He wrangles reptiles, wears khaki short shorts, and hosts one of the Animal Planet network’s most popular shows, ”The Jeff Corwin Experience” (Sundays, 9 p.m.). But Corwin’s no Crocodile Hunter wannabe. The Massachusetts native, who was recently voted one of People magazine’s 50 most beautiful people (top that, Steve Irwin), puts a self-consciously wacky spin on animal adventure shtick. And he never, ever says crikey. EW.com talked to Corwin, 35, about cheating death and his dream role in the ”Star Wars” saga.
How did you become a critter hunter?
I participated in this National Geographic documentary called ”The Jason Project,” and it was an epiphany for me. All the TV people who were involved said, ”You’re a natural, it’ll be no problem to get a show of your own.” So I went home, quit my job, and figured it would happen in a few months. It ended up taking six years. The worst moment came when I was working as a waiter in Cape Cod, and I hear these two people at a table saying, ”Isn’t that the guy we saw on the ‘Jason Project’? Oh no, that’s just the waiter.” I was like, can I borrow that plastic bag? I’m going to [kill] myself. But I didn’t give up, and one day in the middle of graduate school, the phone rang, and that was my first TV show, ”Going Wild with Jeff Corwin” [on the Disney Channel].
Before you had your own show you worked as an activist to save the rainforest. What was that like?
I’ve had so many memorable experiences, but recently I worked with an orangutan who was depressed because his mother was dead. I just wanted to pick him up and give him a hug, but all he thought was ”you’re not my mother.” So I spent a couple of days working with him, building a friendship. He’ll spend ten years learning how to be wild again, but it’s frustrating knowing that in 20 years his kind will very likely be extinct.
As one of our most beautiful people, how do you stay in short-shorts shape?
I like to run, but I’ve had to change my philosophy about running while on the road. We were filming in South Africa, and I wanted to go for a run. The people there told me, You can’t do that, there are leopards out there. And I was like, Ehh, they’re not going to bother me. So they followed me in Range Rovers with high-powered rifles. I thought they were overreacting, but when we got to the next town, a guy had just been eaten by a lion.