'Wild Things'' Dominic Monaghan talks pet black widows and buffalo wings
Dominic Monaghan's agent is worried. After all, his client frolics with venomous snakes, spiders and other creepy crawlies on his show "Wild Things With Dominic Monaghan (second season premieres Tues. March 25 at 10:00 p.m. ET on BBC America), which sounds like a career-ending accident waiting to happen. "But it's his job to worry," Monaghan told me during our interview. "I have much more knowledge on the natural world than he does."
Monaghan has much more knowledge about the natural world than most of us, and he's not worried at all. Still, as the show goes "bigger" this season, there will be more danger and yes, a little more blood. Here's what Monaghan had to tell me about the biggest mistake people make about exotic creatures, how he keeps his black widow spider, and the dangers of buffalo wings.
The press release for the show promises "more blood" this season. Have you got all your fingers and toes? Is Frank, your cameraman, okay?
I'm okay, Frank's okay. We're all fine. There are a few kind of human casualties. We all get hurt in different ways. I get hurt on camera in ways that exciting and scary, I'm sure.
So, if no one's grievously injured, what's different about season two?
We tell bigger stories. It's faster, it's more dangerous, and the ambitions are a little higher. We work a little harder. It's what you'd expect from every second season of any show, I think. We listened to what the audience liked. Bigger animals, more excitement, just bigger.
The show has already traveled to seemingly every exotic location. Anything left on your bucket list?
There are a lot of things on my hit list. The Galapagos Islands, because of what I've read about Darwn and his experiences on the Galapagos. Christmas Island, Madagascar. Lot of places. Madagascar has one of my favorite mammals, the fossa, so I'd really like to go.
What's great about "Wild Things" is that it's not just about the wild things. It's almost like a travel show with bugs. You do so much more than just look for creatures.
This is how I pictured the show -- we bring cameras along and they film the way I holiday. I like to dive into everything I do, and we knew animals could polarize an audience. We're not doing horses and dogs, we're doing crazy animals people don't know about. I like telling those ignored animals stories, and we need to flesh those out with football, food, culture, cities. I kind of call it a travel nature show.
And you clearly adore these crazy animals. Is education a big part of it for you?
The whole reason I do the show is to change people's attitudes about these animals that people are most scared of. We're not scared of those things when we're born. When we're kids, we're afraid of falling and abandonment, but the rest comes in later. I try to build a path for people to see how amazing these animals really are.
On the show, you actually seem to connect with a lot of these animals.
I'm always surprised when the connection is pretty strong. Some connections with reptiles over the season have been profound and interesting to me. In terms of their behavior and stuff, we met this fish called the candiru, managed to fish one of those out in Brazil. It was just weird and wouldn't stop moving. It was living in this very strange slime, and we kept trying to fish it out of the water and coming up with great gobs of slime. It's almost blind and very aggressive, and there was just a surprising amount of behavior coming out of this fish.
Who do you have educating you about these bizarre creatures?
We have local guides, and I sit down with them the day we get there about what should I look out for. I do a lot of research about the country before we get there, and they tell us, "you will see this or that that." I also do a fair amount of snake handling in my spare time with friends in L.A. I go work with them, brush up on my skills. And I keep spiders in my house.
What is the biggest mistake people make about interacting with these animals?
Biggest mistake people make, they ask me if something is poisonous and, then, can I pick it up. You going to eat it? No? Then you can pick it up. And it's not about whether it's poisonous or not. It's about whether it's venomous or not. Venom, they can inject it into you. There's a huge difference between poisonous and venomous.
Do you ever go out looking for something and not find it?
There have been a few times where go out looking for something, then we find other things. We might find ourselves by the coast when we didn't expect it, for example. The show is always subject to change. There's an unpredictability factor. Sometimes we're successful, sometimes not, but as soon as we know what we're looking for, what's a guarantee instead of an outside chance, that's what we focus on.
We see you eating a lot of street food as you travel. Have you ever gotten sick?
Only time I've been sick was in season 1, I got sick eating buffalo wings on the day we came back to L.A. Street food is the way people eat in a lot of those countries, and it's the safest bet. You can always get sick wherever you go. I've got a strong stomach. But season 1, just that one time.
Given that some adventurers have been injured or, in the case of Steve Irwin, killed, are you ever frightened? Are you now hard to insure?
A lot of it is scary, and none of it is completely safe. But you can hurt yourself in your house. I don't really think about that at all. I don't think about my fear of death, but I don't want to die. I think the insurance company probably had a tough time, but they told them, he's going to go do it, so you cover him or someone else will. We travel with a medic, anti-venom, and a pretty significant medical kit. We're as safe as we can be, and safety is paramount. We go out there and make an action-filled drama documentary, but I don't consider myself a dare devil. I love animals. I don't mind some bites and scratches.
What's the most important take away you hope people get from "Wild Things"?
Hopefully they'll get curious about pristine jungle and wild animals. I'm hoping to start the curiosity, get people to step out of their comfort zone. I think animals and pets aren't just dogs and cats, but maybe less cuddly. I hope people will learn and get excited about watching something that's fun, and I hope people will rethink how they think about snakes and spiders in their houses. On a daily basis, people tell me I used to kill bees, or I'm okay with that spider in my bathroom now.
Speaking of spiders in the bathroom, what less cuddly pets do you have?
A black widow spider, a tarantula, a python, a praying mantis, and two lizards, relatively small. Slightly outlandish creatures, so when people come over they're pretty interested.
You talk with Frank, your cameraman, quite a bit during the show. You seem like good pals.
We're very friendly. Very good friends -- there are only six people in my crew, so we're a pretty tight crew. He has an on-camera personality, and we continue to work with it. He almost got killed by an elephant, so that was a bonding experience. He's my right hand man. Sometimes he gets closer to the action than I do. We've been through a lot together.
How do you balance acting gigs with "Wild Things"?
I can't act when I'm doing "Wild Things." The places we go are too far away, and no production is going to work with me when there's a chance I could come back hurt. But I have six months free, then the show for the rest of it. Acting is my first passion, but I'm passionate aout a lot of different things. I don't complain about a high class, sophisticated problem.
You're also producing new shows, right?
We're working on them now, there are a bunch. We have some interesting announcements for "Wild Things" and splinter projects I'll certainly produce, but I'm not sure how much hosting I can do.
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