Starz was in full force at New York Comic Con 2014, bringing cast and crew of two of its acclaimed series: Black Sails and Da Vinci’s Demons for a panel filled with new info about what’s coming up on both shows.
Black Sails Executive Producers Jon Steinberg and Robert Levine took the stage along with cast members Toby Stevens (Captain Flint), Hannah New (Eleanor Guthrie), Luke Arnold (John Silver), Jessica Parker Kennedy (Max), Zach McGowan (Charles Vane) and Toby Schmidt (Rackham) to discuss the Starz television series, just renewed for its third season. The second season of Black Sails is set to debut Jan. 24, and the panel debuted a new trailer, designed to look and feel epic, like — as Steinberg put it — a ten-hour feature.
Stephens is clearly enjoying his role on the series. “For me playing Flint is about doing very little because you’re not in his head. You’re trying to figure him out and are stumbling,” Stephens said. “What’s great, for me anyway, is he’s somebody you still like despite doing those things. I’m intrigued by him.”
New’s character of Eleanor is potentially just as dangerous and scheming as Flint, though in a different way. “She’s driven by anger a lot of the time, which leads to very harsh and erroneous decisions,” New said. “She has a bigger vision.”
Arnold said audiences will “start to see that slow development into the man he’s going to be” of his character John Silver. “In season one, he’s not invested. Everyone else is tied to this place and I can just turn around and leave. In season two that starts to change. He gets drawn into this world.”
Kennedy had one of the more interesting and complex character arcs over the course of the first season — especially when it came to her vulnerability. “She made herself really vulnerable to Eleanor and she’ll never be that vulnerable again,” Kennedy said. “In one way it makes her really strong, but that humanity that was there is gone and she becomes more like the pirates.”
When discussing the level of realism and how much training the cast went through, McGowan said everyone actually went out on a retreat at sea. “We all went out on a ship together and hoisting sails without the gear available these days,” McGowan said. “It was fun for about five minutes and then it was a lot of work. That day on the ship was when we realized this one of the toughest things you can do.”
When asked about the relationship between Eleanor and Flint, everyone made it clear that there is not a romance brewing, at least the way many viewers wish. “They all want different things,” Steinberg said, “and they see the island very differently.”
“I think their relationship is based on pragmatism,” Stephens said. “I don’t think there’s much sentiment involved. Are you useful to me? It’s more of a political alliance than a relationship.”
“She thinks she knows it all and you realize this man is a complete enigma and no one really knows him,” New said.
Perhaps the biggest change that viewers can expect in the second season is what Steinberg described as a substantial story arc set in London before the events of the series. “We wanted to see London and the world that these people were running from or fighting against,” Steinberg said, describing the story as digging into who Flint is and will play out over the course of the season.
Turning to another epic story, Da Vinci’s Demons creator David S. Goyer and Executive Producer John Shiban took the stage along with actors Tom Riley (Leonardo da Vinci), Laura Haddock (Lucrezia Donati), Blake Ritson (Count Girolamo Riario) and Gregg Chillin (Zoroaster).
Goyer has stepped away as show runner for the upcoming third season, handing it off after ending the second season with a cliffhanger. Shiban has taken over showrunner duties for the upcoming third season, but the “X-Files” and “Breaking Bad” alum has long been a fan of da Vinci. “Since I was very young, I was fascinated by this character and I tried to build some of his inventions as a young man – I mean I failed,” Shiban said. “What I love about the show is the cast and the scope and the storytelling is just amazing so when I had the opportunity to jump onboard, I had to.”
One theme that everyone kept returning to was that for all the atmosphere and the epic storytelling they’re very conscious of, the new season is intended to be as much introspective as it is physical. “It’s a character drama,” Shiban said. “The characters are so rich and their biggest enemies are themselves. That’s the journey they’re on.”
Perhaps the character who epitomizes this concept best is Ritson’s character Riario, who Shiban describes as on a spiritual journey. “Here’s a character struggling with faith. He’s done terrible things and wants something to believe in and someone to believe in him.”
“Everyone is trying to make amends for what they’ve done,” Riley said.
“Season Three is the most morally complex,” Ritson said, “and that moral complexity is fun to play.”
Haddock said that her character “started as a puppet with different people telling Lucrezia where to go and what to do and now she’s making her own decisions–though not necessarily the right ones,” Haddock said, joking “I’m just happy to be alive.”
The panel also raised the question of whether da Vinci’s genius has been a curse or a blessing. “As we start the third season, it’s more of a curse,” Riley said. “His pursuit of knowledge has led to disaster. We’re going to see the effect of how hard it is to carry that weight.”
“Some of his designs have been stolen and used against him, so Da Vinci has to out-Da Vinci himself,” Shiban said.
When asked if there was anything they learned about da Vinci working on the show, all admitted that as much as they knew, they were still surprised. “I was obsessed with da Vinci, but it’s been an eye opener especially his forward thinking in social issues and human relations that we get to play with in the show,” Shiban said.
“I read every single one of his journal pages so I feel like I know quite a bit,” Goyer said, but the most shocking thing he learned was da Vinci’s vegetarianism. “That was something I didn’t know going in. It was almost unheard of at the time.”
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