Life in the Providence Island town of Nassau is about to get a bit more complicated. The Starz series Black Sails is about begin its third season, and the show, a prequel to Robert Louis Stevenson’s classic novel Treasure Island, is adding a bit of real life history to the mix, as Ray Stevenson (Thor, Thor: Dark World, Rome, Punisher: War Zone) joins the cast as Thomas Teach, better known historically as Blackbeard. We spoke with Mr. Stevenson about his role as the infamous pirate, and the characters impact on the pirate inhabited town.
Film Dumpster: How are you today, sir?
Ray Stevenson: I’m great, how are you?
I’m excellent, thank you very much. Alright, so I don’t want to take up too much of your time. First of all, I watched the first few episodes of season three, and I’ve got to say, I really liked your portrayal of Teach.
History has him as being both ruthless and very smart, and I think you’ve really pulled that off really nicely.
Oh, great. Thank you.
The Nassau that Blackbeard left isn’t quite the same one that he returned to. What can Nassau expect from Blackbeard in light of this?
You are absolutely right, and that becomes pivotal very early on. I kind of liken it to like, Keith Richards walks into a bar somewhere and you have got guys in the corner sitting on the tables going, “you know, I used to be in the band and I used to play guitar”. And he turns up, and he is just the living embodiment, the larger than life embodiment of everything that represents what a being a pirate is. You have got people sitting around and going, “You know I used to be a pirate”, you know? And you have to think, just by turning up, and without having to grandstand or anything, he changes the electricity in the room. And the other ones? You know, he sits here and he is disgusted. They have gotten decadent and gotten soft and they know it, but they know it only when he turns up and he just has to stand in front of them, and they’re already ashamed. They know that he’s the real deal and so they suddenly realize, like, “oh shit!” He’s there like going, “Are you kidding? Everything we set up? The main ship? The pirates’ charter? And the legacy of this, and this is what you have done with it? You’ve gone soft and decadent?” And just his presence alone, and he kind of sits back on this, he doesn’t grandstand and barnstorm his way in…but a storm is coming.
What are Blackbeard’s motivations for coming back?
He came back to put himself back on the account, to reestablish himself as a pirate captain, and also basically to ultimately build, rather than just individual pirates saying they’re captains on one individual ship, to create a fleet; a terrible terrifying fleet, even more sort of productive and devastating. But underneath all of that, his own sort of personal deep rooted personal mission is far more emotionally engaging, which is wonderful that the writers I have have been able to explore this. He spent eight years away in sort of like Virginia, in kind of a of Landed Gentry, but he went through eight or nine wives looking for a son, and he had daughters or no births. He was sort of Like Henry VIII. In this period of history, somebody to carry on your name, to carry your legacy on, your legend, was so important, was so vital to a man’s existence and place in history. I mean, he doesn’t have one. The closest thing there ever was this pirate that he mentored all of those years ago, and this pirate was called Charles Vane, and he has come back just to see if he can have to rekindle that relationship and have this heir apparent by his righthand side. To dubiously, in deed on his passing, to carry on his legacy and his legend, he will live through that pirate that he saw reminded him of himself when he was younger. So there is really a human story in there; a very father son thing coming out of it. And it’s wonderful to see for the first time, you know? A ruthless, notorious pirate displaying such human condition, and such, you know, such debt to humanity. So I’m very excited to see how this all plays, this all comes out.
Blackbeard’s relationship with Vane is very interesting because they didn’t leave off under the greatest of circumstances, it seems. Vane kind of sold him out.
I know, yeah, there’s the woman. Vane tells them that he basically kicked him out of Nassau, and Teach is there going, “you know what? Isn’t it weird? It’s not how I remember it. I remember leaving because I was faced with a choice of killing the son that I mentored, either killing him or leaving, and I’d chose to leave.” And yet Vane’s attitude is “we had to kick you out,” and Teach’s attitude is, “I left because then I’d have to kill you, and it was all over this bloody woman.” (Laughter).
I know a lot of the cast went through some pirate boot camp before they started production on the first season. Did you have to do any type of preparation when you joined the cast?
No, I didn’t. I got a reprieve. I got a “get out of jail” card for that. And I think it was because he is coming back after eight or nine years away, so initially he seems to be a bit sort of soft around the edges, and of course he has been philosophical now and he’s also got a different view on his own mortality and life itself. He kind of sits back and is getting a weight and measure of this Nassau that he doesn’t recognize before he will make his moves. And he’s a very intelligent, very well read man, and a great navigator captain, great leader, and his reputation is already established. He doesn’t have to go and dick swing, doesn’t have to go and bully people around. As I say, he realizes and knows the power of him just turning up.
This isn’t the first role that you have taken on of a known person or character. You’ve played some pretty iconic roles in the past. How do you approach taking on a role that audiences may have preconceived notions of?
Well, I think its exciting and its a challenge and its a huge responsibility, but historical accounts are written inevitably by victors or by sensationalist journalists. And I kind of like In London at that time, we’re getting a lot of the history that we have we’re getting these pamphlets back from the Bahamas, we’re getting stories about these pirates, these seafaring pirates of the Bahamian seas and all of this, and I liken it to New York and the east coast of America, during the time of the outlaws in this country when they were selling pamphlets back to New York and telling people about Billy the Kid, and the “Hole in the Wall” gang and Jesse James. And so, would you regard that as fiction or factual history? Some of it is historical and some of it embellishes, so you take it with a pinch of salt. You obviously the legend has been there are many versions, he is probably one of the most well documented pirates of history anyway, so there are many sources you can go to, which are all kind of the same, but they have kind of got their own differences. But also the period with within it exists and once you have done all that, you can put all stuff of that aside and immerse yourself in the scripts, because ultimately I’m playing Black Sail’s version of Blackbeard. Blackbeard has to exist and live and breathe as part of the very fabric and nature of the Black Sail’s world.
I just have one more question. How well do you think you would survive as a pirate?
Well, you know, there are pirates in all shapes and forms. There are pirates wearing suits on Wall Street, do you know what I mean?
Fair enough. Well, sir, I appreciate for taking time out of your day.
Take care, brother.
Big thanks to Mr. Stevenson for speaking with us. Season three of Black Sails premieres on January 23rd on Starz.
Interview transcription services by Eaya Reynolds.