: That’s really hard to say because they’re such different characters. Rochester is a literary archetype. He really is. I was very nervous when I played him because it was like am I going to be able to do Rochester right for all of these women out there who are totally obsessed by this character in fiction? But it was a very satisfying part to play and I loved doing it. In a way, Flint, we’re creating a character totally because he’s not in “Treasure Island.” He’s talked about. He’s referred to. We don’t know who this guy is so I’m starting afresh with the writers. That’s what’s really cool is creating this character. I’m not trying to avoid the question. It’s just really hard to compare the two because they’re satisfying in totally different ways. I would say they’re equally satisfying.
CS: How is the fencing training going?
Arnold: Training kind of adapts as we go. It really kicked off with our boot camp and got our basic sword skills under our belt. After that point, much more happens really fight by fight. There isn’t a time. Unfortunately there isn’t the time to keep getting us in the stunt room just for general training. We are in the gym pretty much every day but the fight training really comes a month or however long we can before the scene.
Stephens: Getting you in, choreographing the fight so that on the day… The problem was at the end of last season, the schedule got so constant that there was no time. There was absolutely no time, and it ends with this epic sequence which I won’t get into, but it’s a really epic sequence at the end of the season with loads of various fights with me and Zach McGowan fighting…
Arnold: Don’t say too much, man, come on.
Stephens: I’m not, and we had no time, so it was kind of like on the day, okay, this happens, this happens, then you do this and then we go to that. It’s all a bit last minute but that was kind of fun. It kind of added an edge to it that perhaps wouldn’t have been there.
Arnold: Like everything, it always happens in shooting. You’d always love more time with the training and preparation, but once the wheels start turning, that rehearsal and training time starts to disappear.
CS: The season starts out with a big naval battle, so does the pace keep up action-wise?
Arnold: Absolutely. There was plenty of action in season one but that is dwarfed time and time again in season two. While it is still the focus of “Black Sails” being a character-driven drama, there is so much action in the second season and the scale of it just gets bigger and bigger. If people want a bit more action, you definitely get it served up in the second season.
Stephens: The thing is, you’ve got to ration out. If you just have sea battle after sea battle, it’s boring. It’s like oh, another sea battle, they blow the sh*t out of each other, there’s a load of cannons coming. But there are all kinds of different action sequences that you can have within the context of this show. So it’s not necessarily just about ships. And I love the fact that we go back to London 15 years before. We reveal this whole other kind of world. Really, the kind of center of that world because that’s where it all comes from. All of the power comes from England. The reason that they’re there comes from England, so it’s cool that that takes us there and that opens up a whole other world for us.
Arnold: What I love about the first episode, and it’s where the writers are getting inventive in a great way is that we see a ship takeover in a completely different way, your and my little mission. There’s a really inventive, interesting, tense way to take over a ship rather than blasting it with cannons and throwing the hooks over and doing that thing. I think lots more of that where we start to see pirate action in not the cliche way you’ve come to expect.
CS: You’ve already got a third season.
Arnold: We’re in the middle of it.
CS: This whole time have you shot seasons back to back?
Stephens: We have a five month hiatus between where they have to write them. They start writing them.
Arnold: And also because the visual effects are so huge, that’s why we have to be over a year ahead. Even though we’re shooting season three now, they’ve only just put finishing touches on the end of season two ready to air. The post-production is so massive we have to be ahead of the game.
CS: What are Flint’s and Silver’s most redeeming qualities?
Arnold: I think Silver’s honesty about his intentions. I think even though he can be so duplicitous and can lie and has the gift of the gab, he’s also really able to just say, “Don’t trust me. Don’t rely on me for anything more than what I’m telling you. I’m only teaming up with you because we both want this. As soon as we get it, I’ll see you later.” And I think that clarity of his intentions is actually a really redeeming feature.
Stephens: I think Flint is that he’s brilliant at what he does. He’s an incredibly good seaman. As we find out, he was in the Navy so he’s properly trained. He is a really good captain and generally his decision making is sound. It’s just that it isn’t particularly perhaps the choices that his crew would want him to make. But his judgment is very, very good and rational. I think that’s his saving grace.