Black Sails Exclusive: Zach McGowan Interview

We talk to Black Sails' Zach McGowan about the arrival of Blackbeard, where Charles Vane's alliances lie, and season three.

It’s always fun talking to Zach McGowan. He’s one of those actors who inhabits his roles so fully, he always has deep and interesting thoughts about them. Now that he’s on his third season of Black Sails, it’s only intensified. Charles Vane (McGowan) was supposed to be the big bad of the pirate show, but at the end of season two he helped rescue Flint (Toby Stephens) in Charleston.

Now season three will introduce Blackbeard (Ray Stevenson), the most notorious historical pirate of them all. We got to sit down with McGowan after a Starz panel on Black Sails for the Television Critics Association. It only took a few questions to get McGowan talking in depth about Vane and the other Black Sails characters. Black Sails returns Saturday, January 23 on Starz.

What does it mean for Vane that Blackbeard is now on the scene?

Zach McGowan: Means a lot. I think any time that a mentor comes back into your life, especially one that you’re estranged from, it makes for a lot of interesting conflict. I think what it really means is that Vane’s going to have to now decide and figure out what he wants to be. Re-evaluate his life, question the decisions he’s made. Was it smart to save Flint from his death in Charleston? Was that the best thing for him? Is this alliance the best thing for him? Is that what he wants? Who is Vane? How does Vane want to be remembered? How does he want to live? Does he want to be a part of something bigger than himself? Does he just want to kill whoever stands up against him?

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When you’re sitting on a pile of gold on an island, what do you do? I think that great scene in episode one where Rackham and him are sitting on a bunch of gold, they’re sitting on that island. What next? What happens now? I think what was great about the way Jon and Robert and Dan and all of them did the Blackbeard story, traditionally you read Wikipedia or any of the stuff out there, how did Vane and Blackbeard get back together? Oh, Vane went to Ocracoke Island. So they did this other thing. It’s like what history missed. Maybe he came back and said, “Hey, why don’t you come work with me on something?” 

How long can this uneasy alliance with Flint last?

I think it’ll be on a teetering edge the whole time? Do we want Vane and Flint to stay together and with Rackham in this alliance? Do they actually see eye to eye? Do they want the same things in the future? These are all questions that never got answered when Charles decided to show up in Charleston and save him. My favorite scene in season two was shooting that, sitting up there with Stephens who I rarely get to work with and Stephens being like, “What the f*** are you doing here?” You’re like, “Uh, came to take your ship but stayed because you look like you’re in trouble.” I think that is what it means. In as much as Flint was traditionally in the show Vane’s competition so to speak, and also his mentor when they sit and talk about what it’s going to be, it’s two sides of the coin with that, with Blackbeard coming in and being the opposite side of that. 

Do you ever get used to the boats?

The hardest thing about the ships, most people don’t realize, is just when you’re on the ship at the top of the deck somewhere, it’s very far to the nearest bathroom. There’s no bathroom on the ships. That’s the hardest thing about the ships. Me, to be honest, I don’t think any of us other than maybe Stephens, maybe Toby, I don’t think any of us spend enough time on them that we get sick of them or used to them. We just always want to be on them. It took ‘til season three before Vane is ever on a ship that’s sailing. Episode one of season three is the first time you ever see Vane standing on a ship that’s sailing.

Did it live up to your expectations after two years?

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Yeah, I think the first scene they wrote me going out hunting, I loved it. I was reading it, I was like, “Oh my God, he’s throwing slaves overboard. I’m going to kill this motherf***er. Oh, there he is.” The excitement of it was oh my God, we earned this scene. Not oh hurray, we’re seeing Vane hunt. It’s now someone is going to pay for being a despicable human being who’s throwing slaves over the side of a ship to their death. I feel like to me, justifying the violence is the way to do it.

Were you surprised to be so landlocked in season two with the Charleston storyline?

No, I know there’s the show’s reality to the audience, the reality of the story and then also realities of production. I knew from early time on the show that I was going to be the guy who we were going to get a lot of production value out of by not having to have that much production value. Let’s go fight here and there and what not. So being landlocked, I mean, season one, episode three, Vane has his ship taken away, and his entire crew is killed in episode six.

So he’s never someone who, even though he is this pirate captain, we don’t really know him as a pirate captain. It’s one of those things. I’m never surprised to be landlocked and I enjoy playing characters who get their legs cut out from under them and then have to scramble their way back which I think is representative of life, which is what we all go through. Everyone gets knocked down and you’ve got to figure out what to do next.