Gold rush strikes it rich in Discovery Channel's Klondike

Abbie Cornish as mill owner Belinda in Klondike.
Abbie Cornish as mill owner Belinda in Klondike.

NO frontier woman can get by without dog sledding and horse riding, as Abbie Cornish discovered in her latest TV role.

The Aussie actress plays tough-as-nails Alaskan mill owner Belinda in The Discovery Channel's first ever scripted series Klondike.

The six-part period drama is based on real-life characters and events from the world's last true gold rush in North America's untamed Yukon Territory in the late 1890s.

Cornish insisted on learning how to command a team of sled dogs for the series, which was filmed on location in Alberta, Canada.

"We got to the end of it and it felt like we'd been on a challenging life experience, you know, a natural sort of adventure," Cornish told The Guide, speaking on the phone from her LA home.

"Everything was real... we never shot on a stage or green screen. We'd go up into the mountains by car and then there were some moments where you'd ride a jet ski out to location. It was incredible. It felt like an adventure, making that show.

"It felt more like a film than a series."

The mini-series, which aired in three parts in the US, was the Discovery Channel's highest ever rating Monday primetime show.

"It's a period piece about the gold rush in America and Canada in 1898, but told in a contemporary way," Cornish said.

"It's a story of what it's like to be a human being in the most strenuous and physically demanding circumstances.

"A lot of these people went there on their last dime, and people killed for gold. All you had to do was pay $5 to put down a stake."

Cornish stars opposite Game of Thrones' Richard Madden, an adventurer prospecting for gold with his childhood best friend, and compares their close on-set relationship to the one she shared with the late Heath Ledger on the set of the Australian film Candy.

"For three-and-a-half months we basically lived out of each other's pockets," she said.

"We lived off each other's dedication and hard work, which was very cool. For me that's an actor's dream. Heath and I were like that on Candy; we were so dedicated to that film together, constantly giving and sharing. That's what elevates the project itself."

Klondike is based on Charlotte Gray's book Gold Diggers: Striking it Rich in the Klondike and filmmaker Ridley Scott (Blade Runner, Alien, Prometheus) is one of the show's executive producers.

"We had a director (Simon Cellan Jones) on the contemporary edge of filmmaking and he comes from the point of view of the reality of the situation," Cornish said.

"I think people (in the US) enjoyed the contemporary edginess. A lot of it (camera work) was handheld, so you're not only watching a slice of history but also a really well-made mini-series."

Klondike debuts tonight on The Discovery Channel at 7.30pm.

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