PASADENA, Calif.— Is there gold in them thar miniseries hills?
Discovery Channel thinks so. The U.S. cable network is set to launch its first-ever scripted venture “Klondike.” The six-hour, three-night miniseries begins Jan. 20 on Discovery Canada before continuing the following Tuesday and Wednesday.
Scottish actor Richard Madden (“Game of Thrones”), Abbie Cornish (“RoboCop”), Tim Roth (“Pulp Fiction”), Sam Shepard (“August: Osage County”) and Augustus Prew (“Kick-Ass 2”) star. Ridley Scott, Paul Scheuring and David Zucker are among the executive producers. It’s all based on Charlotte Gray’s book “Gold Diggers: Striking It Rich in the Klondike.”
The cast and producers took questions from reporters Thursday as part of the semi-annual Television Critics Association press tour. A large, Klondike-themed casino was erected for an evening event on the back lawn of the tour hotel.
Shepard was a last-minute replacement for Chris Cooper, who had to withdraw with an illness right before production was scheduled to begin.
Shepard was everybody’s next choice but was apparently hard to reach, being off-line and out fishing, something he indulged in while on location in Alberta.
“Some of the biggest cutthroats I’ve ever seen in my life,” Shepard said about fly fishing “way up there on the Athabasca River.”
The 70-year-old actor and American playwright has worked in Alberta before, memorably on “Days of Heaven” (1978). Asked why he signed on for “Klondike,” he said, “I was out of work.”
Scheuring, who wrote the script, said he wasn’t intimidated to write for the Pulitzer Prize winner, “because the part was written, thank goodness, before he was cast.”
The producers say there was never any thought of shooting the series right in Dawson City, despite the fact that the picturesque Yukon town retains much of the look it had back in the gold rush days of the 1890s. The usual lure of tax grants and funding (The mini-series is produced with the assistance of the Government of Alberta as well as the Alberta Film Development Program) lured production to Alberta.
And it was damn cold, says Prew. The British actor plays Byron Epstein, who teams with Bill Haskell (Madden) as two childhood friends who set out to make their fortune along with thousands of others during the peak years of the Klondike gold rush.
Prew, who stars in another period drama, the UK series “The Village,” says it was a 40-minute snowmobile ride followed by another 40-minute trek-sometimes by helicopter for scenes shot in a tiny town high up in the Rocky Mountains northwest of Calgary.
“We were in period costumes, no thermals,” says Prew, who, like the other actors, was on location in Alberta last April through July. “I went on holiday right after to Turkey. It was lovely and warm there.”
Roth, who plays a troublemaking rascal known as “The Count,” says he “liked the idea of playing a crooked real estate guy. It was incredibly offensive but also quite funny.”
There are Canadians in the cast, including Brian Markinson (“Da Vinci’s Inquest”), currently shooting FX’s series “Fargo” in Calgary, and Saskatchewan native Michael Greyeyes.
While Prew says the relatively isolated, mountain-top locales could be “rather meditative,” he won’t miss the 18 hour days.
“I only saw my hotel six hours a night.”
Producer Zucker admits much of the shoot “was brutal. There was so little time to shoot such a big thing and it took four months of 18 hour days.”
That it looks like a time of struggle and challenges on screen is all good, however.
“We wanted to emphasize that it was miserable,” he says of portraying those Klondike days. “A lot of that was in the script and I pushed it even further. It is about the battle with nature and we didn’t want it to look easy.”
Bill Brioux is a freelance TV columnist based in Brampton, Ont.