Toby Stephens may have played a Bond villain in Die Another Day, a role that most actors would kill to put on their CV, but what he’d really love to tick off his wish list is a Marvel superhero film.
Speaking to RadioTimes.com, the British actor (and son of Dame Maggie Smith), says, “Marvel is one franchise that I think is fun, because they have this great blend of humour and irony alongside the superhero element.
“They tend to be very satisfying films to watch. I admire them for that. I don’t care whether it’s playing in one of those as a superhero or baddie, it would just be such fun to do one.”
But while Stephens, 45, is keen to don his tights for the silver screen, it’s television he’s really excited about at the moment…
“In movies, because you’ve only got two hours to tell a story, you tend to simplify things and have stereotypical characters like goodies, baddies, the love interest. TV drama liberates you from that and allows you to tell more complex stories.
“Like in real life, characters aren’t good or bad, they’re conflicted. That’s what’s great for me as an actor. I find playing simplistic characters boring.”
Does he think that longer episodes and on-demand services have changed TV for the better?
“It’s like all these writers have been let off the leash. Either they were working on formulaic, procedural shows or they’ve been working under the cosh of films in the way they’re structured and have to be delivered. Long-form TV is challenging the film industry. TV is going through a shift at the moment and it’s exciting.”
Stephens’ current project Black Sails certainly fits that bill of ‘new’ TV – a long-form series for Starz which can be binge-watched all in one go on Amazon Prime Instant Video. Returning for its second series on Sunday, the drama is written as a prequel to Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island, focusing on the adventures of Flint (played by Stephens), and Long John Silver (Luke Arnold).
The last instalment ended on a cliffhanger with the pair looking down onto the beach, surveying the gold they’d come to get but with no way of getting it off the island thanks to their wrecked ship.
That’s exactly where the new 10-episode series picks up, answering some of the final scene’s mysteries; how would Flint and Silver get the treasure, what they would do with it, and – perhaps most interestingly of all – whether Flint is terribly ambitious, a psychopath or just downright evil.
The second series also reveals more about Flint’s past using flashbacks to transport us back to London fifteen years before where we begin to see how he ended up becoming a pirate.
The word “pirate” may conjure up images of jolly parrots, wooden legs and drunken singing, but Stephens says that Black Sails is a lot darker than that, and there’s very little swashbuckling.
“There’s nothing romantic about being a pirate. It’s a grim job. If they had a choice they’d have done something else.”
But however gritty and different Black Sails’ marauders may be to the way they’re usually depicted in books and films, the ocean’s underworld has been a popular theme throughout literary and filmic history. From Pirates of the Caribbean to Captain Philips, why does Stephens think we keep going back to that subject?
“I think it’s particularly a guy’s thing. There’s this idea of living outside the law, fighting for your own independence. That sort of stuff appeals to the male psyche, and the idea of being on the sea and surviving against the elements.”
So it’s pirates for now, and Stephens says he’s having an amazing time. But with any luck, he’ll soon be jumping ship and fighting for survival in the Marvel universe.
Black Sails is set to debut exclusively in the UK on Amazon Prime Instant Video on the 25th January 2015, with further episodes due to be released weekly in the UK just hours after the US screening.