What’s it like seeing yourself on TV?
I am used to seeing myself on television but I rarely watch my shows. I like to watch a film the first time it is transmitted and try to view it objectively, as someone else, but after that I don’t see my films very often. I don’t have cable or satellite so I never see my shows on Discovery or Animal Planet although my girlfriend calls and says “I’ve just been watching you in so-and-so film”. It felt surreal turning on the television in a hotel in Orissa, India and seeing my old film “Black Mamba”.
Do you like being famous?
Celebrity does not sit well with me, I do not see myself as any different from before. It is very nice to be stopped by people who tell me how much they like my shows but sometimes trips to the supermarket or town can take much longer than expected. I always try to carry a few production postcards to sign because folks often come up to me clutching their shopping receipt and they are very pleased to receive something a bit more tangible and worthwhile. Fortunately my friends still treat me exactly the way they always have, the bast….s !
What do you think to Steve Irwin?
Steve and I make very different shows. Journalists often try to make out we are rivals but it is all nonsense.Steve has done wonders to raise public awareness about reptiles and their conservation so hat’s off to him.
I have not worked with him, nor even met him, but I am sure if we did meet we could sit down and crack a couple of tubes and talk hair-raising herps til the roos come home !
Do you ever stage captures?
The number one rule of “ O’Shea’s Big Adventure” (or “O’Shea’s Dangerous Reptiles” as it is known on UK’s Channel Four) is no staged captures and no re-takes of captures so if the camera stopped working, tough, have to find another one and film that. This was what I wanted to do when we first discussed the series, I wanted it real and dangerous, from the ‘will they succeed point of view’. The viewer doesn’t know if we are going to find the quest species at the end, and nor do we. Out of 30 Big Adventures we have failed to find the quest or target species in about four films so that is not a bad average. I feel this approach reflects what genuine fieldwork is actually like, and I should know, I spent seven months in the Amazon for the Royal Geographical Society and five months in Papua New Guinea for Oxford University’s Dept. of Clinical Medicine and Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine.
What is your favourite football team?
I don’t have much time for sport but I always watch the World Cup because I like international competition like that. Obviously I will be supporting England. On the club side, my brother and some friends support the Wolves (Wolverhampton Wanderers), my home town team, but it must be frustrating because they can’t get things right, they were almost guaranteed to go up to the Premier and they messed it up and let Albion in.
What is your favourite moment during the filming of O’Shea?
A favourite moment must have been being eye to eye with the female king cobra. I am sure she was trying to communicate with me, asking me a one word question “Why ?”
After that I wanted to release her as soon as possible and seeing here swim away down the jungle creek was another great moment.
I get real pleasure out of giving a creature it’s freedom back once it has allowed me to introduce it to the outside world via the wonder that is television.
Other favourite moments, riding the elephant through Jaipur high street traffic and finding the ninth species of python recorded for Papua New Guinea, the first since 1953, even better for the fact the camera was there as it happened, no retakes of captures, remember.
Do you have a girl / boyfriend?
I have a girlfriend who I met when she interviewed me for a cable television station over four years ago. Her name is Bina Mistry (great name) and she now works for the BBC.
Do you think you get all the credit when the production team are the ones that really do all the hard work?
I take issue with the phrase ‘all the hard work’ but I probably do get all or most of the credit which is not fair on the team because these films are most definitely a team effort. That is why I have included some crew pix on the website, to acknowledge the fact it would not be possible without a dedicated film crew along for the ride.
Mind you, I also take all the flak if somebody doesn’t like something so sometimes it must be nice to be an anonymous member of the crew.
What is your favourite snake?
King cobra, hands down, no contest, what a snake !
What is your favourite food?
I am not a foody, I would be happy taking a tablet with all the necessary vitamins, nutrients etc. Cooking and eating takes up valuable time when I could be doing something else. I do like some foods, especially potatoes , and I like Mexican, Thai and Indian food but they do not always agree with my poor long-suffering stomach.
What is the most dangerous thing you have ever done?
