As most of you know, I’m a big fan of Starz’s latest flagship show Black Sails, which has been renewed for a second (possibly third?) season before its initial season was done, yay! I was fortunate enough to chat via email with one of the cast members, Sean Cameron Michael, a South African-based actor who played Richard Guthrie in the series.
I think he’s one of the strongest performers on the show and I love his character arc as the richest black marketer in Nassau where the story takes place. I’m particularly intrigued by how his character would affect the fate of the series’ protagonist Captain James Flint, as well as his lover Miranda Barlow. Check out the interview below:
1. How did you end up working on Black Sails? Was there an audition process that you had to go through?
I believe that they had worldwide auditions for the show back in 2012. I was in Johannesburg, South Africa at the time shooting a movie called The Challenger Disaster with Oscar-winner William Hurt. I had also just wrapped on the popular Strike Back TV series working opposite Game of Thrones’ Charles Dance, so it was a very exciting time for me in my career.
The opportunity to audition for Michael Bay’s first venture into cable television was exhilarating and knowing that this was Starz Entertainment’s next big original series (having been responsible for the amazing Spartacus franchise) was an added bonus. I had two auditions for the show before I was confirmed as Richard Guthrie.
2. Please tell us how you prepare for your character Richard Guthrie. Did you read Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island before?
Although the story of Black Sails takes place about 20 years prior to Stevenson’s Treasure Island, I did read his book and watch the 1950’s Bobby Driscoll film, as well as the 2012 Eddie Izzard movie. I also referenced a couple of other books based on the time period, including Colin Woodard’s The Republic of Pirates and George Woodbury 1951 edition of The Great Days of Piracy.
I watched the Spartacus series again to get a feel for the style of TV drama that Starz has a clear niche in, as well as shows like Downton Abbey to see what kind of accent Mr. Guthrie might have. We worked with wonderful dialect coaches, as well as top hair & make-up artists and costume designers to ensure that the look and feel and sound of these characters would be spot on. As an actor, you take all that information and reference material, and kind of let it settle in the background and try to just “be in the moment”. Of course we were also fortunate to work with some of the best writers, directors and producers in the industry today, so the amount of input and support is incredible.
3. What’s your favorite filming experience in South Africa? The set with the giant Walrus ship looks incredible, that must be a treat working on such an intricate set.
Once you’ve read the detailed scripts and walk onto the most amazing sets, you are automatically transported to that period in history. It all just falls into place quite perfectly and as the cameras roll, you just breathe, smile and be as honest and as real as possible. It’s all quite a mind-boggling and exciting experience. Unfortunately my character didn’t get to spend much time on the awe-inspiring ships, but yes, it is quite breathtaking to behold and there were moments when I felt like a kid again, taking it all in and thinking “Gee wiz, this is a cool experience. I’m the luckiest guy in the world.” The sets constructed at the Cape Town Film Studios are certainly world-class and easily compete with anything found in the US and Europe today.
4. You had quite a few scenes with Toby Stephens who played Captain Flint. Could you share your experience working with him?
Working with Toby was an absolute treat. Besides being a consummate professional and certainly one of the UK’s finest and underrated actors, he also happens to be very down-to-earth, friendly and funny in person, continually making jokes. When actors meet and do a scene together for the first time, we’re very often testing and perhaps challenging one another, to get a feel for what sort of level in performance we can expect from one another. Toby is a very passionate and giving actor, and I thoroughly enjoyed working on some truly intense and hopefully captivating and entertaining scenes with him.
5. How’s filming Season 2 different than filming the first one? Any tidbits about Season 2 you could share with us?
Before we started shooting season 2, we had the opportunity to watch season 1 in it’s entirety prior to it’s premiere screening around the world. When my scenes were originally filmed for season 1, they were obviously shot out of continuity with the rest of the story. So to finally see these scenes, intertwined with the rest of the intricate story and it’s characters, was helpful and informed me where I needed to go with Richard Guthrie in the next season.
As an actor, you prepare and then film your scenes under great direction, delivering your best possible performance, but it’s only after the entire show is edited together and you watch the final cut of the episodes months later, that you are able to truly experience first-hand what you hoped to create on set at the time. I believe in season 2 I was able to delve even deeper and get closer to the true essence and heart of what makes Richard Guthrie tick and what drives him as a man in a once very powerful position, but also as a father to his daughter Eleanor. I could not be prouder of my work on season 2 and I cannot wait for audiences to experience what I have dedicated the past year of my life to.
Here’s the trailer for Season 2:
6. Lastly, what other project(s) are you working on right now?
My latest feature film The Salvation premiered in May this year at the Cannes Film Festival to a six-minute standing ovation. It’s currently screening all over Europe and due for release in the States in the coming months. I was fortunate to work opposite Hannibal’s Mads Mikkelsen which was a fantastic experience.
The movie also stars Eva Green, Michael Raymond-James and Jonathan Pryce [as well as Jeffrey Dean Morgan – ed]. I’m currently filming a new South African TV series based on the atrocities of apartheid in the mid-eighties, as well as a short sci-fi film to be released on the festival circuit.
Here’s the full synopsis of The Salvation:
In 1870s America, a peaceful American settler kills his family’s murderer which unleashes the fury of a notorious gang leader. His cowardly fellow townspeople then betray him, forcing him to hunt down the outlaws alone.
And you can watch the trailer on youtube.
Thanks so much Sean for taking the time out of your busy schedule to chat with me.
Can’t wait to see season 2 of Black Sails!
Hope you enjoyed the interview. Have you seen Black Sails? Are you as excited for Season 2 as I am?