Interview with Black Sails’ Hannah New

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If you don’t know who Hannah New is, prepare to see a lot of her in 2014. Not only can you see her as one of the leads in Starz’s Black Sails (January 25 at 9pm ET/PT), but you’ll also be seeing her opposite of Angelina Jolie in the upcoming live-action Disney movie, Maleficent. I had the chance to chat with the beautiful English actress about her upcoming roles, pirates, and being bilingual.

John “Spartan” Nguyen (Nerd Reactor): 2014 is a pretty impressive year so far for you.

Hannah New: Yeah, I know. It’s been a long time in the coming.

Nerd Reactor: You’ve got Black Sails coming out, then you’ve got the upcoming Maleficent movie too.

Hannah New: Yeah. It’s funny because I’ve been filming stuff the past two years, and nothing has come out. So I’m like “Wow, it’s all come at once. It’s really exciting.”

Nerd Reactor: It’s cool that you’re bilingual. You can speak English and Spanish.

Hannah New: Yeah. I lived in Spain for four years, and I took Spanish as my first degree. I love speaking Spanish and working in Spain.

Nerd Reactor: How fluent are you?

Hannah New: Yeah, I’m fluent in Spanish. I did it at degree-level, and then when I lived there for four years, I really learned how to speak it like the kids on the street, and be able to converse fluently. Then obviously working in TV, it was like a real baptism by fire because I was given scripts with really sophisticated language, so it was a lot of fun.

Nerd Reactor: Will we be hearing any of your Spanish in Black Sails?

Hannah New: I don’t get to speak Spanish yet, but there are a few lines in Spanish that Luke (John Silver) gets to say. So with Luke, I’ve been helping him out a bit when he has a few lines in Spanish.

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Nerd Reactor: Can you tell us a little bit about Eleanor Guthrie in Black Sails?

Hannah New: Yeah, she is a fictional character. She’s not based on any kind of historical person that we can find specifically. That said, she is someone who would have had to existed. The figure of the fence is something that definitely would have existed in order to keep the pirates moving, keep their loot moving, and keep their business afloat.

Nerd Reactor: Before the show, did you do any research on pirates in general, or  just a crash course afterwards?

Hannah New: Yeah, I did a lot of research just kind of trying to find who this character was. I mainly focused on the context of what it must have been like to be living in the Caribbean in that time period. So lots of building her background story, looking at Nassau, and looking at how it was invaded twice by the Spanish. She kind of grew up with a history of conflict, and significant things that would have really marked her childhood. Then obviously I looked into women in piracy, and the way in which there are key women who became kind of entrepreneurs as a business opportunity. For example, Grace O’Malley, who was an Irish pirate – it was slightly earlier than the time period we’re looking at. But then obviously even earlier than that, there were some pretty significant Chinese female pirates. So just the idea that there were woman in business. I’m pretty much of the opinion that not very many women made it into the history books; it’s not something that’s particularly comfortable for a lot of people who are writing history.

Nerd Reactor: Yeah. Speaking of male/female pirates, what was it like for you to be on the set a large male cast?

Hannah New: Yeah, it is a large male cast but we have three very strong female characters. So we have Max, who is played by Jessica Parker Kennedy, and she’s really such an amazing actress, and her character has such an amazing way of manipulating people by using this sexual power. She’s a very clever and conniving young woman who is able to use that power in order to siphon intelligence. And then obviously we’ve got Clara Paget, who plays the real pirate, Anne Bonny. She kind of re-appropriates some masculine attributes, making her character more vicious and violent. She had this physical strength that was unmatched, and sort of psychological resolve and determination that no one is ever going to overpower her. She wields power in a completely different way to Max, and in a completely different way to Eleanor. And Eleanor obviously has this political and economic power.

So even though we’re only three, we’re three very strong, distinct women who really tell the pirates where to stick it a lot of the time.

Nerd Reactor: Since Black Sails is on Starz, I’m going to guess there’s a lot of R-rated action, sex and all that.

Hannah New: Yeah!

Nerd Reactor: Have you worked on these types of projects before?

Hannah New: No, this is definitely something new for me. When I first read the script, I was really impressed by the fact that these characters are so daring. As an actress, you have to explore these characters 360 degrees. We’re presenting a world where sexual politics is much more fluid than the world we know today. Sexuality wasn’t legislated in the way that it’s legislated today. So you’re looking at people who kind of used sex and politics in the same way. I never feel like, on the show, that it’s ever gratuitous. I never feel that the violence is gratuitous. It always says something about those particular characters. It always has a very significant push towards a certain plot narrative.

So it’s a show that doesn’t put boundaries on what they’re showing of this gritty, real world. I think it’s important to show that, in order to to see that there’s a very full picture of what piracy was about in the 18th century.

Nerd Reactor: Yeah, that’s a good thing, because for sure we’re not getting that from Pirates of the Caribbean.

Hannah New: No, exactly. We’re not pandering to the fantasy or mythology of it.

Nerd Reactor: You play Aurora’s mom in the upcoming Disney live-action film, Maleficent.

Hannah New: Yes, I play the mother of Sleeping Beauty, that’s right, yes. It was a fairly small role, but it was amazing to be able to work with the caliber of actors in that project. Angelina Jolie, lots of powerhouses of British acting tradition. For me, it was an amazing combination of a lot of things – working at Pinewood, which is incredible, and obviously being a Disney Princess which is so exciting.

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