"I've been hurt quite a few times by animals—stung and bitten and scratched and stabbed," actor/adventurer Dominic Monaghan said. "This year I have about 40 stitches in my arm from an animal that I meet. I had to get sewn up a few times, so it does happen."
This season, the former "Lost" star goes to Kenya to play with the giant spitting cobra, to the Australian Outback to find a ghost bat, to Brazil to meet the titan beetle, and to New Zealand with his "Lord of the Rings" pal, Billy Boyd, to expose the giant wetapunga. Along the way, Monaghan and crew come across creatures great and small—many of which are on his personal bucket list of animals to see.
"This season, I went to find my favorite snake in the world, which is the gaboon viper. That was pretty special," he said. "Swam the [Great] Barrier Reef with arguably the world's most venomous creature, the box jellyfish. That was kind of an ambition of mine, too. And swam with sharks as well, which was pretty rad."
Monaghan and guides in each locale identify critters, and then he interacts with them. In the premiere filmed in Kenya, a local veterinarian takes the team on a side trip to operate on an elephant that has been injured by a poacher's arrow. When the six-ton beast comes to, it charges Monaghan and his cameraman, Frank Vilaca.
Despite the unpredictability of the animals and his injuries this season—he isn't allowed to reveal what animal caused him to get all those stitches until later in the season—Monaghan says he feels safer interacting with them then driving on the treacherous roads his team is forced to use.
He also says he can't think of an animal he doesn't want to encounter. Well, there is one.
"Maybe a One Direction fan," he said. "They scare me more than anything else."
Monaghan talked more about operating on the elephant, meeting other animals and having a spider species named after him.
I love your exuberance when you do the show. How genuine is that, or are you just getting viewers excited?
It would be kind of difficult to put that on, you know? I mean I tend to work from passion. I'm not very fortunate enough that I can't do that. So one of the things that I'm passionate about in my life are all over the show: football—or soccer as you guys call it. I'm very passionate about young people. There's culture, there's food, there's travel and then there's also the animals. And I can't really fake excitement.
Speaking of exciting, how great is it to have a spider named after you like you did after the first season?
Yeah, actually it's fantastic, especially in the field of science for people to know that. I know a lot of anthropologists; I know a lot of biologists. I know a lot of herpetologists. So that's a great honor and something I don't take lightly. It's something I'm sure will be one of those things I'll be able to tell my grandchildren about...
MORE HERE: Dominic Monaghan gets wild thing all his own
Were you surprised when you found that or did you know?
I was with a biologist who was looking for stuff. He was collecting specimens outside the cave and I was helping him. He said, "if I find a new species, you can name it." If you find something yourself you can't name it after yourself. It's a faux pas in the biology world. So I said, "Oh, great. That sounds fantastic." I didn't think that we'd find a new species. So a few months later ... he emailed me and said it was indeed a new species and said, "I'm gonna honor that promise that I gave; we're gonna name it the Monaghan spider."
I often think, "Is he crazy?" Have you ever actually thought that yourself? "Why am I doing this?"
No, not really. It's something that I want to do. I love animals. I love the show. There's no animal that I wouldn't want to have an experience with just because it was dangerous or scary. I mean just because something's dangerous that doesn't make it any less scientific. Just because something has the ability to hurt you doesn't mean it's not important. So those things override any sense of danger. But I'm not scared of animals. I don't have a fear of animals; it's a natural thing to be curious about animals.
The crazy stuff is like driving at night, flying on strange planes—those kinds of things are way more scary than hanging out with the animals.
Like in Season 2 premiere, you comment about that road in Kenya that's super busy.
Yeah, yeah. I know. Obviously you guys don't see all the driving that we do. We do a hell of a lot of driving. So you'll see some of the driving that we do on camera but then once we finish for a day we might have to drive a couple of hours or three hours to a new location so that in the morning we can start and that involves jumping in the car with drivers who you don't know who are overtired driving on very dangerous roads. Pitch black, no streetlights. I think that's clearly the most dangerous.
How about your cameraman and your producer, are they always all the way in like you are?
