While shooting the new Discovery Channel miniseries 'Klondike' in the frigid, snow-covered mountains of the Yukon, Richard Madden stepped behind a bank of camera equipment to take a leak and promptly disappeared.
"As I was unbuttoning my pants . . . I fell literally to the top of my head in snow," he recalls. "I thought, I'm lost, and no one will find me."
Fortunately, his co-workers dug him out, but Madden – who became a star playing Robb Stark, the ill-fated heir to Winterfell on "Game of Thrones" – still ended up with frostbite on his face after plunging repeatedly into an icy river. And, yes, he knew what he was getting into when he decided to join the production team, which worked entirely on site. Based on the book 'Gold Diggers: Striking It Rich in the Klondike' by Charlotte Gray, 'Klondike' revolves around men looking to strike it rich during the Alaska Gold Rush of the 1890s and the immense privations they have to endure. According to Madden, working under tough circumstances made the show better.
"You don't want anything to make the audience aware they're watching a drama," says Madden. "Because this is an historical event that actually happened, you do everything possible to do justice to that, to make it both authentic and entertaining."
In addition to Madden, the three-part miniseries features a superb cast including Abbie Cornish, Tim Roth, and Sam Shepard. Madden tells 'Men's Journal' he used a memoir written by the real-life prospector Bill Haskell – who he plays in 'Klondike' – as a "guidebook in terms of getting my head inside the character."
"I saw the man he became," explains Madden, who will also play Prince Charming in Disney's upcoming live-action remake of 'Cinderella.' "He was on the edge of becoming an animal, of losing his humanity. You see a man really wrestling with that. But his goodness, his kindness always comes out at the moment when it could destroy him."
Madden, who has a thick Scottish accent, says he was drawn to 'The Call of the Wild' as a boy – there's a Jack London character in the show – and that the gold rush narrative of reinvention and self-sufficiency always seemed both quintessentially American and completely universal.
"There were lots of nationalities involved in the Klondike," he says, "Brits, Germans – you were able to go and make something with your own two hands. That's what's so attractive about it. People are still doing it."
In some ways, the leading man has become one of them.
More information: The three-part miniseries premiered on Monday, January 20, and continued on January 21 and 22.