After a few years of interviewing people in the entertainment business, there are few that cause me to feel nervous. Mark Ryan was one that stirred my nerves. Mark is the voice of Bumblebee from the Transformers franchise of films, which to some is not as exciting, but to me, it is amazing. I love Bumblebee. Now, fan-girl aside, Mark is an astoundingly well-accomplished actor, stunt choreographer, author, and the list goes on. At the moment, he can be seen as Gates in the new series on Starz, Black Sails, which follows the Golden Age of Piracy in 1715, a prequel to the stories laid out in Treasure Island.
I was curious about the way today’s technologies have affected a show like Black Sails, and Mark was quick to say that â€œthe production values are epic. If you put Michael Bay [the executive producer] together with Starz, you get a production on the scale of this. The technologies today have made it possible to do shows like Black Sails.â€
On the topic of amazing production and cast, Mark had some interesting insight into his character, Gates. Gates is the Quartermaster of the ship, the elected voice of the crew and the most senior member. He’s highly respected and loyal to the ship’s Captain Flint, almost to a fault. In fact, Mark said that Gatesâ€™s â€œloyalty is the key. He’s propelled by his loyalty and friendship to Flint, making him appear to be the most motivated. Gates is similar to Bumblebee in that loyalty, and there’s something very endearing and honest about a character that appears to be loyal and trustworthy.â€ The men trust him â€œbecause he’s highly experienced.â€
I had a moment listening to him talk about his character and the historic side that enthralled me to the point that I wasn’t even transcribing while we chatted. It was as if my dad was sitting down to speak to me about history and the Templar society, as he often did when I was younger. The Templar society came up when we spoke of the tattoos on the back of Gates’s head. Mark was â€œvery interested in having a mark of some kind. People would ask ‘what is that? Why do you have an All-Seeing Eye in a pyramid on the back of your head and ‘Hold Fast’ on your knuckles?’ Hold Fast is an old naval tradition, of course, and the eye is a nod to the secret societies which were involved with the royal houses during the period. Not just financing, shipping, and navigation, though. It’s similar to the relationship between the Templar and the Assassins, as in Robin of Sherwood. It’s just a quiet nod to those mystical societies and the symbolism of them that plays out through the show, as well. I was allowed to bring little bits of myself to help flesh out the character of Mr. Gates.â€
Even as I wrote that, I smiled. Such an incredible man. To me, it’s a sign of great talent and experience that he brings so much to his character and to a chat with a TV addict such as myself. Mark mentioned that the many things he’s done in his career are â€œall part of the same creative process. Those experiences make you a better actor. The more you understand, the better you are.â€
If all actors took that approach to their roles, our entertainment experiences would all be richer. Although, when we spoke on the subject of dramas in today’s television world, he was quick to express his joy that we â€œare moving into a new era of drama because we can go further. Expand our demographics because we can push the limits. Showtime started it [twenty] years ago with Robin of Sherwood, and now we see it with Game of Thrones, Breaking Bad, and the new show coming up, Outlander.â€
I agree fully that dramas have been entering into a new world, and a lot of this is thanks to the cable networks. They have given us deeper characters, more growth, and shorter seasons, which force the story arcs to be more in depth, but in a smaller amount of episodes. Television is only getting better and will continue to do so if they keep putting out the quality shows like Black Sails.
I usually wrap up my interviews with a few quick questions, but due to my incredible chat with Mark, I only managed two of them.
Favorite TV show (past or present): The Daily Show & The X Files
Guest star on any show (past or present): Breaking Bad, The Sopranos, & Game of Thrones.
To catch more of Mark and his amazing character, Gates, tune in to Black Sails, airing Saturdays at 9/8c on Starz.