Airing Fridays on NBC, the period drama “Crossbones” stars iconic actor John Malkovich as iconic pirate Edward Teach, better known as Blackbeard. The year is 1729, and on a secret island, Blackbeard has created a rogue nation of thieves, outlaws and ne’er-do-wells, like an 18th-century version of the mad but charismatic Colonel Kurtz from the 1979 Vietnam War drama “Apocalypse Now.”
(Interestingly, Malkovich played Kurtz in a 1993 TV version of Joseph Conrad’s novel “Heart of Darkness,” which inspired “Apocalypse Now.”)
The creator (with James V. Hart & Amanda Welles) of “Crossbones” is Neil Cross, who has been known to challenge storytelling conventions in his violent but gripping BBC America crime drama “Luther.”
“I love that he’s very smart,” Malkovich tells Zap2it, calling in from France, where he lives much of the year, “that he’s very quick, that he can put together a number of elements, which don’t maybe naturally coincide or coalesce, and do it in a quick way.”
As to what his vision of Blackbeard was, Malkovich says, “I never really have a vision in my mind. It’s dependent greatly on whether I perceive, correctly or erroneously, the vision of the writer. Obviously, this Blackbeard lived 20-something-odd years after he was purported to be dead and beheaded by the governor of the Carolinas in the very early 18th century.
“In the meantime, he went on to try and establish his own country, supposedly after the Athenian model. He went on robbing and pillaging and raping after, but it’s a complicated, interesting character as written, and that’s why I signed on.”
Our fascination with pirates may be part of a larger interest in those who make their lives on the fringes of polite society.
“Yeah,” says Malkovich, “because then, polite society — and one could argue it’s the same now — indentured you to slavery, in a kind of a strange feudal system that may have worked for the powers that be but didn’t really work for the masses.”
Favorite book: “‘The Sound and the Fury,’ by William Faulkner. You’d have to read it first [to know why I like it]. You have to read it more than once as well.”
Favorite music: “I’m weird about music. I like so many strange, wonderful things. That’s hard to say. I can’t say classical, rap, because I like all kinds of music. It could be Lana Del Rey or Mozart of Keith Jarrett or anything.”
Favorite movie: “I like all the great American movies of the ’70s, like ‘Chinatown,’ what have you. But otherwise, it would be ‘Battle of Algiers” (from 1966). ‘The Godfather’ is great as well. I’d have no problem saying that either. But that’s a good number of years after ‘The Battle of Algiers,’ and by the way, has a not dissimilar structure.”