Nfld. & Labrador

Frontier women: Badass, tough cookie, survivor

Three women who play key roles in the new Discovery Canada series Frontier talk to CBC about their characters and filmmaking in Newfoundland.

'It is a male world, true to what the period was,' says actor Diana Bentley

Jessica Matten, Zoe Boyle and Diana Bentley play an Indigenous warrior, an alehouse owner and a prostitute making a new life in the Discovery Canada series Frontier. (Andrew Sampson/CBC)

They're women who play very different roles, from a prostitute to an Ojibwa warrior to an ambitious businesswoman, in the male-dominated and cutthroat world of 18th century fur trading.

"It is a male world, but it was a male world," said Frontier actress Diana Bentley as she walked the red carpet Saturday night in St. John's ahead of the Discovery Canada series premiere.

"They are being true to what the period was … and feeling in my own body as an actress what it would have been like to actually have to fight so hard to have to be heard and to rise to power and to be intimidating against male strength, it's a really fun thing."

Bentley plays Imogen, a prostitute who travels to Canada — then British North America — with a military commander, Lord Benton.

"She's a rather downtrodden character to begin with, but she's really strong and she's really fierce. And she's a survivor and so she comes to the frontier to really break free out of this relationship, this horrible relationship that she has with the villain on the show," Bentley said.

"I won't give too much away about what happens to her, but she's a really cool lady."

Jessica Matten describes her character, a Black Wolf warrior, as a "badass." (Discovery Canada)

Jessica Matten plays the role of Sokanan, a member of the Black Wolf Indigenous warriors who support the lead character played by Jason Momoa.

"A complex and interesting character," said Matten. 

"She is in a notorious gang full of badasses … at the end of the day I really believe she is the heart of the group. She has her own principles and morals."

She is in a notorious gang full of badasses ... I really believe she is the heart of the group.- Jessica Matten

While the character is based on history, it is a fantasy as well, Matten said.

"I would say that my character is in a position of power in the way that she's not your typical woman for that age, in the sense that she has freedom."

Zoe Boyle plays Grace Emberly, a Scottish "manipulator of situations" who operates an alehouse.

"She gets access to a lot of information because everyone comes into her pub, drinks a lot and divulges information and she uses it for her own gain. She is quite ambitious and power hungry," said Boyle.

"[It's] really fun to play someone who's just an absolute boss. She's a tough cookie, and really intelligent. It's nice to play a character who's cleverer than you are, you have to up your game."

Zoe Boyle, centre, plays alehouse owner Grace Emberly, an ambitious and manipulative businesswoman who agrees to employ Diana Bentley, left, who starts the series as a prostitute. (Discovery Canada)

'Just a lovely atmosphere'

All three women are new to St. John's where the series is being shot.

"It's my first time out in Newfoundland, the two seasons that we've done. Such a fantastic province. It's great out here," said Bentley, who lives in Toronto when she isn't filming for Frontier.

Boyle, who is from London, England, agreed.

"We have a great time. Everyone loves to have a party, have a good time. It's just a lovely atmosphere," she said.

"We hang out a lot. We get along so well as a group … and that's partly because it's such great material and we enjoy being here so much."

With files from Andrew Sampson