Black Sails exclusive: Hannah New talks as Nassau loses its fiery queen

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In the end, Eleanor never did get to create a perfect and safe Nassau on Black Sails

Black Sails fans are grieving after Hannah New’s character Eleanor Guthrie was mortally wounded by a Spanish soldier in episode XXXIV.

New’s fiery performance as the spitfire queen of Nassau was beset by tragedy, trauma, betrayal and a sense of purpose only she understood.

We spoke to Hannah after the episode of her character’s demise, where the island was under siege from the Spanish and Silver did his best to convince the slaves of New Providence Island that aligning with his men was their only chance for survival.

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This was the lead-up to the ambush that took her life.

Looking backwards, Hannah’s Eleanor had many lovers, but we learned from talking to her that her true love was the township of Nassau and the creating of an idyll of peace and commerce far away from war, pirate skirmishes and constraint.

Sadly, she never got to see Nassau stand as a free republic.

Monsters and Critics: Could you tell us about the final scene with Madi and how you prepared for it?

Hannah New: Eleanor and Madi are two kindred spirits, in the sense that they grew up together and they played together as kids.

Then there was this huge event in Eleanor’s life where she thought she lost the only sister that she ever had, and she had come to terms with that.

There was that amongst the million other traumas that she had as a child, losing her mother…both of them suffered huge traumas as children…so I think that what is really beautiful about the writing and how they structured Eleanor’s death in a way, it seemed like Eleanor was ready to pass the baton on to Madi.

A childhood friend and sister to Eleanor once upon a time: Zethu-Domo as Madi

She sees Madi being a strong figure, seeing her able to hold her ground with the pirates and be a voice of reason.

There’s so many things about Madi that Eleanor comes to admire and I think we see that in the scene before they are attacked in the house.

Even though there is so much tension between them and it seems they’re on opposing sides, they are actually so in line with many things that they are both striving for.

So when I read the very end scene, the death scene as Eleanor is fighting to get towards Madi, there were several versions of it as to whether it would be voiced that Eleanor was trying to rouse her or not.

And then the fact that you worked out that Madi pulled her out of the house, and she is lying there saved in that moment, to the one moment with Flint, which was so beautiful and such clever writing I think.

M&C: Is Madi alive?

HN: Well, we don’t know!

M&C: Let’s talk about your character’s interesting lovers, looking back.

HN: Eleanor’s love life is so incredibly complex because she has never really known true love in a sense of being nurtured and feeling that kind of security from family.

I think that has had a huge impact on the way she behaved with every single person that she purports to be in love with.

I think she is in her own way in love with Woodes [Rogers] but she has had so many traumas and barriers…you see it in Season 1 with Max that she is just incapable of putting aside her motives and her desire to make the island work in order to live a life of true love with Max.

And I think Max is the only person who shown her that kind of real nurturing beautiful love, and she threw it back in her face. I think that was the beginning of a very painful chain of events.

Season 1 lovers — Max (Jessica Kennedy) and Eleanor (Hannah New)

And Charles Vane. I think her love affair with Vane was tempestuous and passionate and it had all the elements of protection that she desired, but then again the minute it comes into conflict with her vision for the island, she then puts it aside again.

Charles Vane (Zach McGowan) lusted for and adored her and hated her, and the feeling was mutual

She then goes to London, looks death in the face and is saved by a man [Woodes Rogers] who initially would be her arch enemy.

He’s somebody who represents colonial powers and everything that she’s been fighting against. But she comes to respect him because of his vision for the island as well.

Woodes Rogers was Eleanor’s last love until she passed

To me it seems she [Eleanor] gets very confused between what she wants on a grand scale for the island and what she wants for herself personally.

She doesn’t have the ability to really evaluate those two things and she always prioritizes fighting for the island. And I think that comes from the deep trauma she has experienced as a child.

It’s not explicitly said in the show, but something I worked out early on with the writers was that her mother died in the first Spanish raid, so the fact now that Eleanor dies in the second Spanish raid is very poignant and it has come full circle.

It’s something that has driven her these last three seasons, she’s been totally focused on trying to make this place [Nassau] a safe secure functioning republic and something her mother felt was never going to materialize in a place like that.

So I think so much of her inner drive to make the island work means that every single relationship she has is completely clouded by that.

Even with Woodes Rogers, I think she doesn’t really see who he is, she sees what he is able to create and that he is a masterful kind of tactician who can achieve her ends, even though it seems from the opposite side, you know?

