Dominic Monaghan is best known for his roles in Lost, Lord of the Rings and X-Men, but offscreen, he's something of a globetrotting wild man. That's why his BBC series Wild Things with Dominic Monaghan is such a perfect fit. The show brings viewers up close with strange, sometimes dangerous animals in exotic corners of the world. The second season premieres tonight at 10 p.m. EST, and if you're expecting anything like Man vs. Wild, think again. Despite his intense television persona, Monaghan is laid-back, a little bit quirky (he paints his thumbnails because it hides the dirt underneath), and has a serious soft spot for all animals – even the creepiest critters like bees, spiders, and praying mantises (among his many insect pets is one named Gisele, "because she's leggy").
Monaghan swung by the Men's Journal offices this afternoon to chat about Wild Things' second season and why he wants to carry Steve Irwin's legacy.
Where did the idea for Wild Things come from?
Expeditions have always been my holidays. When I was 18, I went to Borneo to find the orangutans. When I was 20, I went to Thailand to find the king cobra. When I was 24 I went back to Thailand to swim with the whale sharks... And then Steve Irwin died and I was absolutely devastated. He was a hero and he died doing something I wanted to do. Over that mourning period, I struck upon the idea that perhaps my own adventuring could make all the negative energy surrounding his experience into something positive again.
How did you convince the network to do the show?
You know, I shopped the show to a few networks and they just saw lawsuits. But eventually I connected to Dave Brady, who had success producing Survivorman, and I told him I wanted to go to Ecuador and lay down in a pit of army ants. Ants are my favorite animal, and army ants can easily strip whole cows. We were in Ecuador within two months.
Who turned you onto nature growing up?
My dad was a biologist so the bookcases in my house were all about wildlife and reefs and natural phenomenons. There is this one profound moment I remember. It was one day over the winter when my dad slaved over the stove for hours to make this fatty, buttery, lardy mix of sunflower seeds and sesame seeds and all sorts of strange ingredients. He let it cool, rolled it into a ball and stuck it into this nest outside for the birds. And it took fucking hours. I remember not having a clue about what he was getting at, why he’d put all this work into something when there wasn’t anything coming back. But there was something huge coming back. I just wasn’t connected to it yet.
What stops more people from getting out and exploring the world?
I'd guess fear. People are always asking me questions about fear – if I’m scared to go to certain places or be around certain animals or not know the language. But my whole thing is, just do it. Don’t over-intellectualize that stuff because if you sit and think about it too long, you'll talk yourself out of it. You just have to go. You could certainly die doing this show, just like you could die getting hit by a bus. This show represents life.
Where are you off to in season two?
We go to Kenya, Zambia, Costa Rica, Australia, Brazil, New Zealand, Japan, Thailand, and Arizona. It’s my hope to change peoples’ perceptions about animals that they’re probably scared of, so snakes and spiders and bats and bees, animals people recoil from. Just because you’re scared of something or it grosses you out doesn’t make it less important. All animals, including humans, are fighting to stay alive and have kids and find food. If you’re respectful to those animals, they’ll usually be respectful back.
Yeah, I did get pretty fucked up this round. There was a massive lizard in Thailand that bit my arm and I had to get like 40 stitches. But honestly, looking back, I can track the mistakes that I made that lead up to it. I see that he was warning me and I wasn’t listening.
Any bucket-list animals you're itching to get up close to?
Free-diving with great white sharks. It's the ultimate.
You've mentioned that you want to do a Steve Irwin special. What would you do?
Well, it's the 10-year anniversary of his death this year. I know Irwin's dive-master who was there when he died, and it's a long, delicate story, but I'd love to retrace some of his steps – go back to Queensland to meet his friends, swim the barrier reef, get up close with the kinds of animals that killed him, just to honor him in some way. He changed the way a lot of people thought about animals. The concept is in its infancy and it might not happen, but we'll see.