‘Black Sails’ star Hannah New lends us insight into Eleanor Guthrie’s journey throughout the series.
There’s been a major upset in the sixth episode of Black Sails, Season 4. Governor Rogers brings in the Spanish Navy to help retake Nassau with a vengeance. Silver delivers Billy to the slaves in an effort to reestablish an alliance. Flint and Madi get separated by Spanish forces marching all across the island. Rogers searches for Eleanor, who has not returned to the fort.
Eleanor Guthrie herself, Hannah New, sat down with us to talk about the events of this week’s episode, specifically the one major scene concerning her first ever fight on the show.
WARNING: This interview contains major spoilers for Black Sails, episode 406, “XXXIV.” We’d hate to ruin anything for you. Make sure you’ve watched the episode first before reading this.
Eleanor Guthrie, who so desperately wanted to end the war on Nassau peacefully, meets her end this week in a fight for her life against a Spanish soldier. The two most influential men on the island have lost their loves respectively. There’s absolutely no turning back on this war now.
Legion of Leia: When we talked at New York Comic Con, you and the others said that this season of Black Sails is it. The be-all-end-all of the entire series, no punches pulled. Boy have you not… Jeez.
Hannah New: [Laughs] Yeah, it certainly is an assault on the senses, isn’t it?
LoL: Um, yes it is! [Laughs] I love it, though. Let’s just get right to it. Tell me about that dreaded death scene.
HN: I knew we were building up to this from the beginning of the season, so I just feel so blessed that it had been built up in such a beautiful way. The game changes significantly for Eleanor since marrying Rogers and coming back to the island in a different capacity. For me it was really, really interesting when I picked up the script. For the whole past four years, I had been asking “When am I going to kick some ass, and get some guns, and swords?” When I read the script I was like, “There are eight different things here wrapped up all in one!” Which is really, really cool.
Initially, I was a little apprehensive because we were on such a tight schedule; we didn’t have much time to rehearse it. In fact I had two hours to learn it, which was pretty challenging considering we were going to shoot it in one or two, maybe three pieces. Then I was told that there was only one particular piece where they were going to use my stunt double. Everything else was me. It was such an incredible combination of [Eleanor] grabbing for everything she can get her hands on to survive — which to me, it spoke as a kind of metaphor for her entire life. Our stunt team are so incredible. They literally brought me up to speed so quickly. On the day of actually shooting the scene, it was all pretty hardcore, emotionally and physically. There was one point where I was — just before I hit him with the oil lamp — being choked out on the table. [Laughing] We hadn’t actually established a safe word, and with the corset…any pressure on the upper part of my chest and I feel like I’m about to pass out. The physical reality of it was so overwhelming. To think some women might’ve had to go through something like this, it’s horrific. Yeah, it was an incredibly moving experience, as well as an incredibly challenging one. I feel blessed that I got an opportunity to do that.
LoL: Well, I’m so happy for you that you finally got a fight scene.
HN: Yes! Now I know how Clara [Paget] feels!
LoL: Oh my gosh, yeah! Wait. Does she wear some kind of corset too, I haven’t really noticed.
HN: No, she doesn’t. She has a very layered costume, but no corsetry. And you know, she’s a small girl, but she’s strong! She totally goes for it. I remember calling her up the day after we filmed the death scene. I was like, “Oh my God. I feel like I’ve been hit by a ten ton truck.” And she was all, “Yup! Welcome to every weekend for me!”
We really go for it, I think, in this show. We feel so supported and we have a team around us, they make us feel like we can really go there and feel completely safe. But yeah, it was really good to have [Clara] as my confidant.
LoL: I hear that the guys had to go through what they like to call “Pirate Camp” before the start of the series to bone up on terminologies and actual sailing. Did you have to go through some training of your own?
HN: No. I mean, I obviously had to stay fit and healthy enough to shoot the show, and build up enough endurance to stand the heat. That was my main priority. The irony is that I have since learned to sail. I think Toby Schmitz also knew how to sail because he grew up around boats and yachts, I think. But yeah, I don’t think anyone else got their American Sailing Association certification. I wish I had a chance to do more of the tall ship stuff, though. We have an incredible expert, he’s an academic. We call him Captain Andy. He comes down from Seattle and advises us on all the rigging, and stuff. Even though I didn’t have to learn it, I would always go and try to get as much information as I could from Captain Andy.
LoL: You mentioned that you had to deal with the heat. I know you guys were filming in South Africa, right?
HN: Yeah, yeah. We filmed in Cape Town.
LoL: How was it dealing with the hot weather?
HN: There was one day where it was where it got up to about 42-degress Centigrade [Note: That’s about 107-degrees Fahrenheit]. Very very very hot. Me and [Jessica Parker Kennedy] had a big walk and talk. They designed this beautiful route through the town — there were horses, and ducks, and goats, and geese — and me and Jess were working with, like, five pages of heavy dialogue. There was one point where we just go so hot. I looked at Jess and said, “I can’t feel my arms anymore. I’m on pins and needles.” Yeah, the combination of corsets and sun is not a good one.
LoL: I want to go back to Episode 405 where Eleanor tells Flint that there are “Too many goddamn men.” That’s true for the show in general, but was she talking more in the sense that there are too many men in her life controlling her, or that nearly all of her decisions have been made because of men’s actions?
