Luke Arnold is happy to be playing a pirate. Not just any pirate: on Starz’s new series Black Sails, the Australian actor stars as John Silver, a 20something version of Treasure Island‘s iconic peg-legged villain. “The John Silver we see is a very different guy to what he’s going to become,” Arnold assures us.
Produced by Michael Bay, Black Sails is a gleeful, big-budget, pirates-‘n’-prostitutes drama set in the Caribbean in 1715. Although it is his first project in the U.S., Arnold is confident of its success. “In pilot season, you want to be picky but at the same time, you’ve got to be in the game. You hope that you get the cash for the pilot and the experience, but a lot of the time you’re like, ‘I hope I don’t actually end up on this,'” he explains. “Black Sails is so different. From the beginning I was like, ‘This is going to be a great job.'”
With his brown curls, Arnold looks a lot like INXS’s late frontman Michael Hutchence, whom he portrays in the forthcoming Australian miniseries Never Tear Us Apart. We spoke with the actor before he headed to Cape Town, South Africa, to start filming Black Sails‘ already-commissioned second season.
HOMETOWN: Sydney, Australia
SUNSHINE BEACH HIGH: I moved up to Queensland from Sydney for the last two years of high school. It was good and bad. It meant that suddenly you lose the people you’d grown up with but, at the same time, it did give me a chance to reinvent myself. It was easier to be a bigger fish in a small pond in Queensland. My school was on the Sunshine Coast—it wasn’t in Brisbane. It was called Sunshine Beach High, which just sounds like a TV show.
FIRST LEADING ROLE: I think it was an after-school production when I was in 11th grade. We had just moved to Queensland, and it was production of The Breakfast Club. I played Bender. It was great fun. We were really a bunch of screwed-up kids, doing a play about a bunch of screwed-up kids. It was a real coming-of-age time in my life, doing that. Then I wrote our 12th-grade play that my class did. It’s pretty ridiculous. When you’re putting on a 12th-grade play, it’s just about fitting everyone in. It was like a crime caper mixed with a film noir. It was pretty silly. I was one of the gangsters.
FIRST JOB: I was really lucky. My first job, when I was still 18, was choreographing sword fights on the Peter Pan film they shot in Australia. I was the assistant to the swordmaster. We had the Matrix stunt team. I had played Romeo in a regional theater production. The guy who taught me swordfighting for that, I started training with him to have another skill as an actor. When he got the job on Peter Pan, I went out to help for a day, and at the end of the day I had a full time job. I stopped going to high school and sent in all my final exams by e-mail. At the beginning of the film, it was the kind of, “Oh, I’ll take a day off now.” But once you start shooting, there’s no way you can have a day off to go back and do an exam. It changed very quickly—I went from being at school to suddenly working on a production.
It was a big film with lots of people, and I was right in there, standing by on set, working with the director. I had certain parts that I was responsible for—certain bits in the fight scenes that were just mine. It meant that I had that time, without the pressure of being in front of the camera, to understand, “That’s the lingo. That’s how things work.” By the time I got to do my first guest role on TV, I was like, “I know what a film set feels like.”
NEVERLAND: I worked on Peter Pan from August in 2002 ’til May 2003. The kid that played Peter Pan grew, like, a foot while we were shooting. It was one those productions that just went on and on and on. It meant that I kind of missed all my plans— university applications. So I spent from May to December of the next year doing a lot of writing—prose to get into writing courses; film scripts, storyboarding, and writing short films to get into film courses—and a few acting classes and monologues. I got into a writing course, a film course, and this acting course at WAAPA, the Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts. Acting is a young man’s game, or at least it’s best to get into early. So I went, “Okay, for the next little while, it’s going to be acting.” That’s kind of been the main focus since then.
CLASS ACT: I went to WAAPA. Hugh Jackman did the course a number of years before, and a bunch of other actors. Now there’s a screen academy attached to the school, so we were doing multicamera film work pretty much through all three years. I think it’s one of the first schools, in Australia [to do that]. At the end of the three years, we did our tour of Melbourne and Sydney for our theater showcase and, in the middle of it all, they showed our film showcase. We got pitched as theater actors and film actors at once.
EVERYBODY LOVES GOOD NEIGHBORS: I haven’t been on Neighbours or Home and Away; I managed to sidestep those. I did three years of drama school, and coming out and signing a three-year contract on a TV show, I was trying to avoid it if I could. One of the great things about those shows is that they’re good training for young actors—your screen craft. [But] I just wanted to bounce around and do as many things as possible. I was a year out of drama school when I did my first film, called Broken Hill with Alexa Vega and Timothy Hutton and Rhys Wakefield. That was an American director, Dagen Merrill, and an American producer, Chris Wyatt. Having Timothy Hutton, an Academy Award-winning actor, playing my dad in a movie I was the lead in, I was like “Okay, this could get me known in the States.” That film became my little reel to open the doors.
THE SOURCE MATERIAL: I read Treasure Island many times as a kid. But the characters are so diverse that everyone did different research, whether it was more historical—about the sailing side of things, or the economy of the island, or about England at the time. But for me, I really just went to Treasure Island because, really, Long John Silver is one of the most famous literary characters of all time. Even in the book, he’s so likeable. But then you’ve got to step away from that, because it’s 20 years later. You can’t play the ending; you’ve got to play what we have in the script and where it is at that time.
Will I get a peg leg? We’re going to lose a leg. Maybe they’re going to put a peg leg on it—I don’t know. We have a lot of time to get there. Season One takes place in a very short amount of time—a matter of days. There’s so much happening and everything’s so immediate, so I’m not sure if at some point it’s all going to move forward. John [creator Jonathan E. Steinberg] has been very open with us, but it’s also nice not knowing too much.
BLACK SAILS PREMIERES SATURDAY, JANUARY 25 ON STARZ.