By: Valerie Milano
1/21/14 (Hollywood Today) Pasadena, CA – TWhat a difference a week makes. It’s unfair to compare apples to oranges. But, a scant week after The Hallmark Channel unveiled its picture postcard version of frontier life in the Great Northwest (When Calls The Heart), The Discovery Channel gives us true grit in its stunning premier of Klondike.
Klondike is mini-series based Charlotte Gray’s book “Gold Diggers” and is set in 1897. The story takes two squeaky clean college bro-buddies from New England and transports them to the Yukon territories in search of the last fertile ground for gold-mining. Richard Madden plays Bill Haskell, who is bright, sensible and looking to build his fortune and future from scratch. Augustus Prew plays Haskell’s best friend Byron Epstein. Epstein is spontaneous and a little less bright, but possesses the street smarts Bill lacks. The journey takes them on a harrowing journey over Chikoot Pass where the hazards of nature are constant and unforgiving. When the pair reach their destination of Dawson City, it’s clear that the untamed Yukon wilderness is only half their problem. Dawson City is a lawless, chaotic boomtown full of temptation, duplicity and danger.
Klondike’s cast boasts some attractive up and comers; best among them is Abbie Cornish as Belinda Mulrooney, a voluptuous firecracker who controls the town’s vital wood trade. She’s shaping up as Bill Haskell’s love interest and the show’s gateway to a female viewership. Also appealing is Johnny Simmons as (real life author) Jack London, a charming smart-ass who is Dawson City’s only connection to art and culture. Additionally, veterans Tim Roth (as the loathsome Brit villain), and Sam Shepard (as Dawson City’s only spiritual elder), are flawless as polar opposites on the moral compass.
Don’t overlook Richard Madden’s portrayal of Bill Haskell. Haskell is the emotional heart of Klondike. He disappears into the role as only a top-notch actor can. He starts out as a wide eyed, sweet natured college nerd and gradually morphs into a weather beaten, stoic survivor; shrewd and devoid of trust.
Klondike may be a TV miniseries. But the action sequences have a cinematic sweep and the location ambiance has the feel of a big budget epic. We can probably thank executive producer Ridley Scott for that.
Klondike is The Discovery Channel’s first scripted mini-series. Hopefully, there’s more to come.
Hollywood Today and other Reporters had the opportunity to speak to stars: Richard Madden, Abbie Cornish. Sam Shepard, Tim Roth, Johnny Simmons. Conor Leslie. Augustus Prew as well as director Simon Cellan Jones. Executive producer lead writer Paul Scheuring.
Klondike star Abbey Cornish spoke about how the uncomfortable environment on location informed the performances, ABBEY CORNISH: “Something that really struck us very early on, I think, is that the environment that we were in really formed the environment that these characters would have been in. There was something very elemental, very challenging, and very dramatic about the landscape and about the weather that told us very quickly what these characters would have felt like and gave us a little sense and a little taste of it.”
It was revealed that Sam Shepard came to the production of Klondike as a last minute replacement for an ailing Chris Cooper. Lead writer Paul Scheuring talked about how this affected his writing for the role,
PAUL SCHEURING: “Well, I think the saving grace to that question is that I wrote it before I knew he was going to be Judge, right? So it’s easy to write very boldly in a vacuum. It’s when he shows up on set, and Sam came in to replace Chris Cooper, who had suffered a minor heart attack, who had originally been cast in the role, and he’d come in pretty late into the process. And he was a very willing kind of a collaborator, and, you know, he had his thoughts, certainly, about some scenes and contributed. So it was, you know, obviously an honor, man.“
Director Simon Cellan Jones talked about why the Alaskan gold rush is compelling as a storyline, SIMON CELLAN JONES: “Yeah, I mean, I think the story is so sort of brutal. We’ve got so many stories about the California gold rush, which had many sort of similar economic and sort of migration factors. But added to this, you had to really mean it. One of the characters says, “You’ve got to go as far as you can go and then just keep going” because it was so hard just to get there. It was, literally, you were locked in for six months a year by the winter. And I’m just amazed that this story hasn’t been told before properly really because it seems to me the heart of what makes America both good and bad and crazy, as Sam was saying. I think it was a story just ripe for plucking, and I’m so glad that Dolores and David and Paul grabbed it.”
Star Richard Madden talked about some of the old school movie making that was done on location. Especially the scene where Madden’s character, Bill Haskell is thrown into the rapids, RICHARD MADDEN: “Yeah, it was dangerous. We did some tank stuff for the underwater stuff, but we actually had a camera in the water on the day we were doing that as well, and I did throw myself into the rapids. They were real rapids, and we were all kind of on speed boats trying to achieve something really difficult and mad. But it was brilliant. I think that’s what is so good about this show is that we don’t rely heavily on CGI or VFX for a lot of it. Most of it is we were actually there doing it.”
One of the most amazing scenes is the avalanche at the beginning of Klondike. Incredibly, a real avalanche was cued up for the scene. Director Simon Cellan Jones talked about his Cecil B. Demille moment, SIMON CELLAN JONES: “I think the thing that was the most difficult or the most sort of exciting was the big avalanche in the beginning of the first episode, and that was you know, that involved blowing up huge amounts of snow and making it fall down the mountain. So that was the most complex because we only had one chance at that, and we had to sort of shoot people running away from it and then use the same shots and actually have the snow coming down, and if we got that wrong, you know, we blew the whole movie.”