I don't think they're AS in as I am. I probably dictate the mood on set. Certainly in the first season of the show I made it very clear that they didn't need to be as scared of snakes as they were being. We work on the crew to get them much more accustomed to those types of animals. But Frank, my cameraman, he's not a massive snake junkie like I am. He doesn't love insects like I do. He's OK with them over the years, but they probably see why I do because they have to come along and shoot me.
Do you have anybody there saying, "OK Dom, this is too much? We can't do this one."
No, because I call the shots with the animals. I'll say when it's almost gone too far or when the animal's too tired and when we're gonna wrap the scene because the animal's getting too sketchy. So I usually call the shots. I've certainly been in situations with the crew where I say, "OK, that's it, we're not gonna keep going with this snake. It's getting too hot or the snake is getting too annoyed." I've shut down scenes based on that.
That's the beauty of being the producer too, right? Being the boss.
Yeah. I mean I'm not the boss. I'm one of the people that makes the decisions in the field. I am one of the people that artistically makes some of the decisions. And yeah, that is helpful because I can kind of say "I'm not gonna do that."
How do you decide what you're going to go after for the season?
Well like I said, I work from passion. So the things that I'm very passionate about are the animals that usually get picked. So this season we wanted to rev up the intensity so we're even a little bit more dangerous than normal. I wanted to do things like deadly snakes and some mammals and lots of bigger animals.
I tend to do animals most people don't know about. They're either rare or they're large or they've not been spoken about. I mean I love lions and tigers and elephants and polar bears and things like that, but those stories have been told to a certain extent. "Wild Things," hopefully, tells stories that are of animals that you've never heard of.
This year ... I saw some pretty incredible frogs in Costa Rica and went to find the world's only venomous primate in Thailand. So we did some pretty special things.
You do a lot of your own research then or already know a lot about of these animals.
I approach my team at the start of each season with probably 20 or so ideas. And of those 20 or so ideas they probably come back to me with between six or eight that they like. We end up bringing together a season that's—well last season it was 10 episodes. So it's probably like half the extent of my ideas and half theirs. Things change.
Is there anything you won't taste?
I don't do a lot of eating. I think that's kind of something that you saw in Season 1 that it looks like I ate a lot of scary food but, I mean, I don't eat that much scary food. I'm not like a skunk eater or anything like that. I'll eat local food that's available and sometimes that can be a little crazy, but I'm not eating, you know, fucking massive spiders or big scorpions or snakes. I have no interest in eating animals that are alive.
You say in the intro that you've always been interested in wildlife. When did that start or how did that start?
There wasn't a time in my life when I wasn't interested in animals that I can remember. I just was always very curious about the ants in my garden or the bee that was trapped in my bathroom or the lizards and snakes I would see on holiday. I was very naturally curious and fearless with those animals. I think obviously a lot of that is dictated to you by your parents and your siblings. My brothers had no fear either. My dad and mum both love animals. So it's just always been something that's been in our lives.
Did you grow up in a rural area and have lots of places that you could go exploring and stuff like that?
Not heavily rural. I grew up in Germany where we would always have a garden and a place to go out and play with rocks and trees. So it wasn't any different from most people's kind of understanding of finding nature in big cities and stuff. But I'm always on the search for information. I'm a big information nut, and I realized if you're into animals there's almost an endless amount of information that you can learn about those creatures and I just wanted to learn. You can never know all of this because you can never fully exhaust that well, but as soon as I knew that there was an encyclopedia of knowledge to try and learn I continued to read books and buy books about them.
Season 1 you kind of created a catchword by saying "ginormous" a lot. Was it weird to hear your own speaking habits?
Yeah, it was. It was funny to realize the words that I'm very partial to. Season 1 I realized that I say "ginormous" a lot and I say "wow" a lot and I say, "Check this out," a lot. And then this season there've been a few other things that I say quite a bit. I mean obviously I say "be curious" quite a lot this year because we're trying to evoke people's curiosity and to get them interested in a sense of curiosity. So I talk about curiosity a lot. I talk a lot about evolution this year. So it is interesting to see the vocabulary.
One thing I loved in the first episode of this season was you saying tortoise.
Yeah, tortoise. You guys say tortoise [tawr-tuhs] and I say tortoise [tawr-toyse].
I love the banter between you and Frank. Is that a British thing or is that just how you say it?
