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TCA: 'Black Sails' keeps the pirate life dirty on Starz

Sarah PalinJohn OliverToby StephensBoardwalk Empire (tv program)

Being a pirate is filthy business.

That's what Starz wants viewers to take away from its new pirate series, "Black Sails." Set during the Golden Age of piracy in a remote Bahamas outpost, the show is told as a vicious prequel to the classic Robert Louis Stevenson novel "Treasure Island."

It shows the famous and mysterious Captain Flint at the beginning of his messianic quest to amass the largest trove of treasure the world has ever seen.

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During the Television Critics Assn. press tour in Pasadena on Friday, Toby Stephens, who plays Captain Flint in the series, talked passionately about how the show seeks to trade fantastical pirate lore for a more realistic vision of what the pirate life might have looked like.

"What was important to me was that, yeah we put on our pirate clothes, but those are just the clothes we wear. They’re not fancy and clean, they're dirty," said Stephens. "It was very important to us not to pose as these people -- we wanted them to be seen as real people."

In many ways, "Black Sails" is similar to a Western set at sea, said Robert Levine, who co-created the Michael Bay-produced show with Jon Steinberg.

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Frontier-style violence is certainly front and center in the show's mythology, and outlaw justice reigns supreme. As does a certain amount of hyper-sexuality featuring lithe maidens who are likely much cleaner on film than they were in real life.

It was a fascinating world to dive into, said Steinberg, who says he picks his subject matter based on a probability of audience demand.

"I look for stories that exist in a world that feels like it wants to be explored," he said. "No one has dug deep into the bedrock of pirates yet -- into the reality of what it was like to wake up in the morning and know that if you were going to survive or eat, you needed to take from someone else’s mouth."

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