Every time Jessica Parker Kennedy drives to work she is reminded of the ambitious scope and considerable budget of her television series, Black Sails.
You can see it all from the freeway in Cape Town: Towering pirate ships and an 18th-Century town built on a sprawling South African film studio, subbing in for the Bahamas circa 1720.
“I’m never used to it,” says Kennedy, taking a break from shooting in South Africa. “In terms of scale and the millions of dollars that have gone into the show, I don’t think it’s anything you can get used it. Every single day, you drive along the freeway and pass these huge, huge ships. I’m still blown away that it’s somewhere I get to work.”
Apparently, it will take some time before the world of swashbuckling pirates, treasure-hunting, backstabbing and betrayal becomes old hat.
The Calgary-born actress is currently shooting her fourth season of Starz sexy adventure show, which airs on the Super Channel in Canada. Kennedy plays Max, the smart, gorgeous and ambitious prostitute who plans and schemes from a brothel on New Providence Island.
Debuting in 2014, Black Sails was billed as a prequel to Robert Louis Stevenson’s novel Treasure Island, a mega-budgeted blockbuster of a show produced by action-movie auteur Michael Bay.
Set 20 years before Stevenson’s novel, it introduced us to a brash young John Silver — later to become Long John Silver — and the crew of feared pirate Captain Flint. Operating out of the busy brothel, Max quickly showed her moxie and ruthless ambition, using her profession to get information and further her power and wealth
With Season 3 just underway, Kennedy doesn’t want to get too specific about what’s in store for her character. But in broad strokes, it seems she continues to establish herself as a power player on the island while still nursing the emotional scars of being spurned by her one-time lover: wheeler-dealer and tavern-owner Eleanor Guthrie (played by Hannah New). As Season 2 ended, Max’s fortunes were on the rise. She was the brothel’s madame and had bought out Guthrie’s tavern, positioning herself to be one of the island’s key power brokers.
“She is constantly playing chess, metaphorically speaking,” says Kennedy. “She is always figuring out where she needs to put her pieces strategically. Season 3 is very much a strategic season for her, where she is figuring out who she needs to befriend. She has, in some ways, taken Eleanor’s position and is seeing how difficult it is. She is understanding having to make promises to people that she can’t always keep and making friends with people she doesn’t really want to be friends with. There’s a whole game to be played and she is figuring out how to do that in a way that works for her.”
While Black Sails has certainly earned a reputation for big-budget sets and action sequences, it is also proven to be a decidedly racy series. That, of course, often means plenty of nudity and sex scenes for the actress.
Kennedy’s mother watches the show in Vancouver. Back in Calgary, her aunts, uncles and cousins watch every episode, which the actress admits can be “super weird.”
“There’s a lot of sex scenes and stuff and I guess they just trudge through it,” says Kennedy. “I don’t know how they do it, we don’t really talk about it much. But before every season I’m like, ‘Sorry, again, about the nudity.’ They just laugh and shrug. But I think its kind of weird for them, but they are wonderfully supportive.”
Kennedy, a Western Canada High School grad, was still in Calgary when she got her first taste of show business success, playing Lucy the Elf in the TV movie, Santa Baby. That was a few years after graduating from Mount Royal University’s now-defunct theatre program. Lucy the Elf led to TV projects, including Another Cinderella Story opposite Selena Gomez and a lead in CW’s cult favourite series, Secret Circle.
Now four seasons into Black Sails, Kennedy admits shooting in South Africa for six months a year can be a lonely experience. Still, in Season 4 she will be getting a taste of her hometown’s rodeo flavour when Max is required to ride a horse, which Kennedy is thrilled about.
Other than that, she can’t say much about what the future holds. But since she is currently shooting Season 4, we can at least assume she will survive whatever betrayals, schemes and ill-mannered pirates come her way in Season 3.
“Yeah … ” she says with a laugh. “Although I could be a ghost. I could come back as a spooky ghost.”
Black Sails airs Sundays on the Super Channel.