Surviving Klondike: Richard Madden and Johnny Simmons Tell Us How They Did It

January 15, 2014

Before Kanye gave us “Gold Digger,” the Klondike gave us gold diggers — people who flocked to Alaska by the tens of thousands looking to get rich prospecting for gold. In Klondike, Discovery’s first scripted mini-series, Bill Haskell (Game of Thrones’s Richard Madden) and Jack London (21 Jump Street’s Johnny Simmons) are just two among the many. The show centers on them and a group of others searching for wealth, finding adventure and often settling for survival in one of the west’s harshest locations.

Gold fever and the need for wealth drives everything and everybody in Dawson City. Are there lessons to be learned from Klondike that can be applied to modern culture?

JOHNNY SIMMONS: One of the central themes in Klondike is “man destroying the land to gain resource.” This seems to be a relevant topic more than ever before, and I hope this story will help push that conversation along.

RICHARD MADDEN: The part of my character, Bill Haskell, that I hope to keep with me always is his ability to be able to weather any storm, yet keep his decency and kindness. It’s far easier to want to strike back.

Johnny, though he’s remembered as a great American author, Jack London did not meet a good end. How were you able to channel his self-destructive tendencies while also keeping the character relatable?

SIMMONS: The time period in Klondike focuses on a much lighter side of Jack London’s story. This was a time when he was still searching and he hadn’t met with success yet, so he was still hungry and unsure. Most people who would attempt a journey that had [such a] high risk of death shared that same daring personality, so I think Jack London felt right at home here.

Have you read Jack London’s entire bibliography at this point? Which of his works really spoke to you?

SIMMONS: My favorite book is Martin Eden, by far. It focuses on the time period after Jack London departs the Klondike. I think this gave the closest glimpse [of him] and [had] a lot of hooks that let me in. There are also a couple of biographies I read that were very important to me during shooting.

Richard, you also did some reading for Klondike. To prepare for your role, you read Two Years in the Klondike and Alaskan Gold Fields, the book that was actually written by your character after his time the Klondike. How did it affect your approach to the role?

MADDEN: The book really is an amazing handbook on how to approach gold mining — lots of tips on what they do and what it looks like. There are pages and pages of details, like what to pack: how many ounces of sugar and flour and clothing.

Richard, the cast of Klondike is very international, including you. How were you able to connect with this fairly American story?

MADDEN: To me, the show, while technically an American story, has universal themes: A young man setting out on a quest and trying to survive challenges, with his integrity and morals not being compromised along the way. Also, [it’s] classic good vs. evil, a journey of self discovery, [and] of human beings and human nature.

We’ve watched a lot of footage from Klondike, and everybody looks terribly cold a lot of the time. Please tell us how you kept warm on some of those seemingly brutal shoots.

SIMMONS: Simply put, we didn’t. It really was that cold and there was no escaping it. But relative to what [the original prospectors] actually went through, I would say we had it pretty good.

MADDEN: It was freezing and we were in period costumes — no down coats. I got frostbite the first day from lying on the ice and was nearly hypothermic other days. I don’t think I warmed up until it was over and I went to Ibiza.

Klondike, which was executive-produced by Ridley Scott, and features Richard Madden and Johnny Simmons, as well as Abbie Cornish, Sam Shepard, Tim Roth, and Tim Blake Nelson, premieres Monday, January 20 at 9/8c on Discovery (Channel 278).

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