Richard Madden plays the lead in Klondike

Charlotte Gray’s 2010 novel, Gold Diggers: Striking it Rich in the Klondike, is brought to life in Ridley Scott’s mini-series, Klondike. Tonight was at the New York premiere of Discovery Channel’s drama and chatted to lead actors Richard Madden and Abbie Cornish and the creators about this groundbreaking offering…

Debashine Thangevelo

NEW YORK City was still in the throes of winter when we attended the premiere of Ridley Scott’s Klondike on Broadway in January.

After catching the superbly executed first episode of the mini-series, we were transported to the charmingly rustic Wild West wonderland used as the backdrop for the show.

Based on Charlotte Gray’s novel, Gold Diggers: Striking it Rich in the Klondike, Discovery Channel’s first scripted drama boasts heavyweights like Richard Madden (Game of Thrones), Abbie Cornish (Limitless, W.E., Robocop), Tim Roth (Pulp Fiction, Reservoir Dogs), Sam Shepard (August: Osage County, Out of the Furnace) with Simon Cellan Jones as director and Paul Scheuring (A Man Apart, Prison Break) joining David W Zucker and Scott in the producers’ role.

The historical tale follows two friends, Bill Haskell (Madden) and Byron Epstein (Augustus Prew), as they join the gold rush and navigate their way through the death-defying Yukon Territory in the late 1890s.

Aside from dodging avalanches and wrestling with the most brutal of weather conditions, the two are thrust into a dangerous vortex of ambition, greed, danger, romance, murder and mayhem.

On jumping into Klondike on the back of Game of Thrones, Madden says: “In Game of Thrones, the stakes were high. It was all kind of life and death. But with Klondike, it was that, literally, if you didn’t pull gold out of the ground, you couldn’t buy food. You would starve or freeze to death. I was really fascinated by the study of human beings in that situation…

“There were so many points where I thought while reading (the script) that he was going to break. But it’s his humanity that kind of wins out – that was something I respected. If I could have 10 percent of that in me, I would be happy.”

His Hollywood co-star Cornish stars as Belinda Mulrooney. She wields much influence through her wealth and can be manipulative and seductive at the same time.

Of her character, the actress says: “Biographically, her story was really powerful. And to step into the shoes of a woman who is strong, who has such independence and ambition that is untainted by society and the world around her… She was just a woman who knew her worth. She knew she could achieve and went out and got it.

“There was something about that that was really attractive to me. I felt like she was a real warrior in that time.”

Despite shooting in glacial temperatures, the cast proved to be real troopers.

Cornish recalls: “It was wonderful to watch Richard in the first week of shooting because there was this fearlessness (about him). In those elements of rain, snow and sleet – he was ready to dive in.”

Scheuring chips in: “Another example of that kind of heartiness is that first night – or the first episode – when Richard’s character goes into the river. You know, we didn’t fly down to the southern hemisphere to find a warm river. We shot in a Canadian river in April and we didn’t have a big budget or a big schedule where we could shoot this river sequence over days and days.

“It was a case of get out to the river, make him fall and throw Richard in the river. Richard decided he was going to do it, instead of us getting a stuntman. This is an example of how these actors went above and beyond on this production.”

Talking about the casting process, Cellan Jones says: “Casting is sort of everything. You can have the best script, the best director and whatever in the world, but if you get the wrong actor you have blown it. We were smart, and also very lucky, I think.

“I knew Richard’s work a little bit from Game of Thrones. But I didn’t know him very well. I spoke to him several times to see if it would work out. And then he put himself on tape and Discovery instantly went for him.

“Some of them were straight-forward offers. Tim Roth, you always know that you are going to get some-thing unexpected with him. And he certainly did that. Sam Shepard is one of the great American actors.”

Prew, a young actor, was very humbled by the opportunity. There is a very compelling twist to his character’s story.

He admits: “It (the twist) was one of the things that attracted me to the script. I like the idea of setting up this character with a kind of bromance story, if you will. Then you create this climate of fear with a tragedy at the end of the first hour. That’s a very clever plot device. It gives the impression that anyone could die at any moment. It was an interesting task as an actor.”

The inimitable Tim Blake Nelson sheds more light on his supporting role as Joe Meeker: “Funnily enough, what I liked about Meeker is that I didn’t have to put on an accent. He was a guy of sound mind and his essence is one of loyalty.

“There is simplicity and unadorned quality to him and, therefore, the opportunity was furnished for me to play an unadorned character in an unadorned way. And you want to be part of a great story with a wonderful director. I love the script.”

Klondike is a fast-paced, ingeniously scripted and engaging drama that will have viewers on tenterhooks as the characters are confronted with danger and deception at every turn. It’s an adventure perched on one common goal for its characters – striking it rich in the gold rush!

Klondike, Discovery Channel (DStv channel 121) tonight, 9pm.