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Interview EXCLUSIVE: An HTF Interview with Toby Stephens of Black Sails (1 Viewer)

Timothy E

Jul 20, 2007
Real Name
Timothy Ewanyshyn
Toby Stephens spoke to the Home Theater Forum about Black Sails, James Bond, Jane Eyre, and Marvel superheroes in this interview that took place on January 7, 2015.

Season 1 of Black Sails has just been released on Blu-ray and DVD, and season 2 is scheduled to premiere on January 24, 2015.

HTF: You have stated elsewhere that you were not keen initially to appear in a pirate-themed TV series. What appealed to you when you first read the script for Black Sails? Was it the character of Captain Flint, the approach to the material, or something else?

Toby Stephens: It was a combination of the two. The script was really good and the character of Flint, because I only got the first episode until I started shooting, and I just was intrigued by him. I thought he was, I mean, they did talk me through the rough arc for the first series and I found him a really charismatic part. It was very unusual for a pirate show. It wasn’t really couched in mythology, it was more trying to say what it would have been like, gritty, and it became quite desperate really, the piracy, rather than a kind of romance side to it, obviously.

HTF: Have you seen Captain Flint’s character change and evolve over the course of the first 2 series, and if so, how?

Toby Stephens: Gee, I suppose a lot. The first series really leaves the audience begging and asking a lot of questions of: What is he after? What is he trying to do? Why is he trying to do it? What is he trying to achieve? Why is he trying to achieve that? What is the relationship with Mrs. Barlow about? These are a lot of questions at the end of the first series, and then the second series answers quite a lot of those questions by taking us back 15 years and showing us the origins of Captain Flint and who he was prior to the main story and what his motives are and what is driving him, what are the demons that are driving Flint? We realize that he is a very complex character, and that just continues to develop throughout the series. I am now starting to film series three and it gets more and more interesting and intriguing. That’s what is great about these long series as a long form series.

HTF: Have you already started production on series three?

Toby Stephens: Yeah, we have done two episodes. I am presently on my Christmas holidays, but we have already done two episodes. We go back in about a week’s time and we will start filming until May.

HTF: How is Toby Stephens like or unlike Captain Flint?

Toby Stephens: Gosh, I haven’t really thought about it, I mean that he is not like me. What makes me relate to him is that he is, I know enough about the character that he is a man of principle, actually, and also he is extremely good at what he does, I mean he is a great captain. He is a very determined one and at times one questions his judgment but actually when you look at him, he is generally right about his decisions. They are often brutal decisions but they are right decisions. The second series sort of explains how he became so good at making those decisions, how he became such a good ship’s master and captain because he is very well trained in what he does, and I kind of like the fact that if you look at it rationally, he is actually a very, very good captain, but when you un-peel him, what is motivating him is very complicated. I really like that, there is a lot going on underneath and inside which comes out as it starts seeping out. That is what is intriguing about him to me and what is fun about playing him as a character. Initially, one thinks, oh, I kind of know who this guy is, but the more you un-peel him, the more complex he becomes, and the more the audience realizes they don’t know him.

HTF: Do you ever find that people have misconceptions about you based upon the roles you play?

Toby Stephens: Yeah, I think for a while I have, not really misconceptions, I think one can get stuck in certain roles like when I did the Bond film, for a long time that was the way people saw me, as just the kind of guy who played that part. I think what’s great about doing this is it gives me so much more opportunities to show what I can do as an actor because there is just so much more variety, and there is a lot of complexity because you have a longer time to tell the story, to know who this person is as the character develops, that it changed, not like a procedural show where characters basically are sort of always the same, it is just the plot changes. This is something where the plot propels the characters and makes them change. They become different.

HTF: Your career seems to reflect a real mix of heroic and villainous roles. You have many connections to the James Bond mythology, as you mentioned not only in your role in Die Another Day but also in portraying James Bond in a series of radio dramas on the BBC. Do you have a fondness for James Bond?

Toby Stephens: Yes, I do, of course I grew up with the franchise. I do, what was fun for me was playing a villain in one of them which is one aspect, in a film version of it, but then going back to doing the radio dramatizations which were much more true to the books. They were much more faithful to the books, literally direct line dramatizations from the books. The films are very different, and certainly now they are very different from the original conception of Bond. Obviously they have to change with the times and I kind of feel that when I had the ability to do Die Another Day I was at the end of something. I think they had gone as far as they could with that style of Bond. Then they reinvented him with Daniel Craig, although they used one of the original novels as the template. They had to reconfigure it. I think with the Bond films it certainly became, the old way of doing things became slightly obsolete. It will be interesting to see where it goes from here.

