THE CROCODILE HUNTER: COLLISION COURSE - Q&A with Steve Irwin, Terri Irwin and director John Stainton
Movie Interview by Kris Griffiths
PHASE9 joins Steve and Terri Irwin and director John Stainton promoting their new film at London Zoo.
(To John) You've worked for ten years with the Irwins and it must have been quite a daunting prospect making the huge leap from TV documentaries to a feature film. Could you tell us more about it?
JOHN STAINTON: We'd been toying with the idea of making a movie since about 1995 and for the whole time we were trying to find the right mix of plot and script that would allow Steve to be just as he is on television and have a decent plot behind him. We eventually formulated this idea that allowed him to function well in both a TV and movie format.
TERRI: The absolute reality behind the difference between documentary filming and movie filming are things like catering, air-conditioned trailers, a loo... For ten years I've been filming with four men in the middle of nowhere where there isn't even a bush, eating beans and sleeping with large spiders. Steve couldn't understand why I wanted to sit in an air-conditioned trailer while he sat under some tarpaulin stretched between two trees - I said "because it's a 130 degrees out here and there's a million flies. He couldn't figure out why. That's the difference between filming a documentary and a movie.
STEVE: However in ten years of marriage and ten years of documentary making, Terri has never whinged or complained once, but I did get to see the finer qualities of a woman having a toilet.
(To Steve) Exactly how interested were you in the movie's sub-plot going on behind you about the CIA agents and everything?
STEVE: I was phenomenally interested. You remember the croc eating the satellite ball - I did all that. It's a lot more plausible than you think. The satellite beacon has come through the atmosphere, heated up, hit the ground and started rolling around and whack, the croc's grabbed it because they eat warm-blooded moving things. So I had to get a ball which was actually meat covered in gelatine and feed it to this croc named Monty... it was all hands-on. As for the rest of the movie, regardless of whether I was interested in it or not, I wasn't allowed on set, I was never allowed to see rushes, never got told the story, the plot, nothing. It hurt my feelings a little bit but John wanted it like that so I could flow through the movie completely natural, unfazed, not biased and naïve basically. I just did my job and got on with it.
(To Steve) You deal with these deadly creatures up close with such enthusiasm and a big grin on your face. Don't you ever get afraid, and if you do, how do you deal with it? Don't you ever worry that this crocodile is going to kill you?
STEVE: I think there's a fear factor in everybody and that's what actually keeps you alive. For me, I was born into wildlife. I didn't have a choice I just had a gift, which my parents realised I had when I was just four years old and they helped my gift flourish. With the likes of venomous snakes, sharks and crocodiles, I can do what most people find unbelievable... people who think I'm either scared, crazy or have got no brain. I'm not scared or crazy, I'm just so well rehearsed that I have complete confidence in what I'm doing. I believe it's exactly the same as someone else in another profession. My apprenticeship has been over twenty years long but I'm still learning. Look at fire fighters and electricians - electricity can kill you quicker than a crocodile, no ifs, buts or maybes... one flash and you're ash. An electrician might take plenty of zaps on the way to becoming a fully qualified tradesman but he'll just get on with it just like I've done. Pain helps you learn very quickly. Once bitten twice shy - I guess I've just lived my life according to that rule.
How do you (Terri) put up with him constantly putting both your lives at risk and how did you (Steve) find a woman like Terri?
STEVE: Can I go first?
TERRI: I'm a mail-order bride!
STEVE: Well I'm not a firm believer in fate or mail order brides. I'd been around the bush for a couple of years prior to 1991 and I hadn't seen too many Sheilas around where I was, only a few female crocodiles. So I came back to my parents' zoo, which they'd established and I was doing a routine demonstration just like you do at London Zoo. I was right in there with my favourite croc who's trying to kill me and stuff while I feed him chickens, then I look into the crowd and there's this drop dead gorgeous Sheila staring straight at me and I'm like "wow, look at that little beauty". I was hoping that she'd stay behind afterwards and she did stay behind and, fair dinkum, we started talking and that was it. We were talking about conservation issues and it was love right there and right then.
TERRI: Despite the fact that I couldn't understand anything he was saying, I could sense that he loved these animals and when I watch Steve working with wildlife I always feel like I'm in a movie. I don't sit there and think "oh my goodness he's going to die", I'm on the edge of my sight wondering how he's gonna get out of this. It's more intrigue, adventure and excitement and fortunately for me I'm usually with him. There're a lot of people whose partner has a dangerous job who are glad that they make it home after work every day but for me I'm usually with him, which makes it a lot easier because I can work with him and back him up. But he's never been bitten by a venomous snake... Whenever he has been bitten it's been his own fault and he'll be the first to admit that. He genuinely believes in what he's doing and is passionate about it, and his ethics are that the animals come first. That's something I'll always admire.
(To Steve) Do you own a suit or have you just got dozens and dozens of these safari outfits?
STEVE: MGM bought me twenty-two new sets of khakis for the movie and these new flashy embroidered ones, which I'm not all that keen on. I'll be ditching these as soon as the promotion is over. As for owning a suit, the scariest day of my entire life was my wedding day. I'm standing there in a tuxedo with this tight thing around my neck and I'll tell you what, I'd rather have a boa constrictor wrapped around me. That's the problem with those suits - there's too much stiff in them. So yes, I have worn a suit but I'll never do it again. I've learnt from my mistake.
(To Steve) The point of the film is to make people aware of the wildlife around them. How optimistic are you that the lesson will be learnt?
STEVE: I am 100 percent optimistic. Not only do we have a great conservation message rubbing off in the film but also globally right now there are so many people working on the repair of our planet. Unfortunately there are third world nations that are destroying it quicker than we can develop technology to repair it. Over here you guys have the most famous natural history unit in the world, based right here. David Attenborough, what an absolute legend... he was my hero and still is. Your blue chip natural history films that have come out of the BBC and everyone else are just stunning. As for us, we're all conservationists through and through - that's what we live for and I'll die defending wildlife. We're wildlife warriors. Every dollar we earn from THE CROCODILE HUNTER goes straight into conservation... that's how dedicated we are to it.