Hey Discovery Channel fans and history buffs, make sure your DVR is set tonight to record the premiere of “Klondike,” the Channel’s first foray into scripted territory. The visually-stunning three-part miniseries is based on the book “Gold Diggers” by Charlotte Gray, and revolves around the struggle for survival and wealth during the Klondike Gold Rush of the late 1890s. The miniseries is executive produced by Ridley Scott (“Gladiator,” “Prometheus”) and stars Richard Madden (“Game of Thrones”), Abbie Cornish (“RoboCop,” “Sucker Punch”), Sam Shepard, and Tim Roth

Yahoo TV was lucky enough to sit down with Madden and Cornish ahead of the premiere to discuss the actual frigid filming conditions, how to detect frostbite and hypothermia, and how they learned to re-appreciate the simpler pleasures in life, like heat. 

What was the first day on set like? It’s obvious from the production stills that you were out in the elements versus shooting on a sound stage.

Richard Madden: I got frostbite on my face on the first day. The first day was really intense because we were at altitude and when you first read a script and it says, “And at this point he’s lying on the ice, near to death,” it’s like, “OK, got that,” and then on the day you’re actually doing it, it’s like “Oh s–t, I’m actually lying on the ice, near to death.” And in the script it says, “Heavy rain” and on the ninth day of heavy rain, the rain machines are freezing, the water is freezing in the pipes because it’s so cold and you think, “Yeah I should’ve read the script better.”

Abbie Cornish: There’s a scene when [my character] delivers wood to Bill [Madden’s character] and when I went out before I was to enter the scene, I was like, “Guys, this ice you’ve put all over the cart seems so real, I can’t get over it. The way it’s dripping, just frozen on there, even my boots slipped.” And they’re like, “Ah, it’s real.”

What new kinds of acting survival techniques did you learn while shooting in the unpredictable conditions?

RM: You endure, you just endure. Something about this show, if you didn’t care as much or if you weren’t as invested in it, when you’re truly invested your brain just pushes you through it and when you’re trying to do something, you really commit. I remember one day coming out of the river [in the scene] where I come out of the river and had to keep going in, take after take, we got to the last time and it’s much colder. I thought I was fine and I was speaking to people and they couldn’t understand me because I couldn’t stop shaking. Then the nurse says, “OK I think he’s getting hypothermic, you need to stop,” and I think you just invest in the part and invest in the role, you push yourself through it so you’re not aware.

AC: You don’t have boundaries.

RM: You have so many great people around you that go, “OK we need to protect you from yourself at the moment,” so there’s no secret thing. There were some actors who I won’t mention who had electric socks, I couldn’t fit them in my boots so I had to go realistic but some actors found sneaky ways to stay warm.

So what are the warning signs for hypothermia? Did you pay attention to them?

RM: I didn’t, someone else did but basically when you can’t stop shaking and you’re getting dizzy and your speech goes. With the frostbite, you know when you’re really, really cold and it hurts really badly? That’s good, it’s when you get past that and you’re like, “Ah my hands aren’t cold anymore, this is good.” No, then you’re in trouble because you go numb completely, like you’re hands have been cut off, that’s when it’s dangerous.

How much should people know about the real story ahead of time? Should you refrain from Googling the facts or do a little research for background info?

RM: I think you should just learn from it as you watch it, there are these mystery elements and you don’t know what’s going to happen, everything is life or death, high stakes, you don’t know what’s going to happen. Especially I think in TV today we’ve all learned our lessons not to Google ahead, it ruins stories, you find out when people die and stuff so don’t Google just watch.

In seeing the finished series, is there one moment that surprised you in how different it appears on film versus how it felt while shooting it?

AC: For me there was a lot of those moments, we didn’t watch feedback because we didn’t have the time, so when you watch it you’re wide-eyed and enjoying it because you didn’t have the full spectrum [during filming], you didn’t know what the shot list was or the setups.

RM: Yeah I remember certain days were [tougher] than others and watching it back I curse [director] Simon [Cellan Jones], “You’ve made that look really beautiful and it was f–king miserable.” But that’s the gift of it, you’ve been in places that are so beautiful and then by the fifth take you’re like, “I really hate this,” and you see it back and it was so worth everything we went through.

AC: There was one setup Richard and I shot at night where it was raining all night and you have no reason to change your clothes because you’d just get soaken wet again, I had managed to put a really fine wetsuit on underneath everything which was genius — it wasn’t my idea, but it worked. We didn’t have anywhere to go [between takes], we couldn’t go too far so the lighting guys helped me set-up two heaters and apple boxes but what happened was the rain came in and it would start to come up so we’d have to add more apple boxes otherwise I’d be standing in knee-high water by electrical equipment, we’d sit there with steam coming off and we wouldn’t talk to each other, it was nice to be quiet.

RM: Yeah you have to save your energy for the take and there’s stuff where you have to pretend not to be that cold and it took all of you to pretend you weren’t.

Did you learn to appreciate little things? I was going to have you look through my purse to see if you could point out items that would be useful to build a makeshift survival kit.

AC: I think just the purse by itself…

RM: Yeah the purse would be good, sell the purse and then buy some wood.

AC: To be honest you learn what you don’t need, which is very freeing.

RM: Yeah, and there’s no point carrying a cell phone because it was going to get destroyed.

AC: You just need food, water, and heat.

RM: Yeah food, heat, water, and shelter. It’s really good, I loved that. Can you start fires on your own?

AC: I have in the past, I managed it once at camp. But it was in a warm dry climate which was easier, I don’t know about a wet, cold climate, maybe with a lot of will power.

RM: I can, but I need sunshine because I do it with a magnifying glass.

When everything was wrapped what was the most indulgent thing you did for yourself?

AC: I had to go straight to work, I was like, “Adios!” They compacted my schedule so I left. Richie and I were working together every single day and I had to bounce out and you had three more weeks. … I had to run off and all of a sudden I had a badge and a gun so I didn’t get much time to process it.

RM: I landed in the UK, I had not seen my friends or had any free time and I got on a flight with my friends and we went to Ibiza for a week [laughs]. I landed back from Ibiza on a Friday and got picked up from the airport and went straight to Glastonbury Music Festival with my director and we had a few days at the music festival. It was so hot, everything was so hot, I was in heaven.

Interviews From 2014

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