Clunes swims with the big fish

British actor Martin
Clunes has had a career straddling comedy, drama and the odd Shakespearian
stage appearance, but of late his focus has been on animals.

The 48-year old star
surprised many by following up his iconic appearance in laddish comedy Men
Behaving Badly with a change of pace as the gruff Doc Martin, a programme that
tracks the career of a London surgeon turned country GP. Produced by his own company,
also called Doc Martin Productions, the show will start filming for its fifth
series in April 2011.

Away from the acting
sphere, he’s made programmes lately charting the family tree of his dogs and an
investigation and journey into how the horse became so important to humankind.

Typically, however,
the affable Clunes is honest about how his career appears to be panning out.

“It just happened;
the dog thing was because I love my dogs. [We film] Doc Martin down in
Cornwall. There’s a lot of English holidaymakers and they take their dogs with
them. One of the treats for me when the crowds come to watch us film is to meet
their dogs. It was picked up on by ITV, [UK channel] who suggested we do a
programme. It was fascinating, looking at them as a global and historical story

“We keep horses too
[at Clunes’ farm in Dorset] so it seemed natural enough to do the same,” added
the actor.

The most recent
animal project is Man to Manta, an investigation into manta rays. Research into
their habits, life spans and migration is in its infancy, explains the comedy

“There’s very little
known about them… it’s only just started in the last ten years. There’s a
lady we interviewed in Ecuador called Andrea Marshall who is the first person
to examine manta rays and study them. She lives in Mozambique which is a big
spot for them. It’s one of the things that Darwin missed.

“Talking to her and
members of her team in Ecuador I did feel very much that they were filling in
all kinds of gaps and going right back to basics including measuring the
plankton where they are. That there’s something still so unknown in the world
is terribly exciting. I’m a bunny-hugger; I have horses, dogs, cats and I
cuddle them all but I wasn’t sure how I was going to relate to a big flappy fish.”
To find out, actor swum with the rays in Atlanta – he also visited Stingray
City whilst on Cayman – and found the experience fascinating. Filming for Man
to Manta moves on to Sri Lanka and the Maldives in October.


Industry clout

After 20 years at the
top of his game, it’s clear that Martin Clunes has the industry clout to pick
and choose his projects. However, he notes that he’s not as obsessed with
career ambitions as other people might think. Indeed, his main focus has
shifted somewhat from the entertainment industry.

“I like working less
and less; we’ve the farm now which is a huge adventure, an ever-increasing
number of horses – we’ve just bought two Clydesdale foals – and I live with
this wonderful soap opera of dogs, cats, chickens and horses. The land always
needs something doing to it.

“Unfortunately it all
needs paying for so I still have to work. I’ve never really been one for
burning desires; I’ve been very fortunate to just stumble into the next thing
that came up.”

He does reveal,
however, that plans are in progress to make a film about environmentalist Tony
Fitzjohn’s reconstruction of the Kora Reserve in Kenya. Fitzjohn was a friend
of George Adamson, dubbed father of the lions for his conservation work before
being murdered in 1989. Clunes is a patron of the Born Free Foundation, who
broker money to animal projects throughout the world.

The actor describes
the process of making his recent programmes as a ‘journey’ and readily admits
that he is a layman rather than an expert. That helps, he says, because the
viewer can look over his shoulder as he discovers more and more, rather than a
‘preachy’ programme. On the current filming trip, he’s come across some rather
worrying situations.

“We saw some pretty
shocking things in Ecuador, great big beautiful sharks and sailfish being
hauled out and hacked up. I didn’t know that fish were so unsustainably fished;
you hear it but you don’t know what that really means until you see it.

“They’re not bad
people; they’re fishermen and are doing what they’ve always done and what their
parents have always done. There’s some weird markets out there, especially for
manta rays. The Chinese like to get the filters out of their gills to dry and
grind up for a powder they say purifies their blood, which is [absolute nonsense].”


Education and

The planet, it’s
often said, is smaller than ever before and although there is always movement
toward sourcing food as locally as possible, the demands of the Western or
developed world have some knock-on effects that are rather less than ideal.
Clunes says that the experience of investigation is changing his outlook even
whilst out buying groceries.

“I like eating fish
but it’s making me think a lot more. When I go to the supermarket and see
Ecuadorean swordfish I think, ‘what a world we live in where you can buy this.’
But one of the Ecuadorian fisherman was saying that they have to go out further
and further [to find the fish]. They’re hauling out pregnant females, the
young, the lot. It all comes out and it’s really tough.”

The answers are not
obvious, observes the Englishman, but there are certain things that can be done
to inform people about the world that surrounds them, and most importantly,
about the fauna with which we share this rare and beautiful planet.

“I don’t think it
helps when people get cross and preachy with [people like fishermen]. I’m not
wise enough to come up with a solution but I know one thing that is useful is
information and education. It sounds like a ghastly American song but children
are the future; they’re born with a fascination and an affinity with animals.

“Disney knew it,
children’s films knew it; they love it. My daughter’s grown up loving animals
and wants to find out more about them. If we’re more informed about other
animals in the world – not just cats and dogs and things – then that’s a move
in the right direction and can only be good.”