Zach McGowan wanted to go for authenticity when preparing for his role in Black Sails. So the American actor wanted to make sure he nailed the right English accent while getting in to good shape to achieve the lean, hard look of a sailor from the early 1700s.
The series follows the exploits of Treasure Island’s pirate captain James Flint, 20 years before the events of Stevenson’s classic adventure novel. McGowan plays Flint’s ruthless pirate adversary, Captain Vane. He spoke with MF about how he wanted to make sure his preparation for the role dispensed with modern gym tech, and favoured routines that would closer approximate the brutal manual labour aboard an 18th-century galleon.
How fit were you before you took the role of Vane?
I’ve always kept myself fit. Being an athlete is a very large part of who I am. But Vane is definitely the most physically demanding role I’ve ever played.
So how long did you train for the role?
For Vane it was about three months before we started shooting, and I definitely got into the best shape of my life for the role.Training was intense and demanding but I thoroughly enjoyed it.
Real pirates wouldn't have had gyms to help them stay in shape. Did you consider this in the way you trained?
I went along to one gym session – then never went back again! I do most of my training outside along the water in Capetown [where the series is filmed]. So yes, I thought about the fact that they didn't have gyms in those days, and decided not to pump iron for the role.
So what drills did you find most effective for building the physique and strength you needed?
I did it with ten-mile runs, sets of 50 pull-ups, push-ups, inverted sit-ups, handstands and fight training.
What was the hardest part?
The hardest aspect of any training is not giving up over time.
Did you cut things like alcohol out of your diet while training, or keep it in for authenticity? Pirates are famed for liking their grog after all.
I developed quite a taste for rum over the six months I spent shooting actually. Turns out rum is fantastic! By far the most underrated alcoholic drink.
The show is pretty violent with a lot of fight scenes. Were there any accidents on set?
There are always accidents but luckily nothing serious while I was shooting. It’s actually more like a very rough dance than an actual fight. But very tiring and you do get sore.
What did you enjoy most about the role?
Playing Charles Vane has been its own reward in many ways. He is so much cooler than I am, and so much more complex than you expect at the start. Definitely a very fun guy to play.
Are there any other roles from current TV shows that you would love to play?
Rust Cohle [played by Matthew McConaughey] from True Detective. I know I’m not old enough yet, but one day when I am, that is the kind of stuff I would love to do.
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