Discovery’s first scripted miniseries Klondike, starring Game of Thrones‘ Richard Madden, begins Jan. 20 at 9 p.m. ET (and continues through Jan. 22). The stories of making the gold-rush drama, which costars Abbie Cornish, Sam Shepard, Tim Blake Nelson, and Tim Roth, are as fascinating as the tale that unfolds onscreen. When Madden, who plays real-life prospector Bill Haskell — a man who learns that nature and human nature are equally dangerous in remote locales — stopped by Entertainment Weekly Radio recently, he chatted about filming some of his most harrowing scenes. Listen to an excerpt below in which he describes really digging a costar out of a fake avalanche, going hypothermic after getting tossed around in Class IV river rapids, and hearing the “boom” of ice shifting (which sounds particularly great in his Scottish accent) while filming on a frozen lake. Then, read on for more about those key scenes — and to see a photo of Madden’s father’s cameo.
Entertainment Weekly: There are scenes in Klondike where you are actually climbing up snow-covered Fortress Mountain outside Calgary.
Richard Madden: I’ve never been much of a mountaineer or a climber in that kind of extreme environment. I never quite understood what people enjoyed about it, to be honest. (Laughs) And then I engaged in it, and there is something amazingly satisfying about it. I just rewatched the first episode, and there are some points that look so stunningly beautiful, and they really were — for the first couple hours of the day. (Laughs) As it goes on, you start to not appreciate the beauty anymore because you can’t feel your face. My dad’s a climber [see his Klondike cameo below, pictured far right], and so I’ve been climbing with him quite a bit. I try to be outdoors as much as I can. Now that I’ve managed to go south and heat up a little bit, I can go back and enjoy it.
At one point, you have to dig your costar Augustus Prew (who plays Bill’s friend Byron Epstein), out of an avalanche. They actually buried him.
I got to him, and they’d buried him really, really well. It’s funny what kind of animal instincts in you kick in. You’re trying to get him out, and the take we used, which I love, is where I couldn’t free him, and I had to resort to my instinct, which is lie on my back and dig my heels under his body and kick him out, basically. Your legs are stronger than your arms. It’s one of those things that’s mimicked later, in a different animal way, where I strip someone who’s been killed of his clothes. The reality of those situations really helps make it that much more an interesting piece, because you see me doing things in character that had to be done. And this is a place where things have to be done. You do whatever you can to make things happen.
What was the most dangerous moment for you? Filming the scene in which your character falls out of a period boat and into freezing rapids?
It’s not like you come to a stop. I’m being thrown down this river, and the speedboat to pick me up is racing the other way with an oar sticking out the side, which I have to grab and then hold on to as they pull me into the boat. I remember we were trying to go for takes, when I’m coming out of the water, and we couldn’t do it because I couldn’t physically stop shaking. That’s when the nurse steps in and says, “I think he’s going hypothermic, you have to stop.”
“Work through it, Richard!”
(Laughs) “Use it! Use it!”
You also shot on a frozen lake — and spent a considerable amount of time lying face-down on it.
There’s huge sections where I’ve got ice on my beard and on my eyelashes and eyebrows, and there are days where that’s makeup, and there are other days where it wasn’t. It’s a testament to the makeup team that you can’t tell the difference, but I know those days where we have to try and take some ice off my beard because it looks too much, and you’re going, “But it’s actually all real.” I got frostbite on my face in the first week of filming up on that frozen lake from lying on the ground like that. It wasn’t bad enough that it was really windy, snowy, and miserable, but we then had four big wind machines with two men on each machine shoveling snow into it so the snow would hit me in the face like icicles. That wasn’t fake snow in a warm studio. That was really, really, really cold. (Laughs)
And you’re really dogsledding on that frozen lake.
Yeah. That was another joy of my job — I get to do these things I would never think to do in real life, and dogsledding was one of them. On my days off, I would go and dogsled up at a ranch. I was aware that Bill would be very good at that, so I wanted to make sure that I was very good at that. It meant we could get these great shots of me on a frozen lake racing along with a snowmobile and a camera beside me going at the same speed, which was awesome. It wasn’t a stunt man or a dogsled guy dressed up as me doing it. It’s me throwing myself in the river. It’s me up the mountain. It’s me with the dogsled. All of that’s real.
Listen to another excerpt from an EW Radio interview in which Madden discusses his character’s apparent dislike of hats.
The official Klondike trailer: