Our Flag Means Death Actor Nathan Foad On Fan Art And The Sexy Ghost Theory [Interview]

David Jenkins' "Our Flag Means Death" — a silly, swashbuckling romcom set during the golden age of pirates – took the world by storm when it debuted on HBO Max in March 2022. As word of mouth spread, more and more people started watching the first season on the streamer, and the masses fell in love with the characters played by Rhys Darby, Taika Waititi, and the rest of the crew of the Revenge.

However, one member of this merry gang of scalawags seemingly won't make it to the next heading. Lucius Spriggs, the lovable record keeper of Stede Bonnet's vessel, may or may not make it to the planned season 2 of the show. Although, Nathan Foad, the actor behind Lucius, is alive and well. In fact, he made it to C2E2 2022 in Chicago alongside co-star Con O'Neill to meet and greet fans of the popular tale from the open seas.  

Before their Sunday morning panel on the main stage, we had the chance to speak to Foad about his breakout performance on "Our Flag Means Death," as well as fan art, Lucius' relationship with Black Pete, and the importance of LGBTQ+ representation in media. We also discussed some theories about his future on the show in the hopes that the steady breeze from the Windy City would carry him back to set whenever filming resumes.

'It's just snowballed'

My first question: Is it weird that I'm into Jim now?

[Laughs] No! It's not weird that anyone's into Jim because Vico [Ortiz] is the hottest f***ing human on earth. I'm glad that people responded so well to Lucius being attracted to Jim. That makes me very happy.

Likewise! My actual first question: When you first signed on for "Our Flag Means Death," or maybe while you were filming, did you think that it would be as big as it turned out to be?

No, not at all. I liked the scripts. I obviously thought the show was really fun and funny, and I thought it would have a certain amount of following, but the way it just blew up thanks to the internet, thanks to fandom, and Twitter and Tumblr and Discords. Thanks to all of that, it's just snowballed. The show's not out in the U.K., which is where I live. This is the first time I've been in the U.S. since the show has been released, so it's been really special to be here and actually meet people face to face who've seen the show. It's so special.

Speaking of the fandom, have you seen any of the fan fiction or the fan art? What's the weirdest, most out-there offerings you've seen so far?

Well, I've got to say I actually [that] I own a piece of fan art. I bought it from an artist on Etsy because I just loved it so much. Someone drew Lucius as the classic painting of Ophelia in the water [by John Everette Millais] and it's the most stunning thing I've ever seen. I was immediately like, "I need to own this." I see as much of the fan art as I can. It's hard to keep up with the amount that you are tagged in, but I've been gifted a lot of it today, which is so special. And God, everyone's so talented. It's nuts.

Yeah. I know fan art and fan fiction can get pretty out-there sometimes, but the amount of talent ...

Oh, yeah. I mean, I do occasionally ... I see some certain stuff that I'm like, "That's not my business. If people want to do that ... if they want to do that, they can." It's some of the super hyper-sexual stuff. You do you, babe, but I won't throw it a like, because I don't want people to — do you know what I mean? Because also it's like people drawing you naked or whatever, and then if you like it, it looks a little bit narcissistic. But no, it's great!

For sure. Sometimes, it's like, "This person drew me naked great!"

Exactly! Well, that is true. When they draw you looking really great, you're like, "Oh, amazing!" So it's very nice.

'Lucius in general is like a f***ing court jester'

"Actually, I think I'm just so-so, but I've decided to carry myself like I'm cute" has been my new mantra since hearing it, but there are a ton of memorable lines in "Our Flag Means Death." Do you have a favorite line from Lucius or anyone else?

Well, I wasn't expecting that one to have the impact that it did. It went viral on Tumblr and that's so cool. I'm trying to think of my favorite Lucius lines ... I do really love, just because I was so nervous filming it, I do love, "I'm a little wooden boy and my legs are sticks." Because I was terrified that day. It was the first time they had us improvise and I improvised that line and I remember walking away from set feeling mortified. I was like, "I can't believe I said that my legs are sticks. I'm so stupid." Then it made it into the show. I'm very, very proud of that.

And then I'm trying to think of what my favorite Lucius scene is, generally. I do really love the scene with Blackbeard in his blanket fort in the final episode with the candle. I love that scene and just doing that with Taika. He's such a phenomenal actor.

"Is it safe to have a candle in here, do you think?"

Yeah, exactly! I love that line. I loved doing that scene, because the show is very high octane and Lucius in general is like a f***ing court jester. Lucius is always falling over, fainting, and getting tackled to the ground. It's always so crazy, and it was so nice to do scenes like that which were just a little bit quieter. I really cherish moments to get to do that.

'We were quite a well-behaved set'

You mentioned improvising the wooden legs line. Based on all the really funny people in the cast, I assume there was a lot of that on set. Were there a ton of moments of improv and riffing while shooting?

Well, there are. The show doesn't need it because the writing's so great. My personal rule was I only ever improvised when I was asked to. We would do scripted takes of everything and then they'd maybe be like, "Hey, do you want to just try improvising on that line?" But there was plenty of improv. Rhys and Taika are very famous for improving together and they would just improvise entire scenes. It's very heartening when you see improv making the final cut because you think, "Oh, that's so cool that they trusted me enough to insert a little bit of myself into the show." So there was a lot of improv, and as I say, Taika and Rhys love to f***ing improv together.

