Black Sails will return to Starz on January 29, 2017 for its fourth and final season. When we last left the pirates, Captain Flint (Toby Stephens) was beginning the revolution in Nassau and Long John Silver’s (Luke Arnold) star was rising. We recently got a chance to chat with Toby Stephens about the end of the series, what’s coming for Flint and working on this epic show. Check out his thoughts on season four below!
Here is the official synopsis:
The fourth season opens with hundreds of British soldiers dead in a forest… the Royal Navy sails back to England in retreat… the West Indies are now a war zone, and the shores of New Providence Island have never been bloodier. With the help of Eleanor Guthrie, Woodes Rogers transforms Nassau into a fortress without walls, as Captain Flint amasses a fleet of unprecedented strength, hoping to strike the final blow against civilization and reshape the world forever. Meanwhile, from within the island… an insurgency builds, fueled by the legend of its exiled leader, whose name keeps grown men awake at night… the one they call “Long John Silver.”
But as Flint, Silver and their allies are about to learn, the closer civilization comes to defeat, the more desperately and destructively it will fight back. Oaths will be shattered, fortunes will change hands, and amidst the chaos, only one thing remains certain: it has never been more dangerous to call oneself a pirate.
Legion of Leia: I was in South Africa on the set when you were filming that crazy storm sequence in season three. What sort of set pieces are we going to see this time around?
Toby Stephens: It’s huge. There’s loads of stuff that will keep fans extremely happy, I’m sure.
Legion of Leia: Flint had a crazy few seasons. I’m curious about whether or not you think his destiny was set with Miranda’s (Louise Barnes) death.
Toby Stephens: I think yes, it kind of compounded the way he was going. I mean, I think before Miranda died, maybe people could reason him out of certain choices, but I think when Miranda dies, that’s the last nail in the coffin in terms of him going after England in this relentless way. And also, I would say, the other thing that compounds it is finding an ally in Silver. The fact that they become partners in this enterprise, it seems that Flint can only function when he has somebody who he’s allied with or is an alter-ego for him. Someone who can balance him and he can work through. So that is both good for him and bad for him in a way.
Legion of Leia: In the last episode, there is that conversation between Flint and Silver where they’re like, oh, we’re friends. But bad things happen to Flint’s friends. We know a bit about where this is going to go because of “Treasure Island.” What’s ahead for Flint here?
Toby Stephens: Yeah, well, I think it’s really the end game for the whole series, and we know it’s a tragedy because there was no great revolution in the pirate world. There was no emancipation of the pirates and the slaves. It didn’t happen, so why did it not happen and what happens to Flint at the end of that, when his dreams are crushed? What happens to Silver and him? How does that play out? And also, how does the Silver that we know become the eponymous Long John Silver of “Treasure Island?” How does that happen? And I think season four brilliantly leads us to a point where where, it’s a very satisfying ending, but also leaves you to fill in the gaps between there and “Treasure Island.” You kind of know who these people are at the end of this, but it’s a kind of really cool thing to allow people to do that themselves rather than go, look, this is what happens, all the way to the end. It leaves you to do some work yourself.
Legion of Leia: I love that. This show has sent me to Wikipedia more often than you would believe!
Toby Stephens: [laughs] I know!
Legion of Leia: How much research do you do for a role like this, or do you rely mostly on the script?
Toby Stephens: Do you know what? It’s a combination of laziness and there is method to it. I just go with what is in the script. I mean, like you, I’ll go to Wikipedia if I need to know something, if I don’t know what something is. But whether or not it has real historic context, for me is immaterial because I’m working in a fictive world. It’s a fictive world with dashes here or there of historic fact. A pinch here, a pinch there, and I need to work in that world, so it’s better if I stick there.
Legion of Leia: I did love seeing how much was actually built on the set and how many little touches were there, historical and fictive, both.
Toby Stephens: Yeah, what I love is the detail in terms of everybody else, the props, etc. There was a lot of care taken about what would have been there, what wouldn’t have been there, creating that texture of the world, where you can believe it.
Legion of Leia: When we were there, we were hearing stories of bugs in the walls!
Toby Stephens: We were always having problems with–there were these crickets. And they would get in. We would call them “sea crickets!” [laughs] You would be in a take and you would hear [makes cricket noises]. We’re supposed to be in the middle of something scene! [laughs] Or there would be birds up in the rigging going “cheep, cheep!” And you just go, oh my God, there’s another hour in ADR!
Legion of Leia: Did you have to do a ton of ADR?
Toby Stephens: Oh yeah! I have become the master of ADR. I breeze it now! I kind of like it because sometimes you can actually improve things. You know? There was a scene I did in the first season where it was with Gates (Mark Ryan), and it was a storm, and we’re having this conversation and we’re having a drink, and we’re on the set–it was the beginning when they used to gimbal the set. It was so noisy! There was water coming in, dripping everywhere. They wanted it to look authentic. Because it was quite a stressful set to be on [laughs], for some reason my [in a high-pitched voice] my voice was up here! I watched it–I mean, I had to loop it because there was so much noise there, but I thought, I sound like an hysteric! I managed to re-voice the whole thing and kind of couch it where Flint speaks normally. That’s a case in point where you can really improve on things.
Legion of Leia: I can’t imagine trying to speak clearly during some of those storm scenes!
