Ever wonder what it was really like back in Canada’s pre-Confederation days? Frontier, a new series by Netflix and Discovery Canada, offers a bloody and brutal glimpse of the fur trade in the 1700s and the relentless battle between Canada’s indigenous peoples and members of the Hudson’s Bay Company.
The series stars Jason Momoa (Game of Thrones) as Declan Harp, a violent fur trader looking to take control of the industry, and Landon Liboiron (Hemlock Grove) as Michael Smyth, a young Irish thief from the streets of London who is forced into the cutthroat world after ending up at the wrong place at the wrong time. We spoke with Liboiron about what it was like to film Canada’s bloody history and why Frontier is worth watching.
The TV Junkies: First off, congratulations on already getting picked up for a second season.
Landon Liboiron: Yeah, it’s all very exciting. It’s rare because not a lot of shows get to have that second season before anyone’s seen the first.
TTVJ: Did you get the sense there would be a second season when you wrapped filming?
LL: I’ve worked on a Netflix show before, and the way they work is all so new, I didn’t know what to expect. It was the first time I’ve ever worked on a show that I only had done six episodes for the first season as well, so I really didn’t know what to expect.
TTVJ: What initially drew you to your character?
LL: What drew me to the character was the Irish aspect of his character. He’s an Irish street thief living in London. He already has that underdog quality about him because the Irish have always had that underdog quality. Instead of being the big muscular leading man, he’s shifty and a little more crafty. His mind works differently than all the tough guys in the New World. I like the way that he operates within the world of the show.
TTVJ: Even from the first episode your character certainly goes from the frying pan into the fire very quickly. Was that really intense to shoot?
LL: It was, yeah. It’s a very ambitious show, just with the period and everything. I’ve been thinking a lot about what it would have felt like going over to the New World and it would be the equivalent to going into space for us now. The kind of endless horizon and what’s out there sort of feeling. We were able to travel around a lot, I got to go see new places. We shot in Cornwall for a few days in England, then we went over and shot the rest in Eastern Canada, mostly Newfoundland. You traveled along with the show so it aided with the feeling.
TTVJ: What was it like to shoot in Newfoundland?
LL: It was great. I’m Canadian, I’m from Alberta, but I’ve never been to Newfoundland before. They definitely have their own culture here. It didn’t really feel like Canada—you know you’re in Canada, but it doesn’t feel like that. The people are really great, and it’s a great place to shoot. The weather is a little bit tumultuous sometimes though.
TTVJ: Growing up in Canada, I remember learning about the fur trade and Hudson’s Bay Company and being incredibly bored. Obviously this show brings a new perspective to that part of Canada’s history. Did filming Frontier affect the way you remember learning about it?
LL: The fun stuff they don’t really get into in history class in Canada is just how violent it was. You learn about what it did for our country, but what did they actually had to do is something they don’t really talk about. The extreme lengths people would go to, and how extreme it would be to just get on a boat and suddenly you’re in this vast land with no society other than natives that are completely foreign to you. It’s really interesting once you start reading the right books about it.
TTVJ: Jason Momoa has a very intense role in this series, based on what we see in that first episode. What was it like to film those scenes with him?
LL: Jason is very passionate about the project and that energy sort of filtered out to the rest of us. He was really energetic and his character’s very intense. He’s very in line with his character and I think that’s why he’s very passionate about it. He’s also a very friendly guy. He’s not all brood and gruff.
TTVJ: There are a lot of period dramas out there. What makes Frontier stand out from the rest?
LL: I think the thing that makes our show different from other historical dramas is—I’ve been using the term exaggerated history. All the characters are drawn from the names of historical figures, but it’s all fiction and it’s all very fast-paced. It’s not one of those dramas where there are two guys sitting in a room talking in this intricate language. There’s a lot of action and it moves very fast. I think that’s what people will be entertained by, the pace of the show, and you think one thing’s happening and another thing completely changes its course. I think there’s always something that will keep people’s attention.
Are you planning to tune in to the Frontier premiere? Sound off in the comments below.
Frontier premieres Sunday, Nov. 6 at 9 p.m. on Discovery Canada.
Associate Editor Kelly Townsend always had strong opinions on TV growing up, so it was only natural to evolve from couch musings to online journalism. She can't ever choose a favorite series, so please don't ask. Her writing has also appeared on IndieWire and Tribute.ca. You can find her on Twitter at @kellybtownsend.