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In the six-hour mini, Cornish (Limitless) plays Belinda Mulrooney, a fiercely strong entrepreneur in the tough Klondike, where she goes head to head with violent men as she looks to carve out a name for herself as a businesswoman. Simmons (The Perks of Being a Wallflower) plays aspiring author Jack London, who is more interested in the stories of the deadly mining community than striking it rich himself.
Like star Richard Madden, Cornish and Simmons play characters based on real people who both looked to the Klondike for inspiration: Belinda as a businesswoman ahead of her time and Jack looking to broaden his world.
The Hollywood Reporter sat down with Cornish and Simmons to find out how they prepared for the roles, being a woman in a man’s world and more.
What drew you to Klondike?
Cornish: Belinda was a very striking, strong woman and I felt honored by the idea of stepping into those shoes. It’s a character that you don’t read often. It felt like a challenge. It didn’t feel like a walk in the park — it felt like an honor.
Simmons: Jack London was an interesting a character and the only other [real] person I’ve ever gotten to play is John Surratt in The Conspirator. So many people have written about him; he’s written about himself and I read his work and think he was a fascinating character. I like the idea of someone who just packs up and takes off.
How familiar were you with Belinda and Jack’s real stories?
Cornish: I read everything I could find: books and online. Sometimes bigger revelations came to me through finer details — one sentence or one moment in their lives — or something that you wouldn’t pick up just by surface reading.
Simmons: I read To Build a Fire and The Call of the Wild in high school and John Barleycorn, Martin Eden and a bunch of other books, but those two stick out because they were Jack talking about himself.
Abbie, where do you think Belinda’s strength came from?
Cornish: I think part of it was just who she was. It felt like there was an ambition and passion that was unstoppable with her; a warrior-like nature that I don’t think was taught to her that she developed. She started working when she was 16. When you look at her biography and the choices she made in New York and moving to Juneau and the fact that she was smart and brave enough to go to Dawson’s City in those conditions. She actually was bankrupt a couple times, too. So it wasn’t that everything was always fine and dandy; she hit rock bottom and was able to bounce back. That’s a survivor and that’s gutsy, and it takes a lot to dive in the deep end.
Do you think Belinda was ahead of her time?
Cornish: For sure. Embodying her as a character, I felt she wasn’t fighting the fight of the female plight or wearing the pants. I felt like her journey was individualistic; it was very particular to her wants and her desires. She was never in an uphill battle with society or about the gender issues of the time. She was in a battle with every man and woman and the elements and the earth and herself. It was just life for her.
Johnny, why do you think Jack ultimately left the Klondike?
Simmons: He just wanted the experience. He didn’t know he was going to be a writer. I heard that somebody found a piece of wood where he wrote, “Jack London, writer” and that was the only time he had ever declared that he was in the Klondike. I think he decided around that time that he wanted to pursue writing. In the show, he’s writing the entire way through and he’s collecting stories, but in reality he decided right around that time that that’s what he wanted to do. He definitely had enough stories at that point to make a career out of it.
Do you think you have anything in common with Jack?
Simmons: I didn’t really put this together until now, but I just got back from backpacking through India for 20 days. It’s not as harsh as the Klondike, but it is in line with those ideas of just going out and seeing how people experience life. I’d like to think I have some similarities with Jack London. I wish I was as good a writer as he is.
The third and final part of Klondike airs on Wednesday on Discovery.
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