But she now is fighting with the British. In the end, the same motive is there, that she wants the island to be stable and safe.

The lack of love in her life quite often is her fault — her inability to be true to those who love her, and be able to give in a way that is truthful, because all she is driven to do is make this place successful and it will always override her ability to be truly in love.

M&C: What was your favorite season from the entire run?

HN: Wow. It’s amazing because Eleanor has become such a chameleon and she’s changed so significantly between seasons, especially between Season 2 and 3.

I mean, for me personally, I loved the Eleanor of Season 1 who was in the town bossing the pirates around and doing what she does best.

But I think emotionally, and the writing, in Season 4 really has allowed all of those elements we have brought to Eleanor through the seasons to come to the forefront.

I did feel very honored when I started to read the Season 4 scripts and see how much of her backstory was coming through, and also the beautiful reconciliation scenes she was able to have with characters that she knows she hurt so badly.

I think for me one and four are probably my favorites because they are so different.

They emphasize such different elements of who the character is, and it’s really interesting kind of growing with that character and seeing how they react to situations that are totally unpredictable.

So yes, I think it’s an amazing piece of writing to see a character who has matured in that way over four seasons.

M&C: Who does Eleanor want to see as the last person standing in Nassau?

HN: I think Flint really is the person who she ideologically aligns herself with, and despite all the risks that have gone on, there have been key clues that she’s always been Team Flint.

What she did to Vane by taking Abigail back and I think it’s really…the key to it is a significant but small scene in Season1 where Flint talks about carrying an oar on land — Odysseus until it’s a spade effectively.

Toby Stephens as Captain Flint, and Hannah New as Eleanor

I think that image and that sense of striving towards peace is something that she has kind of held dear throughout the four seasons, and the fact that she chooses Flint as her hostage, and she gets this opportunity and air out some of the things that have happened.

I mean, they hadn’t seen each other for God knows how long.

The kind of honesty that they can have with each other, it’s very unique, and I think we’ve seen that in previous seasons where she finds him drunk in the bar, and there’s definitely an element of honesty between the two of them that perhaps only Eleanor had maybe with Mr. Scott, but no one else.

Eleanor was counseled by Mr. Scott, who was also Madi’s father

I think as much as she knows that Flint has a dangerous side to him, she also sees that he is kind of the voice of reason amongst pirates, and one of my favorite moments to shoot was definitely one of the most symbolic moments of what Eleanor tries to do throughout the whole four seasons — when she fires the gun in between Vane and Flint.

To me that is symbolic of the fact that she is desperately trying to balance these two powers of order and chaos and how they fight against each other. She’s always the one in the middle trying to balance it out.

I think handing the island over to Flint, as much as it seems she’s kind of relegating on her big objective of having power on the island and making it safe, I think she’s also knowing that is the best option left at that point.

If she is going to abandon her objectives I think it is Flint who will carry the island forward.

M&C: Which craft got you most in the mindset of Eleanor?

HN: Every single department is so incredibly talented, it would be very difficult to pinpoint one particular person or department.

But for me early on in Season 1 it was quite a collaborative process with Eleanor’s costuming. It was really awesome.

I was able to design little aspects like her little bunch of keys that she wears throughout Season 1 and 2.

Hannah’s Eleanor with those keys she added for a special touch

To me, those little symbols were important. They were status symbols, they were her own security.

I don’t know if you remember but she always used to sleep in her tavern in her little cage in the office, to me that was very symbolic that she was keeping herself in this kind of gilded cage and I think that was a wonderful little item that I could hold on to like a little talisman.

Then obviously arriving on the set was to me the most incredible and at the same time completely terrifying moment, because this is the most beautiful set I had ever seen.

It’s a whole town. To build something of that scale and that quality and be immersed in that world — it was just phenomenal.

I never in my wildest dreams imagined I would be able to do that. It’s total make believe, like being in a theme park.

So for me I think the set design was just incredible and put me in that world. And obviously over the four years I’ve became very, very close with our makeup artists and Lou [Louise Coles, the makeup and hair designer] who did my makeup for the last three years and who has been a rock.

I know you have heard it before but we do end up relying on the people around us, they keep us sane when everything is going mad.

So for me, having their support, I always knew that they had my back, looking perfect and just how I needed to, so I didn’t worry, so I know I have been amongst the most incredible team of people.

I’m very blessed and I hope I get to do it again. It’s been such a formative experience for me.

Black Sails airs Sundays at 9/8c on Starz.

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