Abbie Cornish returned to television earlier this year with Klondike - which has now been released on DVD - the first ever scripted mini-series for the Discovery Channel.
We caught up with the actress to chat about the series, taking on a real-life character, and moving back into television.
- You star in new TV series Klondike, so can you tell me a little bit about it?
Klondike is a three par mini series that centres on the gold rush in Yukon and Alaska in 1897/8. Its main characters are real life characters that you can read about in books and the internet. I take on the role of one of these central characters.
There are other characters around them that are made up to support the story. I take on a real life character in the form of Belinda Mulrooney; she really existed in that time.
- Klondike was the first ever scripted mini-series for the Discovery Channel, so how did you get involved in the project? What was it about the character of Belinda and the script that particularly appealed?
The director and the producers were really keen for me to be a part of this, so I met with them and they offered the role to me. After meeting with them, I just felt that it was a really wonderful and a really professional team that I would be working with, and a team that was creating a mini-series that had a contemporary edge to it.
It is about characters who lived in some of the harshest possible living environments possible, in the harshest circumstances: it really is live or die. It is a very every man for himself mentality, so trust is hard to come by, friendships are hard to come by. I was fascinated by that world, and I really thought that it was a study of humanity.
I also thought the character of Belinda Mulrooney is one that I am going to come across again, she really is a one off in regards to where she was, who she was, what she has achieved, all the facets of her personality: her strengths, her weakness, her business mind and her independence.
To find a woman like this in that time and that environment was fascinating, and I really felt that I was at the right point in my life to embody a role like that and a woman like that. It was really exciting for me.
- As you say, Belinda Mulrooney was a real person, who what kind of responsibility comes with taking on a role like this?
A part of you instantly feels a connection to that character, and without judgement. I am more interested in the fact that, as actors, we want to play and explore characters that sometimes, by society’s standards, not normal. We do it with this want to explore them without judgement and play them without judgement.
There is something interesting to that, because they become almost like a case study that you not only study, but also you step into the shoes of and you then become. It is an interesting medium in that way. For me playing Belinda, it was interesting just to be in those shoes.
At times, I found that I really had to push myself to be stronger and push myself to be braver, and push myself to really disregard the cold and the snow: I put myself aside and really had to let her drive and let her make the decisions between action and cut.
I really enjoyed that with that character to be honest. I have played some characters in the past there were more on the gentle side or more sensitive, this is the strongest character that I have played to date.
- The series is set during the gold rush of the 1890s and is based on the book Gold Diggers: Striking It Rich in the Klondike by Charlotte Gray. How did you prepare for the project? And how much is the research something that you enjoy?
I love research and I love prepping the role and prepping the characters; for me, it really is so much fun. As soon as I get a job, it begins for me. My mind starts to drift in the way of the character or that time and I start to read. As the project comes closer, it comes off the page and it becomes more physical; I start to truly visualise it.
For me, when I am in the costume and the make-up - all those layers of artistic direction - and the cast and the crew that you meet, it all starts to become real and take shape: even though you are making something that is make believe, there is a life to it and you are breathing life into it.
I do as much as I can to be honest; I even work all throughout the production. I have even had delayed thoughts on a character after I have finished working on a project; things linger with me like a scent.
I think I do invest in characters quite heavily - I think it is inevitable when you do something creative - you really are all there.
When you see a dancer dance a piece, their whole being is in that, if they choose to let it be or can let it be. I really enjoy that about being an actress and it really does excite me. That really is why I choose the projects that I do and I work the way that I do.
- Klondike is the first full TV series that you have done since Life Support, so how did you find going back to television?
It was great; it was quite seamless and easy. I was in such wonderful hands with director Simon Cellan Jones, as he shot it as if it was one big story in three acts. Simon just had this real vision and edge, that I felt was a period story in a contemporary way; he really made it feel tangible and was something that you could grip on to, that is there and present.
It very much becomes about the story, the relationships, the survival and Bill’s journey through this time in his life, the people that he meets, and the relationships that he has. I felt that he really followed the truth of the story, as well as the humanity and inhumanity.
He also did it without judgement as well, this meant he was able to go into Tim Roth’s character and Sam Shepard’s character, and play them all with the same attention to that part of the story. He was really able to explore the fight, the struggle, and what happens to people when they are freezing, starving, and are in a world where lies roll off the tongue.
- The series was filmed in Alberta as well as on Fortress Mountain - in quite difficult conditions - so how did you find the filming experience?
I really loved the filming experience. I had just finished RoboCop, which was a much more insular filming experience, so for me to go to Calgary, Canada and film in the snow… we started off in the mountains with dog training and horse riding, and yes, it was cold, but we were working so much you forget how cold you are.
When we started shooting we were up in the mountains - everything you see in the series is real and everything that Richard Madden when though, he really went through. The producers and Simon really did want it to be as real as possible, but actors have a choice whether to jump in a white water rapid or dog sled across the lake, myself and Richard were always like ‘yeah we will do that.
It was scary at times - I know Richard had a couple of scares; for example, the rapids were quite confronting. That is something that not many people would want to do, but he really did just thrown himself in there for the show and for the character. For me, there were a couple of times where I was on the horses and it was icy and cold. It was a little bit chaotic and it felt dangerous. I think all of this stuff adds to the series.
- As you say, the setting does add an authenticity to the series, but how does that authenticity help you as an actor?
I think it allows you to be present in that moment, with an element of something that is natural and something that really exists, that hasn’t been built and isn’t make believe. There was a scene in episode two where myself and Richard are walking from the church across to my home - which is a restaurant/bar - and it is snowing.
It wasn’t meant to be snowing that day, but it was so beautiful to see a snowflake hit his cheek, see the construction and the detail, and then see it melt on his face. The simple fragility and the beauty of being able to see the shape of this snowflake and watch the warmth of his skin melt in away in the middle of a scene, heightened the intensity and it’s presence; in a way it validates the existence of that moment, that goes beyond acting and beyond creating a TV show, or that we have lines that are pre-empted.
It strips that back and it pulls you right into that moment right there. To be present, be there with that other actor and in their eyes, is just really important. Therefore, it gave us those constructs, it gave us that environment, and it put us in that landscape and it made us become the characters even more.
- Away from the series, we are going to be seeing you back on the big screen later this year in Solace, so can you tell me a little about that?
Solace is a psychological thriller that involves two special FBI agents, who are on the case of a serial killer. The serial killer is almost committing the perfect murders, and they have come to an end in terms of what they can find as leads. Therefore, they bring out a retired FBI psychic to help them with the case; that is Anthony Hopkins. It goes on from there.
- Over the last couple of years, we have seen you work on a wide range of projects: TV, blockbusters, animation as well as smaller films. What do you look for in a role? And how has that process changed, as you have got older and more experienced?
I don’t think it has changed, it just hasn’t. Regardless of the team and who is making the film, you have to read the script. For me, it is about the story of the character, and then I progress from there.
Only then do I look at whom I will be working with and who will be directing and producing it, and the team that they are setting up creatively. Then you have a really strong sense of what is going on. If those all feel good and feel right, then I am in.
- Finally, what's next for you?
I have just finished an album. I did RoboCop, Klondike and Solace, and then I worked on the solo album; I finished that last week.
So I am back in film now and I am in the middle of just setting a couple of things up; I won’t say what they are. I have really just got back into film in this last week, which has been really fun.
However, it has been nice to take a break and do something different. I think Solace will release later in the year, in September.
Klondike is out on DVD now.
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