In Goalpost Pictures’ gold rush drama New Gold Mountain, Alyssa Sutherland plays a widow who overcomes the trauma of an abusive marriage and embarks on a quest for greater independence in 1850s Australia.
While it may be easy to classify her turn as Belle Roberts as a strong female character, the actress told IF it was a description she was hoping to avoid.
“I like the attention we put on having much more well-rounded female characters but I get a little bee in my bonnet sometimes when all this focus gets put on these ‘strong female characters’,” she said.
“Women are just strong – that’s how it is.
“All the women in my life are very interesting and compelling people – it’s just taken a while to see the same thing on screen.”
Filmed at Sovereign Hill and around Melbourne and regional Victoria last year, New Gold Mountain follows the Chinese miners who arrived in the Victorian Goldfields in the 1850s to try to make their fortune.
Directed by Corrie Chen, the four-part series is created and written by Peter Cox and produced by Kylie du Fresne and Elisa Argenzio, with Yolanda Ramke, Benjamin Law, Greg Waters, and Pip Karmel part of the writing team.
Sutherland is joined in the cast by Yoson An, Christopher James Baker, Dan Spielman, Mabel Li, Leonie Whyman, Sam Wang, Rhys Muldoon, Alison Bell, Chris Masters Mah, and Travis Cotton.
Her character is a financially desperate owner of a small local paper, whose plan to launch a new Chinese language paper leads her to uncover much more than she expected about the secret past of a murdered woman.
The LA-based model turned actress, known for her roles in Vikings and The Mist, was approached to play the role by Chen, with the pair sharing a Zoom call and the actress going on to make a tape.
She said the focus on what Belle does after she is widowed was part of what drew her to the role.
“When you first see her, she is overcome by rage and I think that is underneath a lot of what she is doing,” she said.
“Any time you express something like that, it can be cleansing but I don’t think that’s it and then it leaves her – I think that rage is propelling her throughout the series.
“She wants to make a go of it on her own because it was a very different time period and getting a divorce wasn’t really what it was like today.”
A Brisbane native, Sutherland began modelling at 15, before moving to the US at 19, where she has worked as a model and actress ever since.
Her role as Queen Aslaug in Vikings was preceded by appearances The Devil Wears Prada and Arbitrage, as well as independent films Don’t Look Up, The Fortune Theory, and Day on Fire, starring Olympia Dukakis.
New Gold Mountain is her second Victorian-based production in three years following her role in Justin Dix’s survival horror/thriller Blood Vessel, which was filmed in Melbourne in 2018.
Sutherland described Sovereign Hill as “purpose-built” for the series.
“It was just a stroke of luck that sovereign hill exists because it was the perfect backdrop for New Gold Mountain,” she said.
“It wasn’t like a typical backlot where it’s the front of the building that’s painted and you walk in the door and the shot ends and you’re in half a weird set.”
“In Sovereign Hill, you walk through a door and you’re in a real theatre and you can film inside of the theatre that is there.
“Also, the COVID restrictions at the time meant we really had the opportunity to be there and film and not get in the way of people that were visiting.”
Sutherland is currently in New Zealand filming the next installment of the Evil Dead series, Evil Dead Rise, from writer/director Justin Cronin.
“I can’t give too much away but what I can say is what we’re doing is really cool and I’ve had a ball,” she said.
New Gold Mountain premieres on SBS on Wednesday, October 13.