Black Sails may be the testosterone-fueled prequel to an equally male-centric tale of Treasure Island, but make no mistake — a couple of beautiful Nassau women in the cast are bosses in the series, which ends its swashbuckling tale this season.
Hannah New as Eleanor Guthrie and Jessica Parker Kennedy as Max have commanded fantastic action-filled scenes in this series, which sees the rise of Long John Silver, the continued counsel of Captain Flint and the demise of pirate legends Blackbeard (Edward Teach) and Charles Vane.
Despite the preponderance of these meaty male roles, their characters have stayed integral to the entire tale.
Hannah New’s Eleanor Guthrie and Jessica Parker Kennedy’s Max may not be pirates themselves, but through their family position and wealth (Eleanor) and their ambition and cunning (Max) each has maintained a position of power, a difficult feat given the era, the cast of characters and the fluidity of law and order in Nassau.
Max is a madame of sorts, a purveyor of pleasure while Eleanor runs the commerce side of things with pirate partners in a bid to keep the money flowing through this problematic island colony of England.
Nassau and the New World are equally colossal headaches for the Crown across the Atlantic, and the Royal Navy is sent to police both areas.
But despite the threat from the mother ship and the continuous stream of ethnically diverse and ethically challenged pirates, these two women have stood fast and prevailed — so far anyway.
One other highly entertaining woman to watch in this series is Clara Paget’s Anne Bonny, a pirate and deeply devoted partner to Captain “Calico” Jack Rackham who also becomes a paramour of Max.
This stunning series opened quite graphically with the sexual relationship established between Max and Eleanor, lovers who fell out and in the course of the series came to loggerheads over the fate of Charles Vane, the bad boy of Nassau who became a bit of a hero until his hanging.
His death was facilitated by his onetime lover Eleanor. This created a major schism between Max and Eleanor, and now in Season 4 they have had come to compromise on how to handle each other while the island is in utter turmoil.
Pirates are fighting back against the Royal Navy and Eleanor’s position now as Nassau governor Woodes Rogers’ wife has complicated life for Max, who had to strike a spy’s agreement to keep alive.
As one can imagine, this agreement is fraught with danger at every turn for Max.
As the action is building on New Providence Island and that gold is still at large, our pirates, prostitutes, thieves and British soldiers continue to outmaneuver each other for a stake in the fate of this rum-soaked piece of paradise drenched in the blood of many on both sides of the power struggle.
Last week’s episode saw Long John Silver dispatch Royal Navy officer Captain Berringer (Chris Larkin) and, now the chilling backstory and brutality of Woodes Rogers (Luke Roberts) is made clear, what will happen upon his return to Nassau, especially for both Eleanor and Max?
Monsters and Critics discussed this series and the notable moments with Hannah New and Jessica Kennedy Parker…
Monsters and Critics: What were your feelings like when you realized the Black Sails arc was coming to completion this season?
Jessica Parker Kennedy: We had a feeling that it might be the last season, we were just waiting to hear. So when the news came I think a part of us knew and were prepared for it.
It was kind of bittersweet. I was happy to know that I wouldn’t be across the world anymore. Although Cape Town is such a stunning place, it’s about as far as you can get from where I live in Los Angeles, so that part of it was a relief.
The other massive part was realizing that ‘oh my gosh, this is the end of these characters,’ and the end of this story for now.
That part of it was really hard and having that really close-knit family over the four years, we all got along so well, living in the same apartment complex for all those years, that part of it was really strange.
I felt really displaced when November came around last year because that was usually the time we left for South Africa to film, and when November came I felt like I was skipping school, it was such a strange feeling to not be flying back to Cape Town.
Hannah New: It’s very daunting to think, ‘oh my god am I ever going to be able to work with such amazing people and in such an incredible place with such incredible sets and insanely talented crews?’
So for me it was kind of scary and sad, but on the flip side it was incredible as the scripts were coming through and we started to realize that all of our characters get to do really kick ass amazing stuff, and their backstories and details — all of the kind of details we’ve been working on for the last three years — are coming to the forefront of the text.
The audience will get to see a lot of motivational factors to these characters.
I think it becomes a very reflective season, but I also think it really shows the humanity of a lot of these characters and the struggles and the brutality of their lives and what they had to go through.
It was satisfying to know that we’d get to play with that kind of material, but so sad to not be working with the best people in the world.
M&C: Max and Eleanor read each other still very well and were so close in the beginning, how will their relationship end in the story?
JPK: All I can say is those two women, having been through what they have been through, the fact that they can still work side by side is pretty extraordinary and says a lot about their character and who they are as people.
They have been through such a rough time emotionally together and that they can put that all behind them — it’s not like they’re best friends and going to get manicures and pedicures together, but they have a mutual respect for each other and a trust for each other.
