'Black Sails' sets sail with a new view of piracy
This Oct. 15, 2013 photo shows Toby Stephens, left, and Hannah New, from the new Starz original series, "Black Sails," in New York. The series premieres Saturday, Jan. 25. (Photo by Dan Hallman/Invision/AP)
NEW YORK (AP) — To appreciate "Black Sails," it's best to start by tossing overboard certain preconceptions.
This rollicking pirate thriller (premiering Saturday on Starz, 9 p.m. EST) heeds three strict rules: "No parrots, no eye patches, no peg legs," says Jon Steinberg, its creator and executive producer, with a laugh.
And now hear series star Toby Stephens describing his character, the notorious pirate Capt. Flint.
"He's not like any pirate I'd ever seen," says Stephens, whose credits include "Die Another Day" and whose mother is "Downton Abbey" grande dame Maggie Smith. "He's not Errol Flynn. He's not Johnny Depp. We're telling a different story!"
The story begins in 1715, during the Golden Age of Piracy, and takes harbor in Nassau, where Eleanor Guthrie presides as a sort of proto-feminist black marketer, turning pirates' plunder into pieces of eight.
She, like nearly everyone onboard "Black Sails," is constantly under siege. Soon the beautiful, salty Eleanor will join forces with Flint to ward off their many predators in a treasure hunt with a truly huge score.
"She's just trying to survive," says Hannah New ("Maleficent"), who plays the vulnerable-but-tough businesswoman in a man's world. "She's very much a human being." (The cast also includes Luke Arnold, Zach McGowan, Toby Schmitz and Hakeem Kae-Kazim, and is produced by Michael Bay of "Transformers" and "Armageddon" fame.)
On "Black Sails," expect no snarling, swashbuckling or chanteys of "yo-ho-ho and a bottle of rum," however much rum may be actually quaffed.
"This is a world that everyone thinks is so filled with cliches," says Steinberg. "But when you get to the guts of it, you realize you know almost nothing about it."
The series has elements of fantasy ("Treasure Island," in whose pages Capt. Flint appears, served as a key inspiration) plus, of course, fresh invention. But "Black Sails" also draws on an historical era when, elsewhere in the world as much as for the lawless pirates, revolution — especially against the British crown — was in the air.
"These are people within one lifetime of those people in Boston who, 60 years later, were having the same conversation about 'What are we gonna do about England?'" says Steinberg.
"Black Sails" spins a yarn about society's outliers who see the status quo has no place for them, forcing them out onto a watery frontier where, by whatever means, they claim what they need. There is villainy at the heart of what they do, but also, in varying degrees, nobility. They comprise a ruthless subset of the 99 percent, just trying to better their lot. And striking a blow against The Man.