Discovery Channel is set to launch its first-ever scripted venture, Klondike, in a bid they hope will help them strike it rich with viewers.
The six-hour, three-night miniseries begins Jan. 20 on Discovery Canada before continuing the following Tuesday and Wednesday. Scottish actor Richard Madden, best-known for his role as the brutally-murdered Robb Stark in HBO's Game of Thrones, is among multiple high-profile stars who have been in Alberta filming for the series.
Abbie Cornish, Tim Roth, Sam Shepard and Augustus Prew also star, while powerhouse producers Ridley Scott, Paul Scheuring and David Zucker have been working away behind the scenes to bring the series to life.
It's all based on Charlotte Gray's 2010 book, Gold Diggers: Striking It Rich in the Klondike.
On Thursday, the cast and producers took questions from reporters as part of the semi-annual Television Critics Association press tour.
According to Scheuring, who wrote the script, said he wasn't intimidated to be writing for Shepard, a Pulitzer Prize-winning American playwright, "because the part was written, thank goodness, before he was cast."
Days of Heaven actor returns
Shepard was a last-minute replacement for Chris Cooper, who had to withdraw with an illness right before production was scheduled to begin.
The 70-year-old actor had worked in Alberta before, memorably on Days of Heaven in 1978.
He was apparently hard to reach after Cooper pulled out because he was offline 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."
No chance of shooting in Dawson City
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 — from the Government of Alberta and the Alberta Film Development Program — lured production to Alberta.
And it was damn cold, says Brittish-born Prew,
The actor plays Byron Epstein, who teams up with Madden's character, Bill Haskell, as the two childhood friends set out to make their fortune along with thousands of others during the peak year of the Klondike gold rush.
"We were in period costumes, no thermals," Prew said of his experience on location in Alberta last April through July. "I went on holiday right after to Turkey. It was lovely and warm there."
'Brutal' shooting conditions in Rockies
The cast, producers and crew faced 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.
There are Canadians in the cast, including Brian Markinson (Da Vinci's Inquest), who is currently shooting Fargo in Calgary, and Saskatchewan native Michael Greyeyes.
While Prew said 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," he said.
According to Zucker, one of the series' producers, 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."
Despite that, the real-life struggle and challenges look good on screen.
"We wanted to emphasize that it was miserable," Zucker said. "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 that to look easy."