‘Crossbones’: 5 Fast Facts You Need to Know

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The pirate Blackbeard doesn’t literally live up to his name in the new NBC drama Crossbones, starring John Malkovich. This show’s legendary pirate lacks the black hairs on his chin (or on his head) and prefers the title “Commodore” rather than his pirate moniker. He still strikes fear into his fellow island residents, but the end of his reign is near and may come earlier than Blackbeard expected when the physician/English spy Thomas Lowe arrives on his island.

Here’s what you need to know about the pirate drama Crossbones and its devilish leader Blackbeard.

1. Blackbeard Lives an Extra 15 Years

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Blackbeard, formerly known as Edward Teach, reportedly died in his thirties, but Crossbones imagines a world where the pirate survived into his sixties. He’s now ruling over a secret island called Santa Compana where he lives out his days surrounded by beautiful women and taking pleasure in the torture of his enemies.

Creator Neil Cross loosely based his TV adventure on the 2007 book The Republic of Pirates. Cross tells the Portland Press Herald that the book inspired him to imagine a world where Blackbeard lived another 15 years and continued to “pillage and plunder” with his pirate nation.

The Republic of Pirates is an excellent work of nonfiction, based on Colin Woodard’s deep knowledge of and love for the Golden Age of piracy. Crossbones is an altogether different beast; it’s a TV show more concerned with big, rollicking entertainment than historical fact.”

2. Blackbeard is more Colonel Kurtz than Jack Sparrow

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Crossbones mixes pirate swordplay and romantic trysts, but Malkovich’s Blackbeard prefers philosophical conversation to the bantering wit of Disney’s favorite pirate. He shares these insightful thoughts on God with Richard Coyle‘s Lowe.

“I suspect that God is a clockmaker. He wound creation up and now he sits back and watches it unwind. Whether it’s to his pleasure or otherwise is any man’s guess.

Blackbeard commands the people of his island like he’s a god, a characteristic that led the Los Angeles Times to compare Crossbones to Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness (Malkovich played the role of Kurtz in a TV movie version of Conrad’s novel), but Cross wants no comparison to Johnny Depp‘s pirate franchise.

“Most people’s first thought would be ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’ as a television project … [which is] something I had no interest in doing… it’s kind of a spy show, really, more than a big, swashbuckling pirate show.”

Instead the pirate series follows more in the peg leg steps of Starz’s Black Sails that also tells the tale of pirates on the island of New Providence in the Bahamas during the early 18th century. Black Sails makes no mention of Blackbeard though.

3. The Cast and Crew Struggled on the High Seas

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Not all the action in Crossbones takes place on Blackbeard’s beautiful tropic island. The pirates exchange shots across the bow that Cross says were tough shots to film on the rough seas, according to the LA Times.

“‘Difficult’ is a nice underestimate of the horrors involved in shooting on the water.”

The show shot on location at the Naval Station Roosevelt Roads, a base in eastern Puerto Rico abandoned by the U.S. Navy in 2003. The production provided a economic surge for the locals who had suffered since the base’s closure, according to the LA Times.

4. Thomas Lowe Is an 18th Century James Bond

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Coyle describes his character Thomas Lowe as “an 18th century James Bond” who’s sent undercover by the British government as a ship surgeon to protect a device known as longitude chronometer that could change the world. His mission is to keep it out of the hands of any pirates and to kill Blackbeard if given the opportunity.

Unfortunately, Blackbeard’s crew takes Lowe captive and brings him back to the island. The British secret agent may have skills useful to the barbarous pirate that will keep him alive long enough to decipher Blackbeard’s master plan and put an end to his treachery.

5. John Malkovich Might Not Return for a Second Season

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Crossbones marks Malkovich’s first starring role in a TV series, but it might not last longer than the nine-episode first season. The film actor, with credits including Dangerous Liasons and Being John Malkovich, never discussed a second season with producers, and the show may have a more fatal ending planned for Blackbeard that won’t require Malkovich’s services in a second season. “No idea if I would be …” he starts to tell the LA Times before finishing with, “If my presence would be required for that.”


If Lowe doesn’t kill him first, Blackbeard is also dealing with a debilitating case of epilepsy. He starts seeing ghostly visions and suffering spontaneous nosebleeds. The stubborn pirate tries to cure himself of the crippling disorder with an intense treatment of acupuncture that includes placing pins on top of his head.

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