'We've been making them root for pirates and this is what happens to pirates when they're caught,' the actor tells EW
WARNING: The following contains spoilers from “XXVII.,” Saturday’s episode of Black Sails.
“Get on with it, motherf—–.”
Talk about famous last words. Saturday night’s episode of Black Sails featured the loss of a character that has cheated death so many times, it’s very hard to believe he’s gone.
If the last three seasons of the show have taught us anything it’s that no matter how dire the situation, our heroes (the pirates) will prevail. And even though the real Captain Charles Vane did eventually die by hanging, fans were not prepared for this — no matter how badass and appropriate Vane’s final scene and those killer last words (pun very much intended).
EW caught up with Capt. Vane himself, actor Zach McGowan, to help alleviate our grief shed light on his character’s journey from villain to hero, his favorite scenes involving Eleanor (Hannah New) and Flane (the ‘shipper portmanteau for Vane and Captain Flint, played by Toby Stephens) plus why he wanted to make his exit “as traumatic as possible for the audience.”
I am distraught over the fact that Captain Vane is gone from Black Sails.
I agree but also, I thought I wasn’t going to last more than one, maybe two seasons. I got to play him enough to in my mind go out as a hero rather than a villain.
And I can’t think of better last words than Vane’s.
Yeah, it was very fun and not too different from my conversations with [executive producers] Jonathan Steinberg, Robert Levine and Dan Shotz, like, “When the hell are we going to do this?” If you want this to turn into a superhero show then sure, but if you want to make it reality he’s got to die. There’s only so many times you can go into certain death and survive.
Were there conversations about how close you wanted to come to the real Vane’s death?
Yeah, I read different accounts of how he died. In one, he had no last words. In another it said he was like, “Let’s get on with it.” The only thing that was important to me was that he would not say he’s sorry, because he doesn’t think that he’s done anything wrong. When someone tries to kill you, you have the right to defend yourself and live.
What was the day of the shoot like? How did you prep to hang from a noose?
That was actually tough. We did a number of different shots and I had actually practiced it a bunch with the stunt team, both with a harness and without a harness, seeing how long I could go without the harness. Basically what we came up with was, “I’m going to go eyes open and you’ll know to get me off if my eyes close. If my eyes close, I’m saying” – because you can’t say anything while you’re hanging from a noose – “someone pick me up.” We ended up with the one where you see me swinging, full body. That was the hardest. How tight the rope is is all very important, it’s all very technical. Then we did a couple close up ones they didn’t end up using where I didn’t have the harness and we did little tests, like me trying to put my weight on [the noose]. It turns out if you have a strong neck, you can hang like that for quite awhile. If your neck muscles can hold and your body weight doesn’t collapse your throat, you can hold it for a while, so I just played with that with the team for a while and we figured it out.
Of course like always they’re like, “It’s too dangerous,” and I’m like, “Let’s make this as traumatic as possible for the audience.” We’ve been making them root for pirates and this is what happens to pirates when they’re caught. If you were doing a television show about any rebel group, if they get caught, this is what happens. I just wanted it to be traumatic and to be honest, I wanted people to hate Eleanor as much as possible. I feel like cable shows these days, they glorify liars and cheaters and all these things and that is not glory in my way of thinking. I wanted that to come through. Steve Boyum, who directed that episode, is one of my favorite directors in the world. He came out of the stunt performer world, became a coordinator, [and] then a DP. When I do [stunt work] with him, I always get to do a little bit more because he knows what I’m capable of.
Did you get a cast farewell or death dinner?
It wasn’t a dinner like that, so to speak, but we did do quite a bit of drinking after it. And leading up to it. I feel like it was more traumatic for the rest of the cast than it was for me. I do have to say that probably the most emotional scene was when we were doing the Eleanor scenes [where Vane is locked up and Eleanor confronts him/says a violent goodbye]. In stunt rehearsal, she had given me a pretty bad bloody nose. I was pretty sure she was probably going to connect a couple times because she’s in a corset and it’s not the easiest to throw a punch in — I was prepared for being punched like eight times in the face. It was a really emotional scene with my friend Hannah, but my love and enemy Eleanor. That was a really emotional scene to shoot for sure.
What are your favorite scenes with Eleanor and Flint?
Probably my favorite moment in the show … there are two and they’re both with Rackham [Toby Schmitz] actually. One was when they’re standing by the fort, I improv’d the line, it was the “F— you, Jack” line there. I’d only said “F— you, Jack” in anger; I wanted to say it to him like, “I love you, man.” I was so glad they kept it in because it’s hard to keep that improv’d stuff in. I was really happy they did. And then when we save him and that little conversation while I’m working really hard to get him out, that was a gift from the writers.
As far as Eleanor goes, my favorite scene ever was episode 1, season 2 where I’m having sex with Idelle and she comes up and I’m like, “Why don’t you want a perfect life? What’s wrong with you? I love you, I know you love me, I know you have all these ambitions about stuff but that doesn’t matter. Why don’t we have kids and just own this thing?” I feel like I said that to my now-wife so many times and she finally was like, “Okay, we should do this.” Life is not as complicated as we make it. I love you, you love me, let’s get married and have children and work hard towards things and f— everything else. To me, life is a lot simpler than people make it. “I’ll sleep with prostitutes if you don’t want to sleep with me any more but I’d rather be sleeping with you and we could have a house and make babies.” I feel like that is a journey that many men are on in life. “I guess I’ll sleep with whoever, but I’d rather sleep with you and we can cuddle because we like doing that.” That was how I was feeling that way about it and wasn’t sure if that was coming across.
My favorite moment with Flint by far was the end of season 2, that dialogue between him and me. When he goes, “What the f— are you doing here?” And I’m all, “If anyone is going to kill you and make a trophy of you it’s going to be me,” which required no acting at all. That was by far my favorite moment with Stephens. Every moment with Stephens is really fun — he’s a remarkable actor.
The only happiness I have in your getting killed off is that we can hopefully see you in more things. With The 100, do you know where Roan stands on the conflict between the Sky People and the Grounders and if there will be more war?
I don’t think I’m allowed to talk about that as far as what is going to happen in future episodes, but I will tell you that Bob Morley, who plays Bellamy, we have the same manager. He was with the whole 100 crew at Comic-Con, and there I met Jason [Rothernberg, The 100 showrunner]. Jason was like, “I’m such a big fan” and Bob was like, “Dude, he’s available for TV right now.” And Jason was like, “You want to be on my show? I have the perfect part for you. We’re in negotiations with someone else but I’d much rather have you do it.” I said, “Are you offering it to me?” He says, “Yeah.” I said, “Cool, I’ll do it.” I love acting and playing and he was like, “He’s very similar to Vane,” and I said, “Sure, let’s do it.” And it worked. They were just picked up for season 4 and I can imagine that my agents are trying to figure it out, but I am in Bulgaria shooting a movie right now. I’m driving home from a stunt rehearsal — I’m fighting the biggest guy in Bulgaria. I feel like I’m going to be in every country in the world, fighting every big guy in that country, while I’m still capable of doing it.
I don’t think people need to worry about whether or not they’re going to see me and these types of characters from me, because I really enjoy playing them and I will continue doing this kind of stuff as long as I can. I wish I could tell you what movie it is, but I can tell you all of the elements that people like of Vane, this is like two hours of that and nothing else.