I think they feel a sense of safety and security with each other and that’s something they tend to use through this season, whether they are physically side-by-side or not.
M&C: Hannah, it was Charles Vane — and Eleanor’s guilt — who began the ending of their closeness?
HN: It’s definitely there but it’s something she refuses to acknowledge. It is a very real portrayal of grief in lots of ways.
There are stages of denial, anger…but she has this immense ability to sublimate her own feelings and emotions for the task at hand.
I think the one thing she doesn’t realize is that an emotion such as grief is so complex and it totally…grief I think emerges sometimes when you least expect it.
Especially when you have had a hand in the death of the person you are grieving.
She really does go from the stage of complete denial to reassess who she is. You see this in Season 4 in an incredible way.
What’s really interesting…it’s kind of annoying because I want to talk more about it, so I will have to hook up with you after the season, but she has to come up with a plan that’s kind of outside the box, and she does it in an interesting and surprising way this season because you think what she’s doing completely contravenes any kind of consistent vision she’s had for the island.
It is very interesting to have played [Eleanor] out and for me, the stakes are so high this season.
She almost has to become superhuman and ignore her emotions at the beginning of the season in order to get on and survive this last season, and it comes to her in such a visceral way, the reality of what they’re facing and what she’s done and who she is, that it’s impossible for her to ignore.
M&C: Will Eleanor realize what a monster Woodes Rogers is?
HN: This is what’s really interesting. Luke [Roberts] is such a lovely sweet guy. And he’s a complete goofball and we have such a good time on set.
Then I read the script and find it hard sometimes to imagine him doing any of it and then I watch the show and am like ‘oh my god he is so dark, he is so evil’ and I don’t think Eleanor sees it either.
She sees a very pragmatic, intelligent naval officer who she admires for his tactical ability and for his determination, all the things I think Eleanor really wants for herself.
She just sees that in him. I don’t know how much she knows him, she knows one side of him.
I think one of the amazing things about Black Sails is that each character has different personas in different environments because that is what survival is about, that’s what adapting is about, so, without revealing too much I think she clings on to this ideal version of who Rogers is so that is how she can justify what she is doing.
Yeah, she is going to cling on to that for life and limb, and when [his true nature] becomes apparent, it is staggering for her. You can see that coming down the line. But it plays out in quite an unexpected way.
M&C: Season 4 sees a respectful relationship between the two, but does Max still harbor resentment over how Eleanor dealt with Charles Vane?
JPK: Yes. I think everyone does. That was a rough call and Max is very much there going, ‘this is a mistake, don’t do this — this is a terrible idea.’
I think Charles Vane, in the beginning, was so cunning and evil, and then over the seasons you start really liking him.
Even though you know he was a bad guy you start liking him and kind of feel for him and wanted to be on his side.
I think the audience felt really betrayed by her as well as the characters on the show. It was a really tough call.
Hannah always described that moment for her character really well — when Charles Vane died a part of Eleanor died, that part of her story died with him. I think Max sees that. She [Eleanor] kind of flew off the handle a little bit there and it frightened Max.
I think she understands more now why it happened but I think Max thinks she still would have made more of an effort to stop Eleanor.
M&C: What are the attributes that Max and Eleanor share?
JPK: They are very steadfast. They are very strong and flawed of course, as all human beings are.
They are tough chicks and they will not back down to a man because they are female; they are not easily intimidated either of them, a lack of intimidation and they will fight through that, nobody will put them in a corner as it were.
M&C: Will karma catch up to Max/Eleanor? Max, will you prevail, after that Berringer scene?
JPK: You know, you have to watch and find out. There’s a lot of episodes left. A whole bunch of stuff happens that is pretty extraordinary, I mean she goes on in the next few episodes and is…
[Let’s just say] I have a sense of satisfaction when I think about this season in terms of this character. If I can tease that I would.
M&C: Your favorite on-screen moment, in retrospect?
JPK: I think my favorite on-screen moment was the scene with Berringer (Episode 3) where they are in Eleanor’s study and he is trying to intimidate her and he is standing over her, yelling and spitting in her face with his words and she’s just holding so still.
She will not be budged.
She’s unmoved by him. He’s probably the most intimidating character that she’s encountered so far of all the seasons and I just love the way that is overlapping like he’s just [saying] ‘give me the names, give me the names, give me the names’ and she’s just repeating, ‘I’ve been doing my job here, I am a loyal person and there’s nothing I need to say or do’ and she does not flinch.
Internally I think she is freaking out but does not show it. I got goosebumps when I watched that scene.
HN: Because of the writing and how beautifully it’s done, for me, there was a real shift in who she was after the death of her father.