Learned to dive, got bitten (several times), crashed a couple of cars and motorbikes, usual thrills and spills. My best friend Steve said, years ago, “Mark’ if you were a cat you would be dead by now”.
Are you scared of anything?
Heights (because I don’t bounce) and deep water because of two near drowning experiences.
How did you get into Herpetology? What do herpetologist do?
I was interested in reptiles from a very early age. I think it was because nobody else liked them !
I was fascinated by snakes and crocodiles and handled my first snake at Dublin Zoo, a boa constrictor ‘twice as long as I was tall’. I found my first wild snake, an adder, but was not successful in catching it, fortunately, I was eight. I kept my first snake from the age or eight or nine, an Italian grass snake appropriately named Escapist. My interest just evolved from there and now my hobby is my livelihood and my life.
Whats the most dangerous situation you’ve been in on the show?
Undoubtedly, running out of air on the bottom of the ocean on the outside of Ashmore Reef while filming “Sea Serpents”.
Whats in store for season 3?
We have filmed a series of four one-hour specials featuring reptiles from South and Southeast Asia. One hour gives us much more time to go into detail about the species concerned and also include other fascinating species, locations or sequences which would have been cut from a half hour film.
Whats the best way to get into Herpetology?
In the US many universities teach herpetology but in the UK it is not so easy. After all we only have a handful of species in Britain: four frogs, two toads, four newts, three lizards and three snakes. However, at UK university it is possible for a keen student to specialize in the herpetological aspects of zoology when they take a biological or zoological degree. In the US there are many more opportunities to study herps.
Other ways into herpetology include fieldwork and conservation as a volunteer, working in a collection such as a zoo, captive breeding, writing and photography. I am sure there are more, oh and television of course, but that is tough to get into.
When can we see season 3?
The third series may be showing on Channel Four in the UK in June (check the Radio Times for details) but the first two films have already been transmitted in the US on Animal Planet, “Cobra’s Revenge” went out in early January and “Python’s Grip” in early April. The other two films should follow over the summer. I cannot comment for the rest of the World because I am not aware of the schedules for National Geographic Canada nor Discovery channels worldwide.
Are there any plans for an O’Shea store on the site?
I would like to see some merchandising but at this point in time there is nothing available for purchase.
In ‘Green Blood’ you eat part of green blooded skink’s tail: Did that really not taste of anything?
The green-blooded skink tail tasted slightly bitter but not making a habit of chewing on lizard tails I cannot comment as to whether that is normal for other skinks or peculiar to green-blooded skinks. It certainly did not taste as bad as I expected but I would not recommend skink-tail as a delicacy, tiny lizard, little tail, you would need a lot of them, a bit like ‘lark’s tongue in aspic’.
Can we buy videos/DVDs of the show?
At this point in time you can’t, sorry. Nothing would give me greater pleasure than to see videos and DVDs available, especially the latter so we could include some of the out-takes and cut sequences and species, but sadly nothing is planned in this direction at present. I am frequently asked about this.
Whats your favourite episode?
Hmmmmm… a hard one to answer. I do like “Pilbara Cobra” and I really enjoyed taking a film crew to my old stomping ground of Papua New Guinea. I like different episodes for different reasons and there is usually something I like about every one.
In the ‘About’ Mark section, you talked about all the bits you couldn’t
show in the programme due to time constraints, are there any plans to do an ‘O’Shea uncut’ or ‘Outakes’?
Wouldn’t that be fun !
Mind you I think in view of some of the embarrassing things that have happened I might want some editiorial control over what went in and what stayed out !
DVDs would be the obvious place for that.
The locations on the show all look very glamorous, are the shoots as much fun to be on as they look on TV?
The shoots can be fun but they can, at times, be very stressful. We have a job to do, we are not on vacation, and if we are not succeeding in our quest it can cause tension. That said if we find what we were looking for there is a great feeling of ‘its in the can, we can relax a bit’. Many locations are glamorous, beautiful, remote and special but sometimes we travel and live in very basic conditions that would win no awards from style, cleanliness or comfort. Then there are the biting insects and tropical diseases to contend with !