6 Questions With…Ray Stevenson

Photo Source: Photographed by Jason O’Dell/Contour by Getty Images

Best known for HBO’s “Rome” and the “Divergent” film series, Irish-born actor Ray Stevenson is heading out to sea on the hit Starz series “Black Sails.” Here, he tells us about playing the notorious Blackbeard, his acting crushes, and how he prepares for an audition.

Tell us about your experience on “Black Sails.”
Blackbeard, naturally, in his own life, was a character who was larger than life. And you can’t impose presence, so you rely on the actors around you. That’s where the trust of performers comes in, not egos. For an actor to turn to another actor who’s entering a series—which is essentially their series—and to give so much stage to this new person and not feel like they’re diminishing theirs... If they’d treated me like a lesser citizen, it doesn’t matter what I would have said or blustered, he never would have been Blackbeard. It was a collaboration.

How did you get your SAG-AFTRA card?
When “Rome” came up, with patience. Over the course of two seasons I created quite a bit of interest, and that gave me my representation in the States and, ergo, started my movie career at 44—which is almost unheard of. And also, I lived in Ibiza, not in L.A., so there were a lot of taboos kind of being broken. So, the SAG card came up [afterward] just in order to do the next job. [For me], it’s something you grow into. You don’t access it by trying to bombard people. If it’s on your path, it’s on your path and then you’re a SAG member.

On whom do you have an acting crush?
It was the likes of Lee Marvin, Gene Hackman. Never a bad performance, and brave and fearless within that caliber. It was never the young, hot leading man; it was men who I could identify with. And it’s not even a favorite performance; there are moments in a performance where I forgot to breathe because the genius of the writing, the direction, the production, the costume designer—everything. And you go, “What the hell just happened?” And you know you were fully enchanted for that moment. That’s the validity of what we do.

How do you prepare for an audition?
There was an actor I was talking to in L.A., and she said, “I’d like to go over this audition piece.” And I start to go over it with her and she goes, “Do I have to learn it?” I looked at her and my heart sank, like, why would you not want to? You’ve got a chance to be an actor for three or four minutes. Why do you not delight in learning it and then letting the director direct you? So, how do I prepare? It just comes in the reading and the playing of the thing. You have no idea who’s going to be reading or acting with you, so you’ve got to leave [yourself] free enough, but you’ve got to learn what the scene is about.

Which of your performances has left a lasting mark on you?
I would have to say Titus Pullo on “Rome.” At that time I realized what it was to get out of your own way and trust your instincts, and trust that a lot of your work has been done subconsciously and silently. And also focusing on the career I’m having rather than the career I should be having; it’s this moment now and that’s all that matters—this moment, this production, the actors around me, the director I’m working with. It’s where my life completely changed.

What have you learned about your acting on “Black Sails”?
If you thought that you weren’t going to learn or went in with the attitude that you weren’t going to learn anything, you may as well not have done the job because you’re cutting yourself off. One thing is that there’s so much documented information about this character, more so than almost every other pirate. But the thing is, you’ve got to stop looking at history, because history was written by victors and sensationalists, right? It’s never written by the defeated, because they’re normally dead. So you’re getting an assimilation of points of view. At that time it was like the Wild West. They were shipping pamphlets back to the East Coast and people got into it—the sensationalizing. However, you’ve got to reach a point where you’re not doing a docudrama; [you have to remember] you are part of an ensemble of “Black Sails.”

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