The last time audiences saw the vengeful Captain Flint (Toby Stephens), his and Vane’s crew sailed under one flag and laid waste to Charleston, after the British brought the hammer down with hopes of crushing Nassau once and for all. Yeah… good job, ya redcoats. Unfortunately for Captain Flint, he wasn’t able to sail into sunset. A bevy of problems were immediately thrown his way like a handful of hardtack. Still, none of them compare to the cold, calculating brutality that saunters over the horizon.
A fierce rival has reemerged from the depths in the form of the intimidating Edward Teach, played by Ray Stevenson.
Stevenson first captured the attention of American audiences with his depiction of legionnaire Titus Pullo in Rome. His first foray in the then-burgeoning niche of comic book adaptations was his take of the merciless killing machine Frank Castle in Punisher: War Zone. For many genre fans, Stevenson is currently best known for his portrayal of the voluminous Volstagg of the Warriors Three in Marvel’s Thor series. Stevenson’s career mustn’t be condensed to colorful soldiers and vigilantes however, as his work is replete with a number of enduring characters on stage and film.
In the highly anticipated third season of Black Sails, Stevenson portrays the formidable Teach – commonly known by all as Blackbeard. A true titan of the seas, in the series Teach removed himself from his authoritative station due to an intensifying quarrel between him and his esteemed pupil, Charles Vane (Zach McGowan). The seas call to Teach yet again and no one, from a scabby little deckhand to a pirate lord, is going to stop him from attaining his place above all others once more.
Project Fandom was able to speak with Mr. Stevenson during his very busy schedule to learn his insights on playing such memorable dark characters, what attracted him to Black Sails and how it’s all smiles and laughs on a set full of scallywags.
Mr. Stevenson, a pleasure to talk to you.
And you, sir.
You played various roles throughout your career from different walks of life. However your more intimidating characters – Titus Pullo, Frank Castle, Isaak Sirko – had a depth and complexity that’s seldom seen in villains and anti-heroes.
You’re very welcome, sir! When tackling these darker roles, how much of your personality blends in with their stories?
Wow… I’m not sure, to be personally honest. I think being born in Northern Ireland, being around sectarian violence, being aware of that and growing up in the northeast of England… I don’t know, you bring an appreciation of life experiences and you bring the fact that I love these characters and there’s so much more to be mined and to be explored and shown. It doesn’t make them any less violent or less menacing, it’s not there to justify them at all. It’s to make them thoroughly engaging and that then serves the other actors you’re working with. There’s not a two-dimensional cut-out in front of them going “You better do that or else” and all this sort of stuff.
Everybody has their way of justifying their actions and what have you, from despots to chimney sweeps. Everybody has equal complexities in their life, whether you’re a farmer in Vietnam or you’re a senator in congress. It doesn’t mean anybody’s more or less sophisticated, it’s just that you’re dealing with your own life. […] Dramatists – and I use the word dramatists as in everybody from writers, directors, actors, camera – everybody who puts this drama together… when we’re at our best, all we do is hold the mirror up to human condition.
Within the passage of this, somebody’s upbringing is so radically different even within their own families, from their brothers and sisters. What makes them so radically different that one brother becomes a military general and another one becomes a ceramicist. Exploring those directions and traits and influences […] and see how that plays out in a drama.
What in particular attracted you to this rendition of Edward Teach?
When they approached me, they sent me a couple of episodes which I thought were thoroughly engaging. They also sent me a documentary on the making of; I saw the colossal work that’s gone on behind the scenes to bring this to the screen. Everything from the set builders to the fabricators to the armorers and the costume designers, and obviously the cast. And the writing! You go “You know what, this is what I do!” This is why we do what we do and it doesn’t get better than this. It gets different but it doesn’t get better than this. This is a huge endeavor and investment, and a huge sort of ensemble piece. And there is this character Edward Teach! You know his place has been documented so many times by so many different people. He is definitely such an impactful character. I just thought that I’d love to see if I could realize him and bring him into play.
One would assume Teach’s assertiveness and his legendary status would cause some derision among the men in Nassau, as well as with Captain Flint. So I was wondering about the process between you and the cast members, in particular Toby Stephens. Your respective characters, at least what can be seen in the trailer, have such strong opposing agendas.
So in getting that on the screen, behind the scenes was there little or no interaction between scenes to keep the tension high?
If there’s tension, the tension is there in the writing. These are two alpha males, basically. Charles Vane, as well. These are alpha males in a very violent and very vital time. Men at their peak. Men living at their wits and their acumen and talents, shall we say… Are they going to ally themselves? Are they going to weaken their position? Are they going to strengthen it? It’s a maneuvering game. They’re on the same side, but kind of. It’s like you put lions in the same room. As long as nobody upsets the status quo, they can get on. But you know somebody is gonna have to at one time because they can’t co-exist like this forever. These people don’t. They have to be kings in their realm. It makes it very interesting to play!
Off screen… off screen, Toby’s just bloody wonderful! He’s an amazing human being. In fact, he and his family came and stayed at my place where I live over this side. I wish I’d been there… He’s good with actors who go to work. When you got an actor who brings their character to your character in all its fullness, you just go “Thank goodness!” because then you can go to work! So Edward Teach is dealing with Flint, it’s not Edward Teach dealing with Toby Stephens. And likewise. And vice versa.
Sorry, I rabbit on.
No no, it’s fine! Mr. Stevenson, thank you for your time and continued success!
Thank you so much!
The third season of Black Sails premieres Saturday January 23 at 9pm on Starz.