Exclusive Interview: Hannah New on ‘Black Sails’ and Maleficent
A pirate’s life was usually for men, although if Cutthroat Island taught us anything it’s that there were female pirates.
“Black Sails” is a bit more serious of an approach to the world of pirates. Hannah New plays Eleanor Guthrie, the woman in charge of the black market in Nassau, so the pirates need her to fence their wares. We got to sit down with New in Los Angeles to talk “Black Sails,” and also find out about her background in Spanish television.
CraveOnline: Do you get to get on the boats?
Hannah New: Briefly, but I never get to go out and see how they hunt these prizes unfortunately, so no. I get terribly seasick so it’s a good job I don’t.
When you’ve been briefly on the boat, was that the studio boat, the gimbal boat?
Well, no, I haven’t done it yet. I’ve actually gone on set to be the other side and watch what’s happening just because I was so intrigued to see what it looked like so I was actually there for Toby’s “Prince of the New World” speech which was spine tingling and incredible. I think shooting on a boat is really tough because it’s a confined space, there’s lots of people, constantly moving. It can be a real, real tough day on the boat. So I escape.
We know times were tough for women in this era. Could a woman be this independent and in charge of her own business back then?
Well, I think it’s a very unique situation where they are and when you look at the context of it, it’s kind of like a war situation. These men go off to hunt these prizes and are away, and the island still has to function. I don’t think that it would change. The women had to make it function while they were away and when they came back, I don’t think it would have changed that much. It’s very interesting to look at it from that aspect, and also you need to think, “Well, in London at the time a lot of taverns and businesses had women at the helm.” Of course I think there definitely were women who were providing these services for the pirates in these types of ports. It’s something the history books don’t really focus on.
That gives you some license.
Yeah, we have an opportunity I think to bring to light a part of history that hasn’t really been explored before.
Now we know pirates could be abusive towards women. Does “Black Sails” get into that?
Yes, it certainly does, it certainly does look at the way in which that violence is a very real threat and how the women deal with that and come to protect themselves. I think the stakes are very high for these women and their ability to survive pretty much depends on themselves. For that reason, as an actor it’s really amazing because there’s always these constant challenges and there’s always so much at stake. I think surviving in this world as a woman requires certain skills that men don’t even have to think about.
Did you do any physical training for the action part of “Black Sails?”
Yeah, I did. I did lots of stunts training just to be able to be safe really, doing those things. You only really get to see me throw one punch in this season which is a shame because I would love to do more. Obviously just the demands of shooting a show like this requires you to be very physically fit and healthy. So I think for us girls, we didn’t have the same kind of challenge as the boys with regards to getting a physique that was appropriate to what their job would have been.
We didn’t have that kind of challenge but we did have to become very fit and healthy in order to cope with the fact that we would be wearing full costume on a beach in God knows what degrees heat, and having to cope with a long working day and physical training as well for stunts and things like that. Yeah, we did embrace it. Me and Jessica [Parker Kennedy] trained together last year which was awesome and we had so much fun with it. It’s part of my job I really love. I really love that challenge and I think it’s very much about physically grounding who this character. I think finding a way into a character through their physicality is really important so having a very fit body and being able to maintain posture and all those things are really important.
You did a costume drama in Spain before “Black Sails,” didn’t you?
Yeah, I did. I did, yeah. I filmed that actually about a year and a half before, but it’s only just come out now, which was amazing. It’s set in the ‘30s and ‘40s and playing a real woman who is the love of the foreign minister for Spain during Franco. It was great being able to immerse myself in that section of history as well.
How did you end up being cast in a number of Spanish series?
Well, I did my first degree in Spanish and English literature and then I moved to Spain and I was working in Spain and doing bits and pieces in TV and film. I trained out there as well in the Meisner school, so it was very much part of my formation as an actor. It was interesting because I always wanted to act. I did a lot when I was at university.
