Dominic Monaghan, who played the ill-fated Charlie Pace on ABC’s Lost, attacks a true change-of-Pace role in his newest TV effort, a nature documentary series for BBC America. And he’s a natural…
Monaghan, who also played “Merry” Brandybuck in the Lord of the Rings movie series, is acting without a script this time. In Wild Things with Dominic Monaghan, which premieres Tuesday night at 10 p.m. ET, he plays himself: an actor who also happens to have a strong passion for the natural world, a natural appetite for thrill-seeking, and, as it turns out, an impressive aptitude as the host of a new TV nature series.
Each installment of Wild Things sends Monaghan on a mini-mythic quest, seeking out the deadliest ant, say, or, in the opener, the world’s largest spider.
These quests are anything but simple. Before Monaghan even gets to the cave in Laos where the giant Huntsman spider is said to reside — a spider so remote and elusive, it was discovered only in the year 2000 — he encounters other things that can hurt or kill him. A python. An unexploded bomb. A scorpion, a monitor lizard and a green tree viper. And in every case, Monaghan’s instinct is not to run away, but to get closer. To grab the python by the tail, the scorpion by the head, and other bold behavior.
And he not only demonstrates this kind of fearless and confident behavior, but provides stream-of-consciousness commentary as he does so. If you don’t know why you should watch yet another nature show, much less one hosted by an actor, tune in. Within minutes, you’ll have your answer.
Monaghan combines the enthusiasm and in-the-field indefatigability of Sir David Attenborough with the gung-ho derring-do of the late Steve Irwin — a description Monaghan wasn’t quite prepared to accept.
“Thanks, man,” he says, speaking to me for TV Worth Watching by phone Monday. “That is a huge compliment. I’m not entirely comfortable with it, because I find both of those gentlemen to be complete legends in that field.
“Obviously, the late Steve Irwin was a highly accomplished herpetologist, and ran a zoo, and had animal expertise that I can only dream of. And I also think he was a true original, and someone who, as we know, died for what he loved, which is an incredible legacy that he left behind.
“And then David Attenborough — I mean, they kind of broke the mold with David Attenborough. He’ll probably go down as the greatest-ever televised natural historian of all time. He can do no wrong, really.
“So I’m hugely complimented by what you say, and those gentlemen were definitely influences in the way that I approached the show… The combination of a little bit of science and enthusiasm was probably influenced by David Attenborough, and then the willingness to put myself in the firing line, and enjoy the kind of adrenaline aspect of it, was probably a little more like Steve Irwin.”
Monaghan is nothing is not game — diving into murky waters, kayaking into foreboding caves, and clearly loving it every tentative, sometimes dangerous step of the way. He talks gently to snakes, and even insects, trying to soothe and respect them even as they prepare to strike him with their potentially lethal venom. If there’s such a thing as a spider whisperer, Monaghan is it.
“I find that I can talk about these animals at length just because I’m excited to be there,” he explains. “With animals, I find them so much fun to be around, and such a privileged experience, that I don’t feel like I run out of things to say.”
As for his gentle way with the creatures he encounters?
“I want all animals to have a positive experience hanging out with me,” he says, “and I’d want the same in the other direction, you know.”
Eight episodes were shot for the first season (“We go to Ecuador, Venezuela, Guatemala, Cameroon, Namibia, Laos, Vietnam and Malaysia,” he rattles off breathlessly), which was sold without a pilot presentation. And that speaks well for a second season, because Wild Things is even more impressive as a finished product than as a general concept. And if there is to be a Season 2, Monaghan and his team already have mapped out a dozen new stories to tell, and places to go, and experts to contact.
“Because my hope, in the second season,” Monaghan confides, “is to make the show better. Bigger, better, brasher, more ambitious.
“We try and tell more impossible stories, we try and go to some more difficult locations. So it’s going to take a little more preparatory time than the first season did. But if you make a second season of the show, it should always be better than your first season.”
That’s something Monaghan certainly achieved as an actor on Lost. And now, as both a host and producer of Wild Things with Dominic Monaghan, it’s something he’d love to do again.
Based on the premiere episode, he’s more than earned the right to try.