Con O'Neill, Rhys Darby: Warmth, authenticity, diversity draw fandom to 'Flag'

"We're all looking for that community," O'Neill told UPI.

Taika Waititi (L) and Rhys Darby play a couple who give up piracy to open up a seaside inn in "Our Flag Means Death." Photo courtesy of HBO
1 of 4 | Taika Waititi (L) and Rhys Darby play a couple who give up piracy to open up a seaside inn in "Our Flag Means Death." Photo courtesy of HBO

NEW YORK, Dec. 18 (UPI) -- Season 2 of the gay pirate rom-com, Our Flag Means Death, wrapped in late October, but on any given day, the HBO show and its stars can still be seen trending on social media.

Its passionate fandom praises Our Flag Means Death's fun, sexy, inclusive nature, pleads for a third season, discusses plot lines, points out Easter eggs, and shares original art, fan fiction and even recipes inspired by the show.


Members of the cast also are quick to enthusiastically respond to posts from admirers, frequently expressing their gratitude and sharing hilarious, behind-the-scenes videos.

Created by David Jenkins, the show stars Rhys Darby as Stede Bonnet, an 18th-century British aristocrat who gives up his luxe life and family for a career in piracy, and along the way falls in love with buccaneer Blackbeard (the show's executive producer, Taika Waititi).


Bonnet also attempts to civilize his crew of scalawags by encouraging members 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.

Very loosely inspired by real people and events, the series co-stars Con O'Neill, Ruibo Qian, Nathan Foad, Vico Ortiz, Kristian Nairn, Matt Maher, Samba Schutte, Samson Kayo, Ewen Bremner and Nat Faxon.

"We're all looking for that community," O'Neill, who plays Izzy Hands, told UPI about the characters -- and the viewers obsessed with the show -- in a recent Zoom interview.

Darby said in a separate virtual chat that the show has a "magical kind of recipe" that just seems to make people happy.

"It's beautifully made. It's a love story and it has representation. The queer representation that it has is not forced," he added.

"It's just showing love as love should be and, at the same time, it's making a really, really funny show that has awesome action and really good characters."

O'Neill largely avoids social media, but has been overwhelmed by the rock-star reception that Izzy earns him from fans at conventions.


"I believe that the fans have grabbed onto Izzy, fundamentally, because we've all been in love with someone who doesn't love us back," O'Neill said of Blackbeard's cantankerous former right-hand man, who, by the end of Season 2, fully becomes a member of Stede's rag-tag pirate family.

O'Neill noted that Season 2 is basically Izzy's coming-out story.

"He admits his love for Blackbeard. He allows himself to be embraced and accepted by the crew. He wants to be made beautiful by [drag queen] Wee John [Nairn] and wants to express himself -- in front of all these people that he knows -- as this beautiful, creative soul," O'Neill said.

"It is beautifully queer -- his entire journey. It's about him accepting him and them -- and he does. Izzy's story is one of acceptance, love, rectitude and queerness," he said.

O'Neill, whose credits include The Batman and Chernobyl, regards Izzy as one of the most important roles of his career. He said he is sad that the character was killed in battle, and he would be willing to return for a possible third season of the show if there was some credible way to bring Izzy back.

"To be allowed to, within the confines of a comedy, be as complex and dark and broken as Izzy is through two seasons has been a remarkable test of faith from David Jenkins," O'Neill said. "It's meant the world that that was trusted to me."


Season 2 also saw Bremmer's character, Buttons, ridiculously realize his dream of becoming a seagull, last seen perched protectively on Izzy's grave.

"I loved the actors and characters," Darby said.

"I can see, in the story, it's good, powerful and interesting. It makes the story take turns that you don't expect, necessarily. But, as far as comedy and acting talent, it's a bummer to lose both those dudes."

Should HBO order a third season, Darby wouldn't say no.

"It's affected so many people in a positive way," he added. "If they wanted to go again, I'd easily turn up."

In the Season 2 finale, Ed and Stede get their happy ending and seem ready for a peaceful life, running a seaside inn.

The difficult question the cast, crew and fans are left wondering is, "How long can that possibly last?"

"Neither of them really know what it's like to live in a blessed state," Darby said.

"It's not something either of them would be used to or even comfortable with," he added. "I keep coming back to the idea that they are pirates, so they are going to have to sleep with one eye open. Someone will always be coming after them.


"The British Army [which arrests pirates] isn't going to just leave it there. They'll see what normal life is like, but, at the back of their minds, they're probably thinking, 'This is not going to last.'"

Whatever the fate of the lovestruck marauders -- and the show itself -- Darby said he is proud of the messages the series imparts.

"It's important that everyone is involved, that we see the good in humanity, and it's just ironic that it is about pirates who are killing each other to survive," Darby said.

"There is the best part of humanity on display in that show. It's all based on people who want to be together, who are fighting for reach and for who they are, and it's never too late to love and never too late to be who you really want to be."

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