Hannah New talks about her new role as a sexually fluid black marketeer on “Black Sails”


AE: What is the journey with Max since we do see them together in the first episode?
HN: I think what’s really interesting if you look at any kind of eighteenth century literature, one of a very strong line of female writing was to deal with the romantic letter writing and it was very often between two women. I think that idea that two women could really, really identify it and support each other and that it’s a friendship that does involve love and it does involve affection and it does involve a sexual attraction. I think that’s a really important thing to be known and if you read any of those things, it’s pretty explicit. It’s explicit in a non-titillating…they’re writing to each other. This isn’t for a male audience. Do you know what I mean?

I think that was really an important thing that Jessica and I wanted to get across is that these two women support each other and they have a mutual responsibility towards each other. Their relationship goes really deep and I think that Jessica plays it so beautifully. She’s one of the most generous actresses I’ve ever worked with. I actually have got goose bumps talking about her. I think bringing to light that story is really important and the fact that it doesn’t always work out, I think, is also a very realistic way of portraying this relationship because they are women in men’s world, in a very masculine society. I think they don’t give a shit whether anyone judges them for it. I mean, that’s not the society they live in.

AE: It’s also really freeing, I would guess.
HN: It’s just such a liberating experience and I think it was very important with the scenes that it very much depicted those aspects of their relationship and Max is one of the only people that she can be vulnerable with. She has this hard exterior. I think, Max and also with Scott (Hakeem Kae Kasim), who is her father figure, who is her counsel…and very quickly they are no longer a part of her support network and I think it’s interesting to see how she survives on her own.

The decision she’s made to cast off those people that she so intimately knows and needs is a very interesting…I’ve never really imagined a character that would have such a quick down fall. She goes from being all power and everyone backing her to suddenly having to grapple together a team and this team is nothing compared to the kind of support she had before. It’s a beautiful story and I think as the seasons go on, it has to develop and that history has to be there.

AE: Having talked to actors for a long time, I’ve never heard anybody say a love scene was fun or it was a good time. Is it any easier doing it with a women as opposed to a man? I’m just curious if that’s any different.
HN: Do you know what? I find it really interesting. It’s always awkward, obviously, that there’s a crew in the room. But I actually think the way we choreograph scenes and it is choreography basically, is almost like crafting a scripted scene. Every single move has to be like a line. It has to mean something. Nothing is in there for gratuitous reasons. It has to be meaningful and I think that first scene with Max was actually really incredible as we talked about it. Talking about it, you learn so much about a character. Why is it that she at this time of real pain seeks a moment of pleasure? I think that’s very interesting and it ties into so many psychological arguments about why people use their sexuality to act out or to become, to release themselves from a situation. I just hope that, that scene reads that way.

Hannah New and Clara Paget

HannahNewEleanorGuthrieClaraPagetAnneBonnyPhoto courtesy of Starz

AE: I like that all the characters, there are layers early on that really hooks you in.
HN: It’s funny because all of my gay friends are like, “Please, just portray it in a realistic way. Make it look real. Don’t make it look like this kind of Hollywood version of what a gay relationship is and two women.” I was like, “There’s no way I cannot make it real,” because Jessica is that kind of actress who just is so open and both of us…when I looked at the scene where we have the breakdown of our relationship, all of that is in there. That sex scene is completely alive in that scene and I think for me, it was such a powerful experience to film that. It just does go deep. I think that’s the thing is sexuality is one of the most…it’s the deepest core part of who we are. When a relationship like that breaks down, it can only inform me as an actor and inform me about that character physically.

AE: Speaking of physicality, it’s a demanding role because there’s a lot of action, a lot of fight scenes. You can throw a punch!
HN: Yeah. I got a mean right hook now-a-days.

AE: Does Eleanor have other love interests throughout the season?
HN: Yes. There’s definitely a lot of history with Eleanor and that will become clear as her relationships start to develop. She kind of gets involved in relationships that aren’t necessarily the most advantageous to her but she cannot help it. I think that it’s a very interesting look at someone who, that kind of self-destructive behavior as well, is very interesting to look at as a character and as an actor. It’s tough. There’s things that she does that you think why are you doing this? But obviously as an actor that’s the best challenge.

She does, she uses her sexuality in a way that’s not necessarily manipulative in a way that Max has to use her sexuality. She uses it to kind of inform her own head and her own heart in response to her own feelings of abandonment and I think it’s not always entirely healthy but it’s incredibly real. I think a lot of people will be able to relate to it and likewise the people that she becomes involved with, those scenes, have to be imbued with that history.

AE: With men and women?
HN: Yeah.

AE: Any female acting icons that you look up to and channel? Especially in some of these scenes?
HN: So many. I’m a big film buff so I love people like [director John] Cassavetes and I love Gena Rowlands. She’s so brilliant, isn’t she? I just love those kinds of actresses that you just can’t tell what they’re going to do from one minute to the next. And then for television actresses, I love Edie Falco. I think she’s brilliant.

“Black Sails” premieres January 25 on Starz.

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