In BLACK SAILS, there has been one driving force of vengeance against England, Captain Flint. A feared madman to some and the liberator of Nassau to others. But who is he really? Toby Stephens, the man that brings Flint to life, sat down and spoke with us on Flint’s motivations, Flint’s journey and a hint at how it all ends…
Sinful Celluloid – When you first got the part, how much of Flint’s story was revealed to you and did you know how it would end?
Toby Stephens – Oh no no. They just told me his pre-story really. Because that was his motivation for a lot of stuff so it was important for me to know that but I had no idea where it was headed.
SC – In a lot of the interpretations of Flint over the years, he’s always presented as a really bad guy. Did any of that influence you in the beginning or now where you’re heading?
TS – I think what’s great about the writing of Flint is that in season one he was this tough guy who was inscrutable. You didn’t know what his motives were or why he was doing these things. The second season opened up and you had these flashbacks and you suddenly realize that you thought this character was one thing but know this has totally flipped him on his head and you have to look at him in a different way. It also humanized him. You think he’s this bad guy who’s bad to his crew and really selfish and then you realize he’s a human being. But his motives are demented. He’s wanting to exact revenge on England for what was done to him but the price that’s being paid is enormous. But the audience understands him and they want him to have that revenge but at the same time he keeps killing people. People close to him and also the crew so you realize it’s taking this massive toll. Who’s gonna stop him and that’s where season 4 comes in. I love the fact that they have written a character that you are constantly having to reevaluate your feelings for. That’s what is so cool about modern TV writing, it’s so sophisticated and it really tells a satisfying story rather than being about a goodie or a baddie. The baddies are really complicated and moral ambiguity is part of our human condition and it’s really about that. Things are bad only from the direction you’re looking at, know what I mean? (laughs)
SC – There was such an outcry when his motives were reveled. I wrote a piece entitled Sexuality in the Golden Age of Piracy that really explained the word at the time.
TS – It’s really interesting because I think that is definitely the case in that this has always been part of nautical life I’ll say. Its always been present. But in terms of the way we look at people I think it suddenly became a common thing in shows to have people turn out to be gay. But I think in terms of this drama, I think what was great was that actually it doesn’t define him. It’s a part of this very complex character and really his motivation is pride. It’s the fact that they stripped him of everything. It’s not really the fact that Thomas died so much. He was this talented Naval tactician that was brilliant and was going to go far and they took everything away from him. And that was the bug in his ass is, that’s what’s driving him.
SC – It’s one of the things I appreciated because a lot of time people let their sexuality define every aspect of their lives and we are so much more than that.
TS – Oh my god yeah. Your sexuality, when you think about it, is just a part of this very complex person and you’re not entirely motivated by your sexuality. I really kinda like the fact that they stuck to it. It did cause outrage in a lot of viewers because for some reason, they felt that it took away this guy that they wanted to identify with. Surely its a bit wrong that you want to identify with this guy who just wants to kill people. (laughs) I think that it’s just a very interesting story.
SC – You’ve done some pretty bad things as Flint, is there anything in the final season that you as an actor felt was pretty extreme even for Flint?
TS – Yeah, there is some stuff towards the end of the season that I won’t detail but was just so tough, physically. What’s great about it is because it’s so unflinching. The man becomes more and more driven and unhinged and desperate. The audience is kinda dragged along with him. They’re going “please don’t do this. Please stop” Someone’s gotta stop him. It’s such a great ending to the whole thing but it’s hard because…well, it was easy because I was just so exhausted by the end of it. I was at my limit and I was going “Please can I stop?” (laughs) At the same time it has such a cool ending and where he and Silver end up. Because you know it’s going to end tragically. There was no great revolution. There was no great emancipation of the pirate world and the slaves at that time.
SC – As a pirate enthusiast I watch knowing how many of the historical characters die and when they die and it’s just hard as a viewer.
TS – I love the way that its always had that. Like the title sequence indicates that this isn’t going to end well. They all died. They all go in the end and Silver ends up this tragic character. He’s a cook and owns an inn and in Treasure Island, goes back to the island to find the treasure and doesn’t even get it then. We get to treasure island, we get to the treasure. It’s very satisfying.
SC – Is there anything you wanted to do with Flint that you didn’t get a chance to do?
TS – I don’t think so. It was such a satisfying journey for me to take this guy on for four years. I loved this journey and I don’t think I would have wanted it any other way.
SC – This season sees you facing off against some characters that you’ve spent four years with like Billy. Was that taxing?
TS – I think for Flint, he’s constantly trying to pragmatically get people on his side. “This is why we are doing this.” He doesn’t want to just kill people because he’ll end up losing good men and Billy is just one of those guys that he just wants to persuade. But the stuff that happens in season four has been a long time coming for Billy and their relationship totally breaks down. And it finally comes to a head which is good because it needed to. I think it’s good because it made Tom’s (Hopper) journey much more specific in that he was becoming more and more the Billy Bones of Treasure Island, this haunted, desperate guy. It kinda pulls him closer to that character.
SC- In season four, who are your favorite scenes with?
TS – To be honest with you, most of them are with Luke (Arnold). I think their story is really the interesting thing for me in that season. Where that leads and the tragedy of their story. How Flint is deliberately seeding power to someone else and the danger there is that its very hard to get that power back once you’ve given it away.
SC And he (Silver) doesn’t have the baggage that Flint has.
TS – Yeah he doesn’t. Things are simpler for him.
SC – Season three had the storm. Is there anything this season that was so intense to shoot for you?
TS – There’s loads actually. It’s very physical this season. It’s not so much storms or existential stuff but more physical battles. There is just a lot of fighting.
SC – Now that you come to an end, would you want to return to the character if there was an opportunity to do it?
TS – I kinda don’t think I would. I’d be very interested in see how you see the ending of this and what you would say. But I love the fact that we ended where we ended. It leaves a gap between Black Sails and Treasure Island for the audience to fill in. I like that. I think it ends in a very interesting place. It’s sad but it seems right.
SC – Of the characters we’ve lost in seasons one through three, who was the one that you felt the most? Both as Flint and as you as an actor.
TS – I think Mrs. Barlowe/Miranda Hamilton is the death for Flint that sets him on this path that is so destructive. And it was tough for me as an actor because I really had a great relationship with her and I loved playing that stuff. It was tough but it was right for the story and in the end, that’s why you’re there.
SC – Is there anything in closing that you want the fans to know.
TS – Just that I hope they enjoy it that’s all. I really do and I know they will.
The final season of BLACK SAILS premieres tomorrow, Sunday, January 29th on STARZ