“These actors are out there, if you just look a bit harder”
Despite 65 speaking roles spanning 3 languages, director Corrie Chen had no problem finding actors for SBS drama.
When director Corrie Chen embarked on a very ambitious plan to cast a bilingual period drama for SBS, she wasn’t sure if it was too big a challenge.
New Gold Mountain, which portrays the Chinese experience during the 1850s Gold Rush of Victoria, entailed 65 speaking roles spanning 3 languages, Cantonese, Hakka & English.
“A very large part of the cast needed to speak Cantonese, which was something that we had to consider in the casting process. But it was quite surprising that it wasn’t really an issue in terms of the quality or the number of screen tests that we looked at. It just reminded me these actors are out there, if you just look a bit harder,” she tells TV Tonight.
“I really felt we uncovered some new talent”
“I went into the process wondering how we were going to do this. Not to say it wasn’t difficult, but I didn’t feel like I had to compromise because there weren’t enough people. I really felt we uncovered some new talent or talent that hadn’t quite been exposed to the size of this kind of production before.”
Chen is Taiwan-born and having directed Homecoming Queens, SeaChange, Wentworth and Mustangs FC, the 4 part ‘western’ is her biggest project to date. Her interest was piqued when she heard the project was in development with Goalpost Pictures.
“I was just so utterly desperate to do it”
“The story about the origins of Chinese Australians was something that I had personally been captivated by from the very first time I heard it when I was a kid. Hearing that it was being developed, I was just so utterly desperate to do it. I think the energy I was putting out into the universe led to an invite to read the first ep and pitch to Goalpost,” she explains.
“I felt like I was at a stage of my career where I had done quite a bit of episodic drama, and got the ‘frequent flyer points’ and experience under my belt. l was really ready to take that step into, not only setting-up, but authoring a series.
“This was probably a little bit bigger and more ambitious than what I would have expected as a first series, but opportunities like this don’t come around every day. So I really had to take my shot.”
New Gold Mountain was filmed in Victoria in November – December 2020, when the state was still emerging from lockdown. Pre-production was faced with Stage 4 restrictions.
“There was a lot of Gumtree, Facebook marketplace”
“I marvel at how the Art Department were able to source every single thing in this show during a time where they couldn’t go to an op shop. They couldn’t even go into regional Victoria where there were probably more of these props available. There was a lot of Gumtree, Facebook marketplace and working incredibly hard.
“Sovereign Hill formed the backbone of how we presented Ballarat on screen. The Chinese village and the European camp was an entire set that we had built out at Yellow Gum park in Plenty. We were there for probably half the shoot.
“The You Yangs is where we had positioned all the gold scenes, in a sand quarry, which were also constructed and dug out as well. It was quite a logistical effort to do that.”
Amongst a sprawling cast are Yoson An (Mulan, Dead Lucky), Christopher James Baker (True Detective), Dan Spielman (The Code), Sam Wang (Runaway Millionaires), Rhys Muldoon (Informer 3838), Alison Bell (The Letdown), Chris Masters Mah (Underbelly Files: Chopper) and Travis Cotton (Romper Stomper).
But it is the characters played by Alyssa Sutherland (Vikings), Mabel Li (The Tailings) and Leonie Whyman (Redfern Now) that also excites Chen.
“The female characters are one of my favourite things about this show. With Belle (Alyssa Sutherland), Lei (Mabel Li) and Hattie (Leonie Whyman) are three incredibly different women, having very specific experiences related to their cultural background. I love that they weren’t judge against a sense of suffering, in order to exist in a world,” she continues.
“They have a sense of humour, they’re vulnerable, intelligent and able to consistently outwit Shing (Yoson An) -even though he’s our hero. I think that’s incredibly satisfying to watch.”
“She’s one really worth keeping an eye on”
She also singles out Mabel Li (pictured top) whose only other screen role is SBS digital short, The Tailings.
“I really believe she’s quite a discovery for the show and also for our industry. When we cast her she was fresh out of NIDA. I just feel like she’s one really worth keeping an eye on,” says Chen.
“She was able to bring to that role a really beautiful vulnerability and strength, as well as terror to the character.”
Chen also references other genre pieces such as Deadwood, but acknowledges in its push to land as premium drama, the script by Peter Cox is nowhere near as explicit, stylistically.
“Implied violence most of the time is a lot more effective and dramatic when you see it on screen”
“I’m a pretty squeamish person so I don’t think we ever reached like Tarantino levels of violence. Characters get hit across the face and so forth but I do feel a lot of it was implied. Implied violence most of the time is a lot more effective and dramatic when you see it on screen. That’s what I believe.”
She adds, “It has a lot to say about who we are, and the Australian identity, but at the same time, it’s scintillating and humorous and lyrical at times as well. I think that’s hopefully the kind of television that we should be striving for.”
New Gold Mountain is now available at SBS on Demand and continues 9:30pm tonight, Wednesday & Thursday on SBS.