Ray Stevenson doesn’t look like an actor. At 1.9m, he might be a bouncer, or a longshoreman, or a Wichita lineman. But Stevenson didn’t choose acting. It chose him, he says.
“I had to face up to the realisation and it was an epiphany: that what I thought was a decision to be an actor was false. There was no decision to make. It’s a vocation. I had no choice.
“I had to accept to throw myself into it with no guarantee but to launch and just go, ‘You know what? I can’t fight it anymore,’” he says in a recent interview.
“I used to think it was an alter-ego. I never told anybody I wanted to be an actor when I was growing up. I went to drama school when I was 27 … I was 29 when I finished. I couldn’t do this if I didn’t truly love it. It beats you up.
“And now it takes me away from my children. It has to be worth it. It’s like God’s playing tennis with me, pah, pah, pah,” says the British-born performer, batting an imaginary ball.
Stevenson’s rugged looks have cast him in a gallery of roles from Dexter, to Divergent to Rome, and now he finds himself as the notorious pirate, Blackbeard, in Black Sails, which returns for another season.
His first love was oil painting and he was working as an interior designer when he met an Australian actor who’d come to London to seek representation.
His advice to Stevenson was to attend evening drama classes. At 25, Stevenson was scared to death to try it, but he summoned the courage.
His family had never frequented the theatre, and so he would plunk down 10 pounds to stand in the back of the room and watch the performers. When he saw John Malkovich in Burn This, he says he realised there was a mystical connection between the player and the audience.
“I said, ‘You know what? There’s a validity here.’ These few moments and your life accelerates. I accepted it. The decision has already been made.’”
Probably best known as the dauntless Legionary Titus Pullo in Rome, Stevenson, 51, says that changed his life. Not in the way one would think.
“I was in Rome, had just started it, and it was the saddest time in my life,” he recalls. “And I’m literally going through a half-bottle of whiskey a night while doing this work and challenging this work, to be worth it.
“It was the end of my marriage. It’s not just the end of a marriage, it’s the end of your dreams. All gone,” he lowers his voice.
“I found myself, ‘I’m 40 years old and I’m not a father. How am I going to find the right girl, court the right girl, marry the right girl and be a father at 40 years old?’
“I went, ‘Who the hell do you think you are? Mr. Wonderful? Who told you you had this God-given right to be a natural father? Maybe on your path you’ll be involved in an orphanage or you’re going to adopt a child that’s going to need this love. What’s all this about?’
“And the weight fell off me and I went, ‘Maybe there’s a child that needs me 10 years from now that I haven’t even met yet.”
He says at that point he vowed to have fun for the next three years.
“I said, ‘I’m not a bad guy. Anything with a pulse and a skirt I’m going to treat them like royalty and have a laugh. And I’m gong to move to a smaller apartment.’”
He arranged to meet with the landlady of this smaller apartment. “And in she walks. ‘So, you want to rent my apartment?’ “I went, ‘I have a plan for the next three years.’ And now I’ve got three boys,” he smiles.
Stevenson has been with his erstwhile landlady, Elisabetta Caraccia, a Ph.D. in anthropology, ever since. They live on the island of Ibiza and have three sons, eight, four and one.They haven’t married. “She sees family as IT,” says Stevenson. “She said, ‘Don’t you ever ask me (to marry).’ I said, ‘I get it.’
“About a year later I thought, ‘You know, until she’s properly asked this might be some conditioned idea.’ So I plucked up the courage and asked her. She was furious with me, really hit the roof.
“But what gave me heart was when she turned me down for marriage, it hurt me. And I didn’t expect it. That’s when I knew I’d meant what I’d said. Then I could accept her refusal.”
S1 and S2 of Black Sails are available on iflix and Netflix. New episodes from S3 are available on iflix every Sunday.