Mon 30 May 2016, 12:00
Q&A with Black Sails star Sean Cameron Michael.
South African Sean Cameron Michael – currently appearing in the worldwide hit Black Sails, which was filmed in the Western Cape – has moved to the US and is busy making his mark in Hollywood.
Michael is currently back as Richard Guthrie in Season 2 of the pirate drama being screened on HISTORY (186) on Tuesdays at 20:30. He has been considered for Emmy and SAG awards for two years in a row for his role in the show which is screened in 175 countries.
A prequel to Robert Louis Stevenson’s classic Treasure Island, Black Sails is a gritty drama set in the brutal and cut-throat golden age of 18th century piracy.
Last year, Michael starred in the Danish western feature film The Salvation opposite Hannibal’s Mads Mikkelsen and Penny Dreadful’s Eva Green. Earlier this year, he returned to South Africa to appear in ABC’s Of Kings & Prophets biblical series. He then returned to Los Angeles to work on the popular Scorpion series on CBS, playing the lead villain opposite Terminator 2: Judgement Day’s Robert Patrick. This month Michael will be seen on CBS, guest starring in the new Criminal Minds’ spin-off Beyond Borders opposite veteran Gary Sinise.
The character actor is no stranger to holding his own opposite big Hollywood stars and appeared in the hit Strike Back series with Game of Thrones’ Charles Dance, opposite Oscar-winner William Hurt in The Challenger Disaster and in 24: Redemption with Kiefer Sutherland and Jon Voight.
Tell us about your role in Season 2.
I was able to delve even deeper and get closer to the true essence and heart of what makes Richard Guthrie tick and what drives him as a man in a once very powerful position, but also as a father to his daughter, Eleanor. I could not be prouder of my work on Season 2 and I am delighted local audiences are experiencing what I have dedicated a year of my life to.
Are you surprised how Black Sails helped so many people establish careers? When you went into it, did you expect that to happen?
When I auditioned for Black Sails, I had done my research and knew that the STARZ channel had had major success with the popular Spartacus series. The fact that one of the most successful director/producers in the world today, Michael Bay, was producing the show added to the excitement of being part of it. Obviously one can’t have any expectations, as it’s impossible to predict how audiences around the world will react and how the show will critically be received. Now into its fourth season and being globally enjoyed in over 175 countries, it is great that audiences are getting to meet such wonderful talent on the screen, especially the local South African actors who have really shined in the series.
You’re busy this year, appearing in a lot of shows. Would you describe yourself as a character actor – or what is your approach to filming for smaller roles?
Yeah, I would most certainly regard myself as a character and method actor. I really enjoy the research process in creating well-rounded, three dimensional, layered characters. I believe, as a professional, one should approach every role with passion and curiosity, irrelevant if it’s for a short film or multi-million dollar feature. The trick to playing smaller support roles is understanding the full context of the show, where all the characters fit in and what your job is in helping those other characters tell the story. You’re there to support and enrich in the very specific style, genre and feel of the show.
Do you find working on international productions more rigorous?
The majority of shows I’ve worked on over the past 25 years have all been for the international market. I actually find it easier to work on overseas productions, as they usually have more money to put into the production, which means more support staff and an easier flow in work production. It’s actually the smaller, low (or no!) budget indie productions which are more stressful and demanding, as you have limited time and resources to achieve the same level of professionalism and quality in the final product. Personally, I approach each and every production (local or foreign) in the exact same manner, with enthusiasm and passion.
Black Sails has got loyal fans, and fandom. Have you ever found that challenging – or do you engage with the whole fandom?
When you’re a series regular or part of main cast, it’s actually part of your job to engage with fans. They are the ones actually paying your salary, so yes; I do feel a responsibility to show appreciation for their continued support.
You have thousands of Twitter followers. Why did you initially join social media?
Twitter, Facebook and all social media are a wonderful way to engage with the fans of a particular show. I believe that it’s important for a channel to know that when they hire you for a job, that you will help get the word out and support them from a marketing and advertising point of view. I also find it a great medium to interact with other industry professionals and to network.
Tell us about your collection of autographed photos of celebrities? When did it start?
When I was a young child in South Africa, as a hobby, I sent postcards to hundreds of actors and celebrities around the world, requesting an autographed photograph. It was such a kick going to the mailbox and finding a shiny headshot from some superstar, personally addressed to you, lying there waiting. Little did I know at the time, that decades later I would be fortunate enough to professionally meet and work with some of those stars that I had written to all those years ago.
What are the challenges of appearing in a costume drama?
Working on a costume drama is incredibly exciting, getting to dress up in these cool period outfits, with wigs and specific make-up. Sure, it’s not always necessarily the most comfortable, but the upside is that it definitely helps you define the look and climb inside that particular character. Hair, make-up and costume is an intrinsic part of the characters I play, to help me breathe life into these roles.
What has been your biggest blooper Black Sails been?
The filming process can very often be quite a demanding, gruelling and intense one, unfortunately not leaving much time for fun and jokes on set. One funny moment was back in Season 1 when Richard Guthrie was walking through the streets of Nassau with Mr. Scott. The shoes they had given me to wear had quite a high heel on them, so every now and then I was tripping over my own feet trying to walk in these beautiful period shoes. It wasn’t the manliest moment for me, wearing wigs, stockings and heels!
Your advice to budding actors and those looking to make it in the international arena?
Keep it real and be authentic. You don’t have to be fake or something you are not. Be yourself. People will respect you for that. Also realise that being an actor is a business and you have to be in control of that business as its CEO.