Dominic Monaghan is best known as castaway Charlie on “Lost” and as Merry in “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy, but he’s as passionate about nature — especially extreme creatures — as he is about acting. After pitching ideas around town for an exotic travel and animal show, BBC America bit, and a couple of months later he was on his way to Ecuador to find the world’s most dangerous ant for the aptly titled “Wild Things,” an eight-episode series premiering Jan. 22.
Monaghan traveled to Vietnam in search of a giant water bug, to Laos to find a giant huntsman spider, Namibia to hunt down a hairy scorpion, Venezuela to look for a giant centipede, and to Cameroon, Malaysia and Guatemala for other creature encounters. “We wanted animals that would create — pardon the expression — a buzz,” he says, noting a particular interest in insects. “I had certain animals that I wanted to see, places that I wanted to go to and tell those stories. Ants and bees are probably my favorites and I wanted to include those.”
There were some snake encounters along the way, and Monaghan got up close and personal. “I had to quickly work out whether it’s a snake I can handle. Is it venomous? How good a mood is it in? Is it ready to bite? Is it calm? Will it be safe for me to work with? You have to make decisions very fast and live by them. As soon as you grab the snake by the tail you’re in, you can’t really back away at that point,” he notes, allowing that he’s been bitten before, and there was a medic standing by just in case. “But for the most part I find that they don’t want to harm you. They just want to be left alone.”
Dangers aside, there were other challenges of shooting in exotic places. “The weather was always 100 degrees or more. We would be making journeys by car most days before or after filming. We’d land in a capital city but some of these more remote places, you can’t fly or take a boat or train there. You have to drive six, seven, eight hours to places and you’re filming when you get there so we were all pretty exhausted. Some of my crew had a rough time with the food. I didn’t get sick but a few people did,” says Monaghan. His biggest challenge was having to go 120 feet off the ground to get close to a giant honeybee in Malaysia, as he’s afraid of heights. “I know what it means to have an irrational fear, and I’ve attempted to deal with that by exposing myself to that fear.”
He’s not afraid of any animals, however, and remembers being interested in them from an early age. “I was brought up in a family with a biologist father who became a teacher and a mom who liked frogs and lizards and stuff like that. We had them in our house,” recalls Monaghan, who currently keeps two spiders, a snake, a chameleon and a praying mantis as pets. He has someone feed and give them water when he’s away, “But they’re low-maintenance.”
Considering “Wild Things” a sort of tribute to the late animal expert Steve Irwin, one of his idols, Monaghan hopes that the show will prompt viewers to “think a little differently about the animals they’re expose to in their daily life; the spider in the bathroom or the wasp that’s flying around outside. Instead of freaking out, you might think, ‘I’ll let him live out his days and catch mosquitoes and flies for me.’" He also hopes to impart a global perspective. “What I’m trying to say in this show is it’s fine to travel where you don’t speak the language, eat food you might not have had before, and have experiences with animals that you might not know much about. The show is an encouragement to go and explore, to go look in your garden and lift up rocks, to be curious. Being curious keeps us alive.”
For Monaghan, it was equally important “to try to raise awareness of the importance of these animals and how there’s a delicate balance in nature. If they’re around, they’re around for a reason. Nothing in nature is by accident. Everything is there for a reason,” he reminds. Not surprisingly, he supports endangered species causes. “I contribute to an orangutan orphanage in Borneo. And I have a forest in India. I had the opportunity to work out how much carbon I used in a year, especially with all the flying I do, and was able to offset it by buying a forest,” he explains.
Still very much involved in acting, Monaghan most recently shot the movies “Molly Moon,” in which he plays the villain, and “Deep Burial,” a psychological thriller. “My ideal career structure would be to do a film or two a year and do ‘Wild Things’ for the rest of the year. I’m passionate enough about both of those things to keep them both moving at the same time. It’s better to be too busy than not busy at all.”
He’s already thinking about the next round of “Wild Things” episodes and where they might take him. “I want to do an episode in the ocean. I’d love to go to the Galapagos, Easter Island, Christmas Island, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Finland, Norway, Canada, Russia. There are so many stories that I want to tell about fascinating animals around the world,” Monaghan says. “We could just keep running with this thing.”