I remember saying to my mom, “I think this is really what I want to do” and she said, “Well, why don’t you get a degree that enables you to work in two markets?” I think that’s one of the most amazing pieces of advice anyone’s ever given me. I think as a kid I always had two dreams, to act and to be able to speak another language. I was always amazed by watching people who could just switch between two languages. It’s an incredibly satisfying experience to be able to act in another language.
So those are Spanish language series?
Yeah, yeah. The series I did was based on a novel that’s been incredibly successful, so it was completely in Spanish. It was a huge challenge. It’s like a baptism of fire when you’re learning your trade but in a completely different language, it’s brilliant and challenging and satisfying all at the same time.
You also worked on Maleficent. What’s your role in that?
It was fab. I got to play the mother of Sleeping Beauty which was an incredible role. Sleeping Beauty is a film that I remember very vividly as a kid and I remember all of those scenes, so revisiting the dark side of these fairy tales is almost cathartic as an adult. I think it’s an interesting trend that’s happening now that all of these tails are being explored from both sides, from the good and evil side. I’m very excited to see it. I haven’t seen it yet.
Is her mother out of the picture by the time Maleficent comes along?
Obviously when she’s born, that whole scene from the Disney film when she curses the baby is going to be in Maleficent. It’s the core conflict that happens in the story. Yeah, she then is obviously, because much of the story covers when she’s older, when she’s 16 so obviously I’m only playing her mom when she was a baby.
That still must have been a fun scene to do in live action.
Yeah, totally, it was awesome and also kind of was the culmination of lots of dreams because I’d always dreamed of working at Pinewood because it’s such an institution for us Brits. Obviously that childhood dream of being a Disney princess and getting dressed up in amazing, amazing costumes. The costumes are just out of this world, and obviously working with such incredible actors was another incredible bonus to that job. I’m just really, really glad to be part of it.
Did you ever go out for any of the recent Bond movies, even to not be one of the main Bond girls?
No, I haven’t actually. The recent Bonds I think have always been looking for ethnicities, not Caucasians, so I never got a chance to. I think they were looking for Spanish, because a lot of my other Spanish actress friends went out for it. I’ve done the reading of the other part on the taping for a lot of friends. Obviously being part of a Bond film would be awesome.
You’ve already got a second season of “Black Sails” on the way. Have you read any of season two yet?
Yeah, we’ve shot two episodes of season two already so I’ve got the first five episodes, and I think for me what’s really interesting about season two is the story kind of expands. Obviously season one is about settling the story in Nasau and making people aware of what the context is there. It’s very much centered around the island. Season two spreads out and you get much more of the global implications of what piracy was doing and why piracy existed and how that relates to colonial power and the politics that are at play between piracy and colonial power.
Politics are a big part of “Black Sails,” maybe more than viewers expect.
I think essentially it boils down to being a political drama. I think that’s what’s really interesting about it because we have all of those aspects of it being an action film. We have the side of it that’s much more about a romance or sexual drama, and then we also have the fact that it’s a huge significant time in political history. I think it’s very cleverly interwoven and I think that’s why this show’s going to have such appeal. I hope this is why the show’s going to have such appeal to so many different audiences. It has that gravitas. It has that huge context behind it that means that there’s a lot of depth to these storylines.
Did you have any big surprises that you weren’t expecting?
It happens all the time, all the time. Every single episode we get, we’re like, “What? How’s my character going to get out of that?” Definitely tons. I think audience members will be very surprised about the decisions the characters make and I think it challenges audiences to question why they like a character and question whether they’re in agreement with what that character’s motivation is when the method is so dark and so Machiavellian and so underhanded.
I think it brings in to light all those questions about survival and survival of the fittest and what should be done for the greater good. I think there’s constant surprises and things that will make you think, “Oh my God, how can I like this character?” They do despicable things but maybe for honorable reasons.
Was duplicity necessary for survival back then?
Yes, yes. Almost definitely. I think survival of the fittest in a sense when you were dealing with political alliances, always to a certain extent I think people always have to find that balance between their own personal desires and what is good for the people they represent. Especially Flint’s storyline and my storyline is very ambiguous as to whether what they’re fighting for is achievable and whether it’s actually best for everyone.