“We had a history together in the country,” Boyd says during a recent phone interview from LA. “So as we arrived at a place we’d be like ‘oh, I remember being here.’ ‘We had dinner in that restaurant.’ We’d wonder where we were when we were filming and be like ‘oh, that was before we went to Moria.’ There were so many things going on. It just went by in a flash.”
Season One of Wild Thingswith Dominic Monaghan saw the 37-year-old nature lover travel to far-flung places like Vietnam, Cameroon, Laos, Ecuador and Guatemala with his cameraman Frank to find giant water bugs, bearded lizards and Giant Goliath Beetles, among many other unique species.
The recently-bowed second season, which Monaghan, in a separate email interview, describes as “bigger, bolder and hopefully braver,” has him looking for giant spitting cobras in Kenya, carnivorous ghost bats in Australia, and, in Boyd’s episode, New Zealand’s giant wetapunga, a huge insect Maoris call ‘the god of ugly things.’
Along the way, Boyd and Monaghan also take in a tribal Maori dinner, discover why giant dung beetles were imported into the country (warning: don’t watch during dinner), and return to LotR’s Hobbiton set, now a popular tourist attraction.
Of returning to Hobbiton, Monaghan writes: “It was a mixture of emotions. I felt happy to see that the Shire was still important to so many people. It also felt bitter-sweet to be there. Poignant. I was glad Billy was with me.”
Boyd agrees with his friend’s sentiments and recalls the off-camera moment when he and Monaghan decided to become impromptu bartenders and serve drinks to tourists patronizing Hobbiton’s Green Dragon pub.
“So you see these tourists coming in freaked out because Merry and Pippin were pouring their drinks. That rated highly as well.”
A long-time amateur naturalist who, long before he started the show, often planned his vacations around the discovery of a particular species, Monaghan uses Boyd as his de facto audience, playfully lecturing him about the creatures they encounter, including the cave weta, a smaller cousin to the wetapunga, and glow worms.
“It was pretty cool watching him with the weta or with these animals that I think a lot of people don’t know exist,” Monaghan says by phone of Boyd’s guileless reaction. “It’s exciting. I especially like the glow worm stuff because he asks all the right questions: what are these animals? How do they grow? How does that happen? And he almost plays the audience in a way, because when it’s just me on my own I don’t get the opportunity to get asked those questions. Billy can ask the questions that the audience would ask.”
Boyd says his friend’s affinity for and knowledge of nature has been a hallmark of their friendship.
“For the first three or four years that I knew Dom I thought he just made up stuff,” Boyd says, laughing. “I thought, ‘Oh, he’s just making this up,’ because I wouldn’t question him. Now I’ve grown to believe him, and most of his facts ring true. And if I’m at Dom’s house and pick up a novel, he’s pretty much always reading nature books, on animals, on behaviour. So he is incredibly knowledgeable on these animals. So it’s really interesting to sit with someone who is so knowledgeable.”
The focus of Wild Things is very much entertainment, with each episode climaxing with the discovery of a rare animal after much fingernail-biting over whether or not Monaghan will be lucky enough to find his prey. But Boyd thinks that they show’s importance stems from how it demystifies species viewers might be more predisposed to step on or swat than ooh and ah over.
“I think one of the most important things that Dom wanted to do is that people don’t scream when they see a spider, freaking out when they see a beetle in the house. These animals are as important as we are in the world. And it’s not like we’re at the top of some ladder and everything else is below it. We’re all sharing this world together, and just because something doesn’t look like a beautiful little puppy doesn’t make it any less valuable.”
For Monaghan, an increased awareness among his viewers of these animals, who are decidedly less cuddly than kittens or puppies, is enough.
“Daily on Twitter someone tells me they don’t kill spiders anymore,” he writes. “They tell me they don’t kill ants or bees or moths or flying insects. It’s the reason I do the show. And the animals thank them all!”