The actor talks with THR about filming Discovery’s first scripted series and learning from Bill Haskell’s moral high ground.

Richard Madden has gone from playing one stand-up guy to another, transitioning from Game of Thrones’ Robb Stark to aspiring gold miner Bill Haskell in Discovery’s Klondike.

From executive producers Ridley Scott and David Zucker and written by Prison Break’s Paul Scheuring, the three-night event is based on Charlotte Gray’s book Gold Diggers: Striking It Rich in the Klondike. It centers on New York dreamer Bill (Madden) and his best friend Byron Epstein’s (Augustus Prew) journey to Canada’s Yukon Territory and the colorful — and dangerous — characters they meet during their epic journey.

The series is based on real characters, including Haskell, who travels across the country in a bid to make a name for himself and winds up making the deadly journey to the Klondike, one of the most treacherous mining towns in history, where if the weather doesn’t kill you, your neighboring miners just might.

The Hollywood Reporter sat down with Madden at the Television Critics Association’s winter press tour to talk about playing a character best defined by his morals, doing all his own stunts and who would win in a fight between Robb and Bill.

What was it like going from Game of Thrones to Klondike? It seems like you’re destined to be cold.

(Laughs.) Cold and miserable! I thought Game of Thrones had this challenge in filming, and it’s one of those things you think, “It can’t get worse than this,” because it’s really cold and you’re in pain and it’s miserable. Then you do Klondike and you realize that Game of Thrones is tropical in comparison. I remember one day doing Klondike when we were at the top of this mountain and there was no warm shelter. They couldn’t put up tents for warm shelter, and because of what we were shooting there was no one running from costume to put a real jacket on you. I had to go to the bathroom and there was a little tree sticking up from the ground through all the snow, and I fell right up to my neck and I just sunk in with my hands down my pants and screamed for someone to come and pull me out. At least on Thrones we had ported loos!

And you did all your own stunts in those intense conditions!

I have such pride in my job. I know it’s above and beyond, some of the stuff I have to do, but I wanted to experience everything as safely possible. I wanted to make sure my director could get the shots he wanted. There’s nothing more frustrating to me than when you’re watching television and you see the back of someone’s head as they are falling into this frozen river. You’re with the character then and it’s not a stuntman doing it; it’s me and you get to see my face as I’m thrown off the boat and into the river. It’s a better experience for the audience and it takes away any chance of you being snapped out of it. I tried to make it as real as possible.

What was your scariest moment during production?

I had a few scary moments. The river rapids are pretty terrifying. It’s like millions of needles going into you and freezing cold. That was the most intense. I remember climbing out of the river and going through the rapids. We had to film that over and over. We had to call the nurse because I couldn’t stop shaking. I thought I was fine but actually my legs were shaking. There’s a scene we shot for part three when we were at such a high altitude on the second day of production and I was still adjusting it. I got a bloody nose from the intensity of it, and that’s when I thought, “OK, this job is going to be tough.” (Laughs.)

How did you prepare to play Bill?

He wrote a book two years after he left the Klondike. It’s been out of print for hundreds of years, but I found this little company that printed it. I studied the book, which he wrote as a miner’s manual. It tells you exactly what happened to him in his own words. It’s fascinating because we’re used to people talking about their feelings, and he doesn’t do that; but you learn so much in the subtleties. I studied his voice, which is the voice of the man at the end of Klondike, and I had to keep that in mind: “This is the man I’ve become. So who was I to start with?” That taught me a lot. There’s so much photo evidence from the time that I researched. Plus Jack London’s wonderful books teach you so much about the people and the situations around there.

Do you feel like you carry part of Bill with you now?

Yes. If I carry anything of Bill, I’ll go to a new place in myself. I admire him like no one else. I really admire this man and that’s what really fascinates me about him is how hard things got and how terrible things were. I’d read so much about this era — with no police out there they were tasked with protecting themselves. I expected all this violence and animal instinct to be the driving force, and through Bill’s book, it was fascinating that every time I expected him to be a really bad man or to make a bad decision he didn’t. That’s something I really admire, and if I can be anything like that then I’d be proud of myself.

Who would win in a fight? Robb Stark or Bill?

That’s a good one! Shit! I think they would both sit down and decide not to fight. I don’t think they’d ever come to blows. I’m imagining myself as those two characters fighting and talking to each other in a weird period costume. It’s really a strange thing in my brain. Thanks for that!

You have Disney’s Cinderella coming up next. Would you ever return to doing TV?

I love doing television; it’s such a brilliant way to tell a story over six hours rather over the two hours of doing a movie. It’s a different challenge, but I live for that. I don’t know what I’m doing next. I wanted to do something that pushes me and is a totally different challenge than the ones I faced. From Klondike and Cinderella, I keep trying to do things I don’t know if I’m good enough to do and are totally different challenges in different ways. I thought I would go into Prince Charming and go, “This is a breeze compared to Klondike,” and it wasn’t. I wasn’t up a mountain but I was in dance classes four times a week trying to perfect my lifts while filming every day!

Interviews From 2014

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