HN: Yeah. I think Eleanor realizes that she is at the mercy of the decisions made by men. Whatever plan she makes, more often than not, it’s because of the actions made by a man. I think her entire life might have been guided by that. She’s had no real female role model growing up apart from, I would say, Max. With her, Eleanor’s been able to gain some reassurance — the both of them together have really become the voices of reason on the island many times. I think for her it’s just she’s growing up in this masculine, male dominated society, and every time she tries to make a plan and see it through, something has been thrown in her path. I think it’s just about the obstacles that are constantly thrown at her by men her entire life. She’s starting to realize that she’s not so much fighting a losing battle, but that there is a certain element to the island and to its politics and to the people there that won’t allow her to ever find peace. Her vision for the island is perhaps too idealistic, and there is something bigger than herself at play now. Maybe even bigger than the island itself. I think all of that has taken Eleanor out of what she has been fighting for three seasons.
It’s a very poignant moment where finally realizes that if she is to get any peace, [Nassau] is not the place to get it. She can’t make that happen. She’s tried ruthlessly for years with no success. There’s a scene with Mrs. Hudson where Eleanor talks about the argument her parents had when she was a little girl. Her mother had argued how it wasn’t good to raise a child in such an environment.
You know where you have those crystalline memories as a kid that you knew they were significant, but you couldn’t understand why until much later as an adult? Then as an adult, you think about it and go, “Holy. F**k. That’s what that meant?” Eleanor has that kind of moment where she realizes that there is a bigger picture, and her mother saw it that day. So, yeah. Eleanor’s memories of her mother are what drive her now.
LoL: So what makes Woodes Rogers any different from the other men in her life? Is it because of her unique relation with her, and what she has become while she’s been with him?
HN: Yeah. I mean obviously, on the surface, Rogers saved her from the brink of death. But on a deeper level, I think Eleanor admires him as a tactician, she admires him for his bravery…. I think she kind of idolizes Rogers. She was looking for someone to be this kind of hero figure for her, and she can’t see beyond that. I mean obviously they’ve already had these little bits of conflict where she stood up for herself saying “You’re not going to undermine me in front of other people.” She’s lying down the groundwork between them. She’s still very much plays an active member of this community [within Nassau] and she’s trying to achieve her end.
On a personal level, maybe for the first time in her life, she allowing herself to cast off the way she was before; she’s wanting this kind of relationship where she no longer has to backstab or betray other people, that she can just be completely loyal to him. But what she doesn’t see is this other side of him. To me it’s very distracting because Luke Roberts, the guy who plays Woodes Rogers, is the loveliest guy. He’s so sweet. Then they have him do these awful things on the show. When I watch it, I’m like “Oh my God! He’s so evil and dark!” I don’t think Eleanor knows much his public persona. Not really. She gets a bit of it when she tries to undermine him, but his brutality and drive are still so much worse than she could ever have imagined.
But, yeah. Rogers, to Eleanor, stands for the kind of stability that she was hoping for, and she’s fallen in love with that as well as his kindness to her and his admiration for her. I think he genuinely loves her, and Eleanor genuinely loves him, but I don’t know how well she really knows him.
LoL: Okay, so you’re saying Eleanor’s idea of who Rogers is would never have the capacity to, say, keelhaul Blackbeard.
HN: No! No no. I mean, I think she knows something happened. It wasn’t that widely used, keelhauling. It definitely happened, but it wasn’t something that was commonly used. It was a very extreme and very degrading death. I think it was very interesting that the writers put someone who is just so much the image of society doing something incredibly brutal. If Eleanor had been made aware of that, I think something would have changed inside of her.
LoL: If we can take a step back now… What has been one of your favorite Eleanor moments throughout the entire series. If you had to pick just one, what would it be?
HN: Oh man, there’s so many! She doesn’t get very many moments of lightness…. There was one scene where she’s doing some deal in the warehouse and one of the pirates is acting very derogatory toward her. Then Vane comes in and kind of saves her, and she gets so annoyed by that. I think for me that was such a great scene to play because Zach did it in such brilliant way, it was funny and frustrating at the same time. That was a beautiful little scene that people probably don’t really remember, but to me it a bit of a picture of her everyday life and her everyday existence that we don’t get to see because there’s so many big plot lines that she’s having to sort out.
Actually! I just remembered now… The moment where she shoots a pistol between Vane and Flint. It was super satisfying. It was such a symboling moment because it’s a fight between the two of them, between order and chaos, and she just comes in and [starts yelling and growling in mock frustration] “I’ve had enough!”
LoL: So Black Sails is ending. There’s no more after this season. Is there anything you’d like to say to the fans of the show?
HN: The biggest thank you ever for watching the show and having such intelligent responses to the staff, and debating the actions of our characters. You know, the show is complex. It takes a lot of effort to watch Black Sails properly. Our fans have been so incredibly attentive to the storyline. As much as Eleanor herself has done some really horrific things, there have been some very passionate and beautiful defenses of what she does as well. Just a huge thank you for being such an engaged and amazing audience. I hope to hear more later down the line as people go back and begin Season One. I really think Black Sails is one of those shows you can watch more than once. You might see something you didn’t notice before, and it might change the way you see a certain aspect of the show. Especially if you already know what happens.