'Our Flag Means Death': Weird roles attracted stars to pirate workplace comedy

Rhys Darby (L) and Nathan Foad can now be seen in the pirate comedy, "Our Flag Means Death."&nbspPhoto courtesy of HBO Max
1 of 5 | Rhys Darby (L) and Nathan Foad can now be seen in the pirate comedy, "Our Flag Means Death." Photo courtesy of HBO Max

NEW YORK, March 3 (UPI) -- Rhys Darby says it was a challenge playing the many layers of an 18th-century aristocrat who gives up his luxe life and family for a career in piracy in HBO Max's new workplace comedy, Our Flag Means Death.

"He's so complicated. How did he get away with what he did, and why would anyone follow or believe him? He's a dreamer and a risk taker, and I could relate to that," Darby told UPI about his character, Stede Bonnet.


"He's not just the funny guy," the actor added. "He's not just the boss who's an idiot."

The show follows big-hearted Bonnet through a midlife crisis in which he foolishly attempts to civilize his crew of scalawags by encouraging them to explore their artistic sides and open up about their feelings while he pays them salaries so they aren't dependent on plundering to survive.


"He's discovering who he is and where he wants to go in the worst possible way - by jumping onboard a ship where he is probably going to last a couple of weeks if he is lucky," Darby said.

"It was just so fascinating, but above and beyond all of that, I just want to make people laugh. That's what we need right now."

Loosely inspired by real events, the series debuts Thursday. The ensemble includes Nathan Foad, Samson Kayo, Matt Maher, Samba Schutte, Vico Ortiz, Ewen Bremner and Nat Faxon. Guest stars include Leslie Jones, Fred Armisen and Rory Kinnear.

People of Earth creator David Jenkins is the showrunner for Our Flag Means Death. What We Do in the Shadows and Reservation Dogs co-creator Taika Waititi executive-produced Flag, directed the pilot and guest stars as Blackbeard.

Jenkins noted that his series distinguishes itself from the buccaneer adventures he grew up watching because it gives off a more mundane "Tuesday on a pirate ship vibe" as it imagines what men get up to in close quarters when they aren't raiding other ships or towns.

The set includes a meticulously detailed, authentic-looking pirate ship that rocks back and forth on airbags, occasionally making the stars seasick.


"It was so easy for an actor," Darby said about how the environment impacts the performances. "We could hear it creaking. We look out and we could see the sea [projected on screens.] It just helped."

Jenkins called the number of talented artists who auditioned to be on the show "an embarrassment of riches."

"It has some nice, meaty, weird parts, so you get really good actors who want to do it," he said.

Schutte, who plays Roach, thinks everyone "deep down inside, has always been influenced by pirates, whether it's Peter Pan or Pirates of the Caribbean."

"Blackbeard's legend has lived on with all of us," he laughed, adding Jenkins and Waititi were emphatic that they didn't want to cover the same ground other pirate epics had covered.

"They really transformed our characters by giving us costumes that are kind of retro, but also rock star," he said.

"It was just something new to see that pirates were rock stars in their day, but not necessarily always swashbuckling, either. They were guys who spent a lot of time on the ship doing nothing. They were bored out of their minds because a lot of the time there was no action at all."


Foad wasn't a big fan of pirate stories when he was a boy, but he said that actually worked for him as he figured out how to play Bonnet's eye-rolling, unenthusiastic assistant.

"Lucius is kind of barely a pirate. He is sort of a pirate," Foad quipped.

Maher read one book on pirate history before production on the show began, but he revealed that his main inspiration for his performance was a photo of Harrison Ford as Han Solo from Star Wars.

"He's in a badass stance with a gun," Maher said.

"I was like, 'That's what I need to know!' Black Pete, also, is desperate to be a pirate, but has really no idea what piracy is. He served for maybe half a day, until lunch, on Blackbeard's ship before he was kicked off and they said, 'Go over there!' And set sail without me."

Ortiz, who plays Jim, and Kayo, who plays Oluwande, hope the show brings joy to viewers during a dark and distressing time.

"It feels like a huge responsibility, but, at the same time, it feels like a celebration. It is such a fun show, and it feels so warm and heartfelt and deep in a lot of ways," Ortiz said.


"There are so many characters to connect with," Ortiz added. "I feel like every single one of us is someone you could fall in love with. We need that validation of: 'Yeah, oh my gosh! I love this! I'm laughing, but I feel so seen.' Especially in this time where we are so isolated and separated and need that connection."

Kayo agreed.

"Not to sound cocky or arrogant, but it feels really fulfilling," he said.

"People really appreciate laughter since the pandemic. It's become more therapeutic to laugh.It's something that we didn't really know we really needed, and the pandemic really woke that up. Once we were allowed out, we were like, 'I don't want to watch anything sad. I need to feel good.'"

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