Toby Stephens: I mean, it was mad! This job was amazing because I loved the people and I loved working on it, but there are aspects that I won’t miss. It was totally exhausting. By the end of this last season, I was literally hanging in rags, because it makes such demands on you. You’ve got enormous amounts of dialogue and enormous amounts of acting to do, and then at the same time, you’ve got all of this physical stuff to do, and it’s day in and day out. And you’re in the costumes and you’re in baking heat, and it was long, long days. No other job I would be able to do, in terms of acting–I mean, I’m not working in a coal mine–but there is no other job I could do that would come near this. It sort of made me immune to–it made everything else seem like a breeze. It was so arduous. And some of the stuff we did in season four, some of the stuff that I did towards the end, it was really difficult. Really difficult.
Legion of Leia: Having seen that storm scene and the tanks of water being dumped on you and the ship moving back and forth and the yelling–it was crazy!
Toby Stephens: Yeah, it was also the length of time it went on for. Because we also did two weeks straight, and then we kept on coming back for pickups because it was so particular. And also, it’s part of the reason why I’m so proud of the show, is that they had such exacting standards for what they wanted. They’d cut it together and realize they were missing bits, or that they could get bits better, but it was a drag. You had to get back on this deck and they were spraying you with stuff and they had the engines on. It was brutal. But you look at the end result and you go, that will stand. In ten years time, it will look amazing.
Legion of Leia: What are you going to miss the most, now that the show is over?
Toby Stephens: I think I’ll miss all the people that I worked with. One of the things about the job is, you create these very intense and very fun relationships with people, creative relationships with people, very creative, and then they dissolve and move on. I’ll miss that, and working with such great writers. John [Steinberg], Robert [Levine] and Dan [Shotz], you know, just brilliant writing, fantastic showrunners. They were so good and we had a really intense relationship. I’ll miss that.
Legion of Leia: What do you have coming up next?
Toby Stephens: So I just started doing the reinvention of Lost In Space for Netflix, so I literally just started working for them. I’m really excited for that. It’s a brilliant segue from one genre to another. [laughs] It’s a really fun reinvention of it. It’s really clever, and I’m really excited about it. I think this will be fun in terms of, it’s servicing fans, making a show for now.
Legion of Leia: Also, different costumes. Maybe not so much wool in the heat!
Toby Stephens: I think it will be differently uncomfortable. [laughs]
Legion of Leia: Those costumes were insane and it was so hot while you were filming.
Toby Stephens: Yeah, it was tough, and also in the brutal sun all day long. Standing on ships. It was killer. And the boots. I remember always complaining. I bitched and moaned about my boots all the time. [laughs] These things are killing me! Can you imagine these pirates going, “Jeeze, man! Couldn’t we have flip flops? Could we have a pair of thongs? Why do we have to wear these things?” [laughs]
Legion of Leia: I feel like pirates should have worn fewer clothes!
Toby Stephens: Yeah! [laughs] But apparently they didn’t. They didn’t, actually. The whole thing of pirates wearing all of that is baloney. They actually–they had very light shirts and stuff. Apparently they just didn’t wear much.
Legion of Leia: That was for fancy pirates.
Toby Stephens: And also, it was just for show. Also, what Black Sails kind of gets into is, a lot of it was p.r. It was p.r. by the English, because they wanted to demonize these people, but it was also their own p.r.–like Blackbeard having fuses on his beard and stuff like that. It was all to make people scared.
Legion of Leia: You can see that even with what Billy [Tom Hopper] is doing at the end of season three with Silver.
Toby Stephens: Yeah, and here’s a really fun thing. You get to the end of this season, and you take a screenshot of characters at the end of this season and you compare them to screenshots from the beginning of season one and they’re just like–the journey that they’ve been on, and the toll it’s taken on them is really cool. I mean, Luke just looks terrible at the end of it! And he was so beautiful at the beginning! [laughs] And the same with Tom Hopper who plays Billy Bones. You see he’s headed towards the Billy Bones of “Treasure Island.”
Legion of Leia: I wanted to ask you about Flint and Billy. There is such a tense relationship there with so much history. How is that going to shift this season?
Toby Stephens: Yeah, it really comes to a head. It comes to blows. They’re not going to be able to–it’s really interesting the way Billy goes, I think, in this season. It’s been a long time coming.
Legion of Leia: Do you think Flint has any of the idealism left that he had at the beginning?
Toby Stephens: Well, what’s really interesting at the end of it, one realizes how personal this is for Flint. And that, actually, it’s not really some altruistic scheme that he has to liberate everybody. He’s playing out his own psychodrama in reality. And how demented–how he will not stop. How it will go on and on and on. And somebody has to stop that. You know, it’s a tragedy because we know that there was no–it’s got to end somewhere. It’s not going to be good.
Legion of Leia: I do have to ask you about working with your family! [Toby’s wife Anna-Louise Plowman plays Mrs. Hudson and his brother Chris Larkin joined the cast as a Redcoat this season]
Toby Stephens: Yeah! It was wonderful, actually! It was so wonderful because I hadn’t spent so much time with my brother for a while. And was really great hanging out with him. And it was a bit strange. We had one scene where we were given direction to look at each other across–we had no lines together, but we had to look at each other across this town square. And I suddenly realized, this is really difficult because nobody on Earth knows me as well as my brother does. And to try and pretend with one another is just impossible! There cannot be any artifice! [laughs] So both of us, it was hopeless! I said, you look at my chest and I’ll look at your forehead. [laughs] It’s impossible! You can’t hide!
Are you guys excited for season four? Let us know in the comments! Black Sails will return to Starz on January 29, 2017.