HTF: Sure. I am close to the same age as you are so I grew up on many of the same films. I have seen that many people have strong opinions as to whether Sean Connery or Roger Moore was the better James Bond. I actually like them both, but there is no wrong answer to this question. Did you like Sean Connery or Roger Moore better as James Bond, and if so, why?

Toby Stephens: Sure, I am rather like you, I kind of like both of them. I think what I loved about Roger Moore is that he had a kind of panache and a full wit. I think Sean Connery had something a bit more like machismo. He was much more charismatic and more of a man’s man, you know what I mean, whereas Roger Moore really became a sort of womanizing kind of roue, but with a wit. I think it’s kind of moved away from that now. I kind of miss, although I think Daniel Craig is fantastic, I kind of miss a bit of the humor that the old James Bond films had. I wish it was more like Roger Moore.

HTF: In your career up until now, other than Captain Flint, do you have a favorite role or roles that you have enjoyed because the characters reflect aspects of your own personality?

Toby Stephens: I did a version of Jane Eyre, the Bronte novel, for BBC. It was one of its flagship dramatizations of the novel. I played Mr. Rochester which is a kind of, it’s an archetype for females so it’s almost like a male fantasy for women, the part of Mr. Rochester. I remember at the time playing it, I was quite nervous about that, like how am I going to get this right? This book means so much to a lot of women, and the part is so important to a lot of women that I want to get it right. It is a brilliant character and a fantastic story and it was very popular at the time and I remember that I felt very pleased that I had managed to get that right.

HTF: It is true that you would be receptive to performing in a Marvel movie if the role were right?

Toby Stephens: Of course. I actually do really enjoy the Marvel films generally. I just think that they are just for pure entertainment and what they do brilliantly, the ones that I have seen so far, is that they undercut themselves. They are ironic and they don’t take themselves seriously. For me, I much prefer that style of interpretation of the comic books than something more kind of morose like the Batman series where, if you take it apart, it just takes itself way too seriously, and you lose the fun, the innocence really of the whole enterprise. I mean it’s about imagination, it’s about fun, and I like a bit of dark undercurrent underlying things, but I don’t want it to be predominantly dark. Otherwise it’s just no fun, so I think the Marvel franchise seems to get that absolutely right, that kind of mixture of irony, but also great action films.

HTF: I will not put you on the spot to ask you if there is a particular Marvel character that you would like to portray on film, unless you want to disclose that...

Toby Stephens: (Laughs) - No, I won’t...

HTF: ...but let me ask you this, is there a particular Marvel character that you particularly enjoy following that you would not necessarily be interested in playing, something that just appeals to you personally?

Toby Stephens: I think the Avengers movies are more satisfying to me obviously because you have all of these guys in the same movie, and I love the way that they play off one another. In The Avengers, the first movie, the way they introduced the Hulk was, I thought, brilliant, because in any other versions I never felt that the unleashing of this thing is going to be sort of terrifying and awesome, and when they finally have the change[in The Avengers], it was absolutely kind of terrifying. It’s awesome as well, and I think that was a really clever way of doing that. I think what had tended to happen [in earlier film versions] was that somehow the character of the Hulk had become sort of benign in a way, and I think that what was great about how they reinvented him in these new movies is that he was not benign. Maybe some of his acts ended up having some good to them but that he was unpredictable. You just didn’t know what was going to happen. He was a kind of awesome force of nature.

HTF: When it comes to watching other actors in film, either in the past or current films, do you have any favorite actors or films?

Toby Stephens: At the moment?

HTF: Or in the past. Any favorite actors you like to follow like Spencer Tracy, or current actors?

Toby Stephens: I am actually a huge fan of Clint Eastwood. I think what he had done in films is amazing, not just as an actor but as a director. I think he is incredible.

HTF: What do you like to watch on television now that Breaking Bad has concluded?

Toby Stephens: What do I like to watch? I do enjoy American Horror Story. I find that fun, and Orange Is The New Black is great, and House of Cards.

HTF: Do you have a favorite memory regarding production of the first 2 seasons of Black Sails?

Toby Stephens: I think in the first season, my best memory was going on one of the ships, which was just amazing. They built these full size ships, and just the first time that we shot on one of those was kind of amazing. I had to pinch myself, like I was dressed in the full costume and being on this ship. The weird thing was that we were about 400 yards from a motorway, but you just have to make that leap of imagination. (Laughs)

HTF: I look forward to seeing the premiere of season 2 here in the United States on January 24, and thank you for your time today.

Toby Stephens: Thank you very much.

Season 2 of Black Sails will premiere in the United States on the Starz network on January 24, 2015. The HTF review of Black Sails season 1 on Blu-ray will be posted within the next several days.

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