Martin Kratt's calling in by satellite phone from a snowy outpost in mountainous Australia. He's there with his brother Chris to film segments about kangaroos for their new National Geographic Channel series Be the Creature, which debuts Sunday night at 8 pm/ET. "It's been raining for four days," Kratt says. "The kangaroos have a great coat of fur that repels the rain, but we are getting soaked!"
TV Guide Online: The hook of your show is that you and your brother Chris not only hang out with animals in the wild, you mimic their behaviors and assimilate into their environments. Why?
Martin Kratt: We get such a better feel for the animals when we try to do what they do. You can see what it takes, and you can appreciate the physicality. You can also understand the struggle for survival they face on a daily basis. You know, we've been here in the rain, and I don't know where that phrase "creature comforts" comes from. These kangaroos have no shelter, no place to go. It's just them and the elements. Putting ourselves in their place is one of the best tools we have to seeing what it's like to be the creature.
TVGO: Are you the Kratt brother who has the lower tolerance for cold?
Kratt: No, I have high tolerance. It's just hovering around freezing, and the kangaroos don't like it much. They're just kind of huddling up. Today it actually cleared for a while, and we got to watch them kick box.
TVGO: Kickboxing kangaroos! Sounds like a show on Fox. How many matches were there, actually?
Kratt: (Laughing) There was a lot happening. Kickboxing is really a big part of kangaroo creaturnality, and it starts at a young age. The really young ones, the joeys, come out of the pouch restless and full of pent-up energy. So they start sparring with their mom. She's out there trying to graze, and they're out there scratching her and kicking her in the back.
TVGO: How many more weeks of on-location shooting do you have left for this season?
Kratt: We're in the middle of filming the 12th episode here with the kangaroos. Then we're off to the Ethiopian highlands to visit the only monkeys in the world who graze. There are literally millions of species on the planet, and what we are trying to do is really get into the lives of big, sexy animals like lions and bears but also the smaller, more common animals. For instance, we'd like to get into the lives of chipmunks.
TVGO: Considering how brutal some scenes are in Be the Creature, what would you say to parents who'll be watching with their children?
Kratt: The goal of the show is to show what the true creaturnality is, who these creatures really are. So with wild dogs, for instance, a big part of their story is how after a kill they transport food back for the pups by regurgitating it. We show that. We don't want to over-gross people out or over-glorify predation. But it's an important part of who these animals are. So much happens out here. We spend up to a month living with these animals. And the more time you spend with them, the more you get to know the characters. Their inter-creature interactions unfold, and things happen. We discover new behaviors we hadn't even read about when we are out there. We go out with an outline of what we think might happen, but the animals are in control of the writing of this show.
Kratt: One of the things we wonder about out here in the rain is "I wonder how the snow monkeys are doing now that spring has come?" And then there were orphaned chimpanzees we really got to know. It was like hanging around with a bunch of kids. You really felt you made friends with them.