The erstwhile Middle Earth resident turned nature-show host on cobras, fire ants, Twitter followers, and other wild beasts.
He may be the host of Wild Things, but he’s not the star.
It’s not uncommon for celebrities to lend their voices to nature documentaries—e.g., Oprah’s narration of Discovery Channel’s Life series, or Morgan Freeman’s penguin film. But it’s rare to see an actor accustomed to makeup effects and green screens get up close and personal with a nature show’s real talent: the wildlife. Even if you need to cruise IMDb to remind yourself that Dominic Monaghan was a key figure in two of the most obsessed-over franchises of the past decade—as Charlie in Lost and Hobbit Meriadoc Brandybuck in the Lord of the Rings trilogy—there’s no denying that it’s impressive to observe the guy snorkelling up to a venomous giant water bug in Vietnam’s aptly named Crocodile Lake. “I don’t necessarily view myself as a celebrity,” says Monaghan. “I think of myself as an actor. I’ve never wanted to become a celebrity. Because of the acting work I’ve done, I was able to go into meetings and pitch a nature show. But I wasn’t pitching ‘Dom the celebrity goes to look for animals.’ I was suggesting that someone who’s an enthusiastic traveller and interested in wildlife could make a good host for a show about animals that a lot of people might not want to go looking for.”
There are no stunt doubles for handling cobras.
That whole picking-up-a-poisonous-snake-up-by-the-tail thing might seem like an homage to the late Steve “The Crocodile Hunter” Irwin, but Monaghan confirms the technique is simply how you “attempt to control them in a way that doesn’t hurt them and doesn’t hurt you.” It’s also part of the economical approach that he insists is essential to what they’re doing. “It’s a very small crew. We don’t have anything apart from the things needed to film [the action],” says Monaghan. “It’s the only way you can film nature shows, in the hope you will see things along the way that you can interact with.” In the case of Wild Things’ first episode, the animals that cross his path include a massive python and a feisty cobra, both of which the host expertly handles. “I was delighted we were able to find that kind of cobra because I think it’s the one that kills more people in India than any other cobra—and it’s also a stunning animal.”
No, he doesn’t have a death wish.
While discussing his interest in mortality on George Stroumboulopoulos Tonight last year, Monaghan casually mentioned that he has “no fear of death.” Although the animals Monaghan pursues on Wild Things are decidedly deadly, he says his enthusiasm for, say, flesh-eating army ants is fuelled more by admiration than adrenaline. “I have a small amount of trepidation about how I’m going to get to that place, but I’m not scared of dying and ceasing to be and not existing anymore,” he says. “I’m not courting death—at least I don’t feel like I’m courting death doing this show. I’m doing this show as a love letter to what I have gained from my interest in the natural world. It’s like saying thank you and raising awareness about something that’s meant so much to me.”
Wildlife wrangling is just as exciting on Twitter.
Monaghan, whose handle is @DomsWildThings, is surprisingly accessible and candid on Twitter. This tendency can lead to amusing exchanges with “Losties” and “Ringers,” whose fanaticism knows no bounds online. “If I were to make a judgment call on both of those groups,” he says, “I think I’d give [the title of “craziest”] to the Lord of the Rings fans at the moment, simply because The Hobbit has come back into culture.” Still, he insists that 98 per cent of his Twitter interactions are positive. “Even the crazy fans are still positive and cool,” he adds. “They might blow up my feed a bit, but that’s fine—that’s why I got Twitter.”
Wild Things with Dominic Monaghan premieres on OLN on Jan. 21 at 9 p.m.