Toby Stephens rather would be a pirate than a butler.
Stephens, who stars in the new pirate series Black Sails, was asked the question because of who his mother is. If you watch Downton Abbey, you know her as the Dowager Countess, namely, legendary actress Maggie Smith.
“Any day of the week I would prefer to be doing (Black Sails instead of Downton Abbey),” said the 44-year-old Stephens, whose series makes its Canadian debut Friday, Feb. 14 on Super Channel. “I appreciate Downton Abbey for what it is. I have to say I don't regularly tune in. I appreciate what my mom does in it. She's great in it. But it's just not really what I enjoy watching.
“Playing (Captain Flint) is like going on an exotic vacation (Black Sails is shot in Cape Town, South Africa) because we just don't do this kind of stuff in the U.K. We do a lot of stuff like Downton Abbey, a lot of period drama, a lot of detective stuff. For me, that's kind of like, 'Yeah, I've seen that, I've done it, I don't want to do it for the rest of my life.' (Captain Flint) is a fantastic character, phenomenal production values and a fantastic story.”
Originating on Starz in the U.S., where it debuted last month, Black Sails is set in the West Indies in the year 1715. The story centres on Captain Flint (Stephens) and takes place 20 years prior to Robert Louis Stevenson’s classic novel Treasure Island. In fact, in the first episode of Black Sails, Flint takes on a fast-talking young addition to the crew, a fake cook named John Silver (played by Luke Arnold).
What's interesting right away about Black Sails is its presentation of Captain Flint not as some all-powerful figure, but as a man who, despite his fearsome reputation in pirate circles, must battle to maintain his position. In some ways pirate ships worked more democratically than much of the world at the time, and if Captain Flint isn't constantly earning and being straight with his men, they can vote him out.
“I think initially I read Treasure Island, or it was read to me as a child,” Stephens said. “And yes, I suppose the Naval battles, like Nelson, that's part of our culture (in England). You grow up knowing about the Battle of Trafalgar, all that stuff.
“I guess I knew about piracy, but it was really a mythologized version of piracy. I didn't really know the details of the golden age of piracy, which (Black Sails) deals with.”
Furthering that point, Stephens stressed Black Sails is much more than the swashbuckling wardrobe.
“Those are the clothes that (the characters) wear, they're not fancy, they're not clean, they're dirty, they smell, it's a real world,” Stephens said. “It wasn't like some fetish thing where I want to be wearing pirate outfits like Johnny Depp. We're trying to get to a place where you believe these people.”
Lord knows what the Dowager Countess thinks of pirates. I'm betting she's against them.
Either way, Toby Stephens is content carrying a sword instead of a tray.