That's great. I can't wait to see a gag reel soon.

I wish. I think the reason there's not a gag reel is, I think, we were quite a well-behaved set. For me personally, I only ever had one day where I really badly got the giggles and I thought I was going to ruin the scene. But I think because the show was so big for me anyway, I was so, like, deer in headlights for so much of it. I was terrified of like goofing off. So I was pretty well behaved, actually. Samson's quite a laugher [though]. Samson Kayo laughs a lot.

'That Lucius and Black Pete romance is very special to me'

In addition to memorable lines, there are also a ton of memorable pairings aside from Stede and Blackbeard, including Lucius and his partners. Who is your OTP for Lucius?

Listen, I actually do think the Lucius and Black Pete pairing is kind of perfect. It was my favorite storyline to play in the show. It's really cool as a gay actor just to get to play, in an uncomplicated way, just quite an earnest, sweet, and still funny gay romance. And so I think Matthew Maher, who plays Black Pete, he's just ... I was so close with him on the show and I think he's such a genius. He's so experienced, he was so kind guiding me through everything, and he's such a good scene partner. So as much as I know Lucius gets around, that Lucius and Black Pete romance is very special to me.

That romance really endeared Black Pete to a lot of people also, because he was kind of a jerk.

Yeah, exactly. And I don't want to speak on behalf of Matt, but I know he really loved doing that as well because Black Pete starts off as this kind of one very set thing: This kind of delusional, pigheaded guy or whatever. And then you get to see a softer, more vulnerable side of him, and that's such a gift as an actor to get to play all sides of that.

'I found a way there, it's just pretty depressing'

In the show, we don't learn a lot about Lucius' backstory other than him being a double threat. As an actor, have you figured out a backstory for your character? Or have the creators given you the lowdown on his past?

I have figured out a backstory for Lucius. I've been asked before, [but] I never say it in interviews because you then worry that one day it'll crop up in the show. There'll be a flashback or something like that and you don't want to contradict the writing somehow. But, yeah I came up with a backstory for Lucius, but it's really sad. Because pirates were outcasts from society, and then the pirates on our show are like the outcasts of the outcasts. They're not even good at being pirates. So in order to land in that position, you had to have made many terrible decisions in your life. It was kind of hard for me to work out. I was like, "Well, this guy seems intelligent. He can read and write. How has he ended up here?" And I found a way there, it's just pretty depressing.

Oh, no! Maybe it's better I don't know.

Yeah, I think it might break your heart.

I want nice things for Lucius!

Oh, we all do! We all do. He has a nice life now. Well, had.

Well, before we get to that, I want to say that representation is so important. "Our Flag Means Death" normalizes non-monogamy in a way that a lot of mainstream shows don't. How does it feel for you to be part of depicting a relationship like that so positively?

It's so cool. I loved that sort of from the beginning, [non-monogamy] was established. It was what was so special about Lucius was that he starts off as this kind of like ... the joke is that he's kind of the ship sl*t or whatever, and then that's what makes it so sweet that him and Black Pete end up together. It's really cool to represent that. I didn't realize what an impact it would have. I've been with my boyfriend for nine years. I'm a very boring, monogamous person. [But] it's really cool that people have seen themselves reflected in that.

'It was sort of one of the honors of my life'

Now, since you touched on in a bit already, let's go back to season 2 and the future. I know you probably can't talk a lot about it, but since we didn't see Lucius' body at the end of the first season, I choose to believe that he's still out there. Keeping that in mind, seeing as he's fantastic at breakups, do you think Lucius will understand where Ed was coming from when he sees him again?

Well, I've got to a tread carefully here. Do I think theoretically, if we could go into Lucius' psyche, would he understand what went on? I think he'd be heartbroken, honestly. Because I think what I really loved about playing Lucius was that he starts off very kind of eye rolling, exhausted with Stede and kind of thinking Stede is a bit of a buffoon, and then by the end of it, he ends up being Stede's biggest advocate almost, and kind of really standing up for him. So I think Lucius would be really devastated about what happened. And I mean, I can't say anything about season 2 or anything, but I really did — I loved playing Lucius. It was sort of one of the honors of my life.

There's a theory out there saying that Lucius could potentially be a sexy ghost for Blackbeard like Nigel was for Stede early in the season. What do you think about that theory?

Hey, listen. It's a very fun theory. And the great thing about the "Our Flag Means Death" world is that it's a very elastic world and things like that can happen. So whether Lucius is alive or not, we don't know, but we might not have seen the last of him. And because this show deals a lot in flashbacks, ghost stories, mythology, storytelling, so who knows? Who knows how he's going to pop up?

'Oh my God, that's so special'

Finally, what has been the biggest, most life-changing, most gratifying thing about joining up with this raggedy band of pirates?

I think it's been the opportunity to make something that people actually care about. So much TV gets made now. I'm a TV writer myself. There's so much content out there, and in this busy landscape, it's hard to make something that actually pierces through and kind of grabs people by the shoulders or the f***ng heart or their throat and makes them sit down and listen. The fact that people have so feverishly and devotedly engaged with the show in the way that they have, oh my God, that's so special. I love it.

The first season of "Our Flag Means Death" is currently streaming on HBO Max.