[Warning: The below contains MAJOR spoilers for Our Flag Means Death Season 2 Episode 8 “Mermen.”]
Our Flag Means Death bid one important member of the crew farewell in the Season 2 finale: Izzy Hands (Con O’Neill) died at the hands of pathetic pirate-wannabe Prince Ricky (Erroll Shand).
Starting from a place of trauma and suffering, Izzy defies the odds to overcome his pain and embrace new possibilities as Season 2 unfolds. He learned some valuable lessons about himself along the way, and viewers were treated to several great moments with the character as his journey reached its sad, but fitting conclusion.
As the SAG-AFTRA strike ran through Season 2’s run, actors were unable to promote the show, but that recently changed after the union struck a deal with AMPTP. Since the promotion ban was lifted, TV Insider has been fortunate enough to catch up with O’Neill to discuss Izzy’s surprising ending. Looking back on his run as the initially antagonistic first mate to Taika Waititi‘s Blackbeard, O’Neill opens up about Izzy’s arc, preparing for that musical moment in drag, his hope for a possible return if the show’s picked up for Season 3, and much more.
We said goodbye to Izzy this season. What was your initial reaction to learning his fate, and how did you prepare for his death?
Con O’Neill: You know what, I’ve been around a long time, and going through those first few scripts and seeing which way the arc was going, it didn’t surprise me. I was upset because I loved playing him, but at the same time, I think David knows what he’s doing, and we are all here because of David Jenkins, first and foremost. So I got it. I made him pay for dinner, but I got it nonetheless. And then it was just a matter of honoring what they’d written. And they kept surprising me every episode. He kept giving me stuff that took my breath away and challenged me enormously. And yeah, if you’re going to go out, go out like that.
What message would you want to share with fans who are still struggling with Izzy’s loss?
That’s a big ask, isn’t it? I would say that I have nothing but love, respect, and faith in David Jenkins. Trust him. He knows what he’s doing. None of this was taken lightly. Trust David Jenkins.
When you were preparing for Izzy’s ending, which scene felt like a bigger send-off — that epic monologue delivered to Ricky or his final words to Ed aboard the Revenge?
I remember the day we filmed what turned out to be a eulogy… We shot it several times, and then Fernando [Frias], who was directing that episode, suggested we do one more take and to “let the guard down,” was his phrase. And I didn’t know the guard was up, but that’s the take they used. And there’s an ad-lib in that take as well, which I won’t tell you what it is, which one it is. But I thought the profound moment would be the death. I didn’t understand at the time that the profound moment was the speech. I knew the speech was brilliant. I knew they’d written something extraordinary. Because they played with the narrative a bit in the edit, I didn’t know where it was going to play fundamentally in the final edit. But yeah, it’s basically written and Fernando gave me the key to get where we went to. So thank you, Fernando.
You mention ad-libbing. Was there any scene or moment you got to improvise or enjoyed improvising this season?
I can’t remember. There was a lot this season. That one in the eulogy speech is because I see it being played everywhere all the time at the moment. So I hear that a lot. There was a lot more understanding of character in this season. Ninety-nine percent of ad-libs don’t get in. The thing that’s not often discussed about our show is it’s f**king beautifully written. And we do a lot of takes, and as long as we get what is written down before we do any other playing around, then we’ve done our job because our writers are exceptional. And the joy as an actor — I’m a theater actor from way back — is when you see some of this writing. It’s just brilliant.
You talk about being a theater performer. Were you thrilled to take on Izzy’s musical moment in drag? I was told you learned the French version and English version of “La Vie En Rose” for the episode.
I’d love to say I taught myself, but no, I don’t speak French at all to my shame, but my partner does, and I have a friend called Jenna Russell, who’s just played Edith Piaf in the West End. So between the two of them, they taught me how to [sing the song in French]. And it was just excruciating for both of them… how I bastardized the French language. And bless him, Samba [Schutte] as well was even there when we were doing the lip sync to the recording. Samba was kneeling down, out the shot telling me if my mouth was doing the wrong shape for some of [it]. I mean, it was that extreme, but we got there by the skin of our teeth. But it’s funny if you’d asked me for a song for Izzy, I would never in a million years have thought of “La Vie En Rose.” Now I couldn’t think of any song that suits him better.
What was the process like getting to find Izzy’s drag look? Because it doesn’t feel like he’s embodying a character, but rather an extension of himself.
Quite a lot, to be honest. Nancy [Hennah] first talked to me about it. The drag was on, it was off, it was on, it was off, it was on. It was off. And then when we got close to filming, the drag was on again, and I just didn’t want it to be a comedy. Not that she ever suggested it was, but there were versions of the ideas for the drag which were so extreme that it felt like a parody. And I didn’t want it to be a parody.
Here’s an exclusive for you. When Kristian [Nairn] and I shot the scene where I discovered Wee John doing his makeup, there was one take of the scene where we ended up looking in the mirror together, and I heard myself say, “Make me pretty.” And as gentle as that sounds, it had a profound effect on me because I suddenly realized that that part in [Izzy] that had never been announced before was wanting to announce himself and to be pretty while he was doing it.
And that became really important to me when we were designing the look. And between Nancy, our brilliant makeup designer, and Deb [Watson], my makeup artist, they came up with that look, which I think really honors Izzy as a character, but also made him pretty. It had a profound effect on me when I had myself say those words. I think it’s probably the first time Izzy has ever said the word pretty — and it was about himself. I mean, how lovely is that?
Izzy went through another transformation earlier this season with his peg leg. Was becoming the new “unicorn” of the Revenge vital for his character development this season?
Yeah, I’ve been thinking about this a lot today because I’ve been asked various questions around this theme. And what I think is lovely about Izzy’s arc or Izzy’s redemption is we don’t change who he was. It’s a version of who he was, who is now feeling gratitude and acceptance. And we can talk about the closet, whether it’s an emotional closet or a sexual closet. He comes out of the closet this season, figuratively and visibly, and every queer person has that story. They’re all different versions of the story, but the relief of the coming out process, it’s life-changing. That’s what Izzy does in this season, is he comes out and it’s had a profound effect on the audience. So many of them have already themselves or want to, or need to, and they let him, our writers let him. It’s lovely.
David had said following the finale that there’s no Our Flag Means Death without Izzy. Would you come back for a third season if asked? After all, this is the kind of show where a character can turn into a seagull, so surely there’s room for a ghost.
That’s a conversation you have to have with David. David is the boss on all of this, and I know David always wanted a Season 3. I would be heartbroken for the show if he didn’t get a Season 3 because it deserves it. It’s an important show. If Izzy’s involved, and if he isn’t, I still think it’s a really important show and it should be given its send-off season.
On a more light-hearted final note, we got to see Izzy interact more with Stede as a mentor. What was it like getting to build that dynamic with Rhys in Season 2?
I loved it. Do you know what? Rhys was brilliant in the first season, but in the second season, he just found some extra confidence and he really stepped up. He’s f**king brilliant in the second season, and working with him on those scenes, it was a joy. It was an absolute joy because he’s f**king landed so beautifully. And to be present with him in his newfound faith and confidence… it was joyful, and I think he’s awesome.
Our Flag Means Death, Seasons 1-2, Streaming now, Max