There’s a really beautiful scene where the villagers are kind of lining up to Guthrie, and the way it was written was so incredible because of the times of deep grief she is still unable to indulge in any kind of an emotional outlet and she’s still skeptical of everyone.
I love to be able to transition to that very dark place, that very still dark place. It is the scene where Max comes in and they talk about why the people are actually coming to pay their respects.
And Eleanor just says, ‘they didn’t love my father, they are just making sure I’m aware of who came to the door and who is on my side when the shit hits the fan’. It was just a great scene to play, the text was so nuanced and there was so much subtext in every single word she said to Max.
For me, that was just a wonderful moment to play,
Conversely Eleanor on a personal level…I really loved the physically challenging scenes and I think the confrontation with Vane in the cell was also another moment which was incredibly hard to play but was so satisfying as an actor because it was such a challenge.
We don’t see Eleanor cry or lose it very often. That moment for me was where she just goes to the deepest most primal elements of her pain.
It was beautifully directed by Steve Boyum, he comes from the stunt world, so he understands the technicalities of being able to sell something as extremely violent and horrific, but he did it with such sensitivity to the fact that in all of that it wasn’t just a fight scene, it was the most emotional confrontation that Eleanor has ever had in her entire life.
He set it up so that we could divide the fighting sections amongst the two big chunks of dialogue, so it was done in a way that allowed me to go there physically and go there emotionally.
I think that is one of the most heart-wrenching and astounding moments that I’ve seen on screen. The other guys have loads of stuff too which is really awesome, I could talk all day about that!
M&C: Max’s favorite pirate was whom?
JKP: My favorite pirate is Jack Rackham. I am obsessed with Jack Rackham, he is so funny and weird and sexy and strange and horrible…I just think he is brilliant, and Toby Schmidt plays him so so well like Toby was born to play that role.
No one would have done that role as well as Toby Schmidt. Max’s favorite pirate, hmm. Max isn’t phased by the pirates but at the end of the day, Anne Bonny is someone that she has a lot of feelings for. They have been through a lot together.
There’s a real friendship there, certainly that Max wants, to say the least. That’s her favorite pirate in the show for sure.
M&C: And Eleanor’s favorite pirate was?
HN: I think Eleanor’s favorite pirate is Flint. She has been Team Flint kind of from day one even though her alliance to Vane very inconveniently interfered with that.
From that first moment the scene where Flint comes in and talks about Odysseus and the story of walking on land with an oar until it became a shovel — that story really captivated Eleanor and basically made them align in a way that ideologically they were on the same page.
And I think along the way she’s always had this immense respect for Flint, although at this present moment he’s causing all sorts of problems in Season 4.
What is interesting is she always sees him as someone she can negotiate with whereas somebody like Vane was the antithesis of that. The dichotomy of order and chaos, as those two characters really personified that really well.
On a personal level my favorite pirate, it’s really hard. Can I say two? It’s Bonny and Rackham.
Bonny for her pure vision and incredibly powerful portrayal and Rackham just for the flair and beauty of how he manages situations and manages to talk his way out of situations, the two of them together are the pirate ‘Posh and Becks’, the ultimate couple and you have all the elements of all the perfect pirates together.
M&C: Jessica, Max was the clothes horse of the series, can you talk about the wardrobe?
JPK: They were all very historically sourced, because in Season 1 we were wearing underwear that they wore in the 17th century, I remember the very first time I put on a corset, I went into full panic mode.
I felt so claustrophobic and I was begging her [costume designer] ‘no one is going to see this corset you have to put velcro or a zipper in’ and they were adamant that it had to be historically accurate and there was no room for any of that.
I could not get a zipper or velcro in my corset. It took two women to lace me up every morning while I held on to a table and I was very much like that scene in Titanic where Rose, the maid, is doing her up and her mom comes in a does the corset tighter.
It was very much that way when the head of costumes would come in and she would shoo the other people away and do my corset tighter. I was like ‘no!’.
It was extraordinary as every single dress was designed and hand made — I got really lucky, I think I wore 20 dresses over those four seasons while everyone else wore the same outfits over and over again. So I felt lucky and fortunate, it was like dress up.
By the end of it no one was really caring about using a really light fabric for dresses so she [Max] could breathe in 100 degrees weather, it was about what looked good so there was a lot of wool, there were a lot of layers and lot of heavy fabrics, and me going ‘there’s no way I can say this monologue today because I can’t breathe!’.
The TV show, in general, was such a great challenge. The costumes were so hard to wear, the wig just tremendously challenging.
I hope I rose to the occasion and did the character justice. It was never easy, not one single day, not one single moment.
Black Sails airs Sundays at 9pm ET/PT on STARZ.