Combustible Celluloid

Interview with Steve Irwin


By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Buy Crocodile Hunter: Collision Course on DVD

Note: This story was co-written with Sonia Mansfield of the San Francisco Examiner.

Steve Irwin shows us his right thumb, asking us to feel it. Push down hard, he says, and you can feel a snake fang that broke off and got lodged under his skin. "It's been in there for 12-13 years," Irwin says proudly. He says he's been bitten and/or stung countless times. "I heal just like an alien. If a croc bit my arm off, I'd grow another one!"

Irwin and his wife Terri are the stars of the Discovery Channel's hit series "Crocodile Hunter," and now a new big screen movie, Crocodile Hunter: Collision Course. Sonia and myself have been sent to cover both aspects of Irwin's career.

Not to mention that it takes two of us to handle him.

"I'm sweating, mate!" he exclaims, wearing his trademark shorts in San Francisco's frigid summer weather. It helps that he's just finished wrestling a TV reporter to the ground.

Sonia jumps in with a probing, television-related question. In a "Celebrity Death Match," who would win: Steve Irwin or Crocodile Dundee (a.k.a. Paul Hogan).

"He wouldn't stand a chance," Irwin says. "I've got an age advantage. I've probably got a fitness advantage. I'm not sure about his stature, but I've probably got a couple of pounds on him. Plus I've been wrestling 12-foot crocs my whole life."

Always the diplomat, Irwin jumps in with "I take great pride in saying, 'Crocodile' Dundee is my favorite movie. Admittedly, Mick Dundee was a crocodile poacher, which is the enemy of Steve Irwin, so it's a little ironic. But I love that guy's humor."

"Crikey!" he adds, his trademark word.

We're informed that the "Crikey" count in Irwin's new film is somewhere around 30. But Irwin himself insists that his personal count is somewhere over a million. He's baffled by a recent visit to the Bible belt during which reporters continually asked him if he was taking the Lord's name in vain. "It's just a word I've always used," he says.

In Irwin's new movie, as well as his TV show, he captures, wrestles and wrangles various dangerous animals, from snakes to spiders to giant crocs. His faithful wife Terri is always on hand, helping him tramp through the mud, helping him cage these poisonous and deadly animals. Needless to say, it's a less than glamorous lifestyle.

Irwin describes his love at first sight. He'd been in the outback for about two years wrangling crocs before doing a personal appearance and a demonstration at the Australian zoo.

"I had this 15-foot croc. I'm feeding him, and you can see how beautiful he is, you can see the strike range, 3000 pounds per square inch, big teeth. And I look up and there's this woman in the crowd and our eyes meet, and I'm like, [gasp]. Dead-set, love at 20 feet. She's drop dead gorgeous and I'm spellbound. Shot in the heart with cupid's arrow. Wow!"

Unfortunately, Irwin forgot about the croc he was handling and had to make a run for it. But Terri stayed after the presentation to talk with him. He took her on a tour of the grounds and she got conked in the head by a falling timber beam, which she sloughed off as if it were nothing.

"She was tough!" Irwin says. "My dog liked her, she was in love with animals, she was tough, takes a good hit in the head! Woo! This is looking good!"

That led to a long-distance romance followed by a wedding that Irwin says was the scariest moment of his life.

"I was standing there in this black, stupid penguin suit! Wrapped up like a gift," he says. "It was awful. I was sweating bullets, and it wasn't even hot. I would have preferred to have a boa constrictor around my neck."

Irwin talks fondly about the other love in his life, his dog Sue, who also stars in Crocodile Hunter: Collision Course. Sue comes across as the most levelheaded member of the cast, the only one with enough sense to jump out of the boat and swim for shore when a croc attacks.

"Two years ago Sue gets analyzed with cancer," Irwin says. "They gave her a couple of months to live. Unlike people, she doesn't know. She puts one foot in front of the other. She's a lot slower and she's only got one lung. But how's this: she's stone cold deaf. You can whistle, shout, and she doesn't know what's going on. She shot that whole movie deaf."

Irwin explains that he never saw a script for the film, nor has he seen the finished film. He just went about his business as if he were shooting the TV show.

"As testimony to how big a star my dog is, she didn't see a script either. When she dives out and swims to the shore, that it priceless!" Irwin says admiringly.

June 26, 2002

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