Luke Arnold’s got his coif to thank for his success. Those long locks have helped him land a number of roles, including his most recent as John Silver on Black Sails, Starz’s ambitious new pirate drama premiering January 25.
“I think that it’s been great for my career that these historical epics keep popping up,” the Australian-born actor told DuJour during a recent stop into our office. “As an actor, you can either try and chase every role or you know which roles you’re right for. For me, I kept the long hair and suddenly all these roles came along.”
Here, we chat with Arnold about his new series, his history with pirates and what his mane is up to next.
Be honest: this isn’t your first gig as a pirate, is it?
My first job in the industry was choreographing sword fights for a Peter Pan film a couple of years ago. In high school, I had learned sword fighting in order to play Romeo in a community theater production, and the guy who taught me had a job on the film. I went to check it out, and by the end of the day I was working full-time and did ten months.
What is it about pirates that people find so interesting? From Black Sails to Captain Phillips, there’s something piratey in the air.
I think it’s a lot of things: It all deals with political stuff that is still relevant today—quite a lot at the moment. The whole idea with Black Sails is that we’re getting away from this fantasy idea of pirates that’s been around for so long. When you go back to what it was really about, it was the beginning of democracy and these were guys were turned away by their countries, but they also realized that they could get a much better deal in this new pirate life. Every ship was its own democracy with everyone voting; the captain of the ship only had rule during battle. And I think it’s always tempting to think you could give your boss the finger and head off to make it on your own.
Are you any good at sea?
My uncle’s in the Navy, so we took a few day family trip when I was younger and I got really seasick. Since then, I’ve been on a boat a few times and I’ve actually have been good. During pre-production, we did take a three-mast ship out. We took all of the modern rigging off of it and had to work it ourselves and manually tack it. That was one of the toughest things I’ve ever done, but I loved it.
What was appealing to you about playing John Silver?
I was actually in the running for a different character on the show. My auditions were for one of the other roles and then suddenly they started thinking they might bring me into the role of John. It was really appealing to me, because he’s definitely not a clear-cut character, you’re not always sure where he’s coming from or what his objectives are. It’s an origin story: Long John Silver, we’ve all either read the book or seen incarnations of him in different films, and to do the first onscreen origin story for that character is just a dream.
What kind of research did you do for the role?
The big thing for all of us was using as is out there but also getting rid of the ideas of what pirates were beforehand. We all dug up as much historical research as we could find. It’s an ongoing process about discovering more about who these guys really were rather than the mythological version they turn into.
Your next role plays to a degree on your long hair as well, doesn’t it?
For some reason over the years, probably having my hair long, people would bring up a similarity between me and Michael Hutchence. As an actor, you have pipe dream roles, and this was always mine. Every time I did have to cut my hair for a role, I was always worried thinking, Oh, what if an INXS thing happens? Lucky enough, I was playing a pirate with long hair when the green light happened on Never Tear Us Apart. I just started sending in takes before they were even casting, so by the time they started thinking about it, they had a full reel of me mocking up interviews and singing along to stuff and dancing.
You guys are filming, working on your second season already in a very serious show in a remote part of South Africa. What’s the mood like on set?
It’s actually really fun! It’s great because every time a director gets off the plane and steps on set, you see the excitement come on his face. It’s not like doing some of these other shows where you get a shot here and get into a van to do a shot somewhere else. Our whole world is right there on the back lot. You could be doing a scene in the brothel, and then you can walk across the street and do a scene in the tavern, then you walk down and jump in a rowboat out to sea—all that happens without ever breaking the reality of the world around you.
Black Sails premieres on Starz on January 25. Watch the first full episode here.