I have no idea. We'd have to do some sort of survey, but obviously it's spelled T – O – R –T – O – I – S – E. So I mean if you were to say it phonetically it would be [tawr-toyse], but I think the American vocabulary ... changes it to [tawr-tuhs]. I don't know.
You are obviously correct, right?
Well, of course.
That episode focuses on the cobra but I was very interested when you found the injured elephant in that side trip. Tell me about that experience.
We were kind of joking, as you can see in the car on the way down. I would say, "Watch it charge us. Can I just run behind Frank?" And he goes, "Oh no, you can just to go to the vehicles." We didn't think for one minute that it was going to charge us. Then we saw this horrific state that the elephant was in and felt very bad to be humans.
We watched this surgery and saw how much pain the animal was in. And then obviously it woke up and tried to kill us. But one of the things that we really loved about that charge was that by showing us that it was defending its territory it proved that the surgery had gone well and that it felt much better.
I mean the health and safety of the animals that we spend time with is paramount to us and we all really love it when we can witness an animal feeling better.
Is the fact that it was injured by a poacher and his arrow disappointing to you; that poaching still goes on even though it's illegal?
It's tragic. It's a tragic statement us as a species that we kill an animal for its ivory that possesses no real monetary value to me unless it's attached to an elephant. An elephant is a very valuable animal but it's a wild animal and it should stay as such. The ivory that it has attached to its body only has any value to me because it's attached to an elephant. As soon as you fracture it from an elephant it becomes useless. ... It made us all very ashamed to be humans, the thought about that we're a pretty disgusting animal in that regard. And I'm hoping that maybe someone seeing the show will feel a little differently about that trip they're taking to Africa to pick up some ivory.
We spoke to the anti-poaching people, the wardens. And the said the lack of education in certain parts of the world is profound. Tourists will come over and they'll think that an elephant's tusk is like a tooth. It will lose maybe five or 10 of them in its lifetime and just drop them on the Serengeti floor and then people will come over and pick them up. ... They don't know you have to kill the elephant to take the ivory. We're hoping that maybe people will get educated about it.
Later this season you go back to New Zealand and you go with Billy Boyd, your "Lord of the Rings" co-star. How was that reunion both with the two of you and just being in the area were you filmed for so long?
Well if you know anything about [us] you'll know that we see each other all the time. Billy comes and lives with me when he's in L.A. and I go see him and his family in Scotland. So there wasn't really any sense of a reunion because I see Billy probably more than any other friend on a yearly basis. But going back to New Zealand together was beautiful and emotional and a lot of fun. We were able to have these experiences where we didn't need to explain what we were feeling or going through because Billy and I have both been there together. So it was a very wonderful time.
What are you hunting for in New Zealand?
We go looking for the world's largest insect, which is called the wetapunga. It's a type of cave-dwelling, ginormous cricket of sorts. Ginormous.
This year you're also hosting BBC America's Earth programming block. How did you feel about being approached to do that?
I grew up with naturalistic programs. I grew up watching with my family and Earth Night is obviously a night when they're asking people to know their planet and enjoy their planet and connect with their planet. I think all those things are really important. Obviously "Wild Things" is on BBC America so I think there's a nice fit. And they've acquired a lot of David Attenborough's stuff and he's the master as far as I'm concerned, in terms of nature programs. So to be able to introduce some of these shows is kind of like a big full circle.
Was he an inspiration for you?
Massive inspiration, yeah.
What would Hetty Wainthropp [of his really early British show "Hetty Wainthropp Investigates"] think if Geoffrey were doing this what you've been doing?
She'd probably tell me to quit messing around, probably because I'm gonna get hurt, you know? She's very matter of fact, Hetty Wainthropp, and had a lot of great common sense and would stop me from getting in trouble. But she'd probably start telling me to stop playing around with silly animals and grow up a little bit. It was a great show to work on. I learned a lot from Patricia [Routledge]; she's a lovely lady. It seems a long time ago now, but the farther away I get from it the more precious it feels.
The reason I bring it up is that still airs here. So we still are able to see that. It's on PBS.
Yeah, what's it on? Is it on like PBS or something?
Yeah, it is. I think on Saturdays, yeah.
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