Colin Stafford Johnson: On My Culture Radar
The wildlife film-maker on his life-saving gadget, Paris and David Attenborough
Colin Stafford Johnson: “Walking along the Seine in May is special”. Photo: Matt Loughrey
Current favourite book
I recently picked up David Attenborough’s Life on Earth. I haven’t read it for about 20 years, and it’s interesting to read now, as over the years we’ve understood more about how evolution progressed. When it first came out, when I was about 16, it was life-changing because it communicated in a way anyone could understand. The corresponding show was completely fundamental too; there’s nothing we could to today that would have the same effect. It was the first time a nature series went global. And it was the first time I thought: I wouldn’t mind doing that for a living.
Most of my meals around the world are cooked over fires rather than in restaurants. At home, there’s Cian’s on Bridge Street in Westport. It’s one of those places that always seems to work; there’s always good food and good company. They have another restaurant, Quay Cottage, right down by the sea, where they do great seafood. The last time I was there, I sat on the bench watching the otters, then I went in and had my lunch. That was pretty cool.
I like the American late-night talk show host Stephen Colbert very much. He gets across information and news really well, while having a laugh. I’m a newshound, but at the moment, with my busy lifestyle, that’s a nice way to get the news. He often gives me a laugh at the end of the day.
Anything by the Coen brothers is brilliant. Lots of films have a similar style, but [the Coens’ films] have a completely unique feel. You can very quickly tell that you’re watching a Coen Brothers film, and that’s some achievement. Fargo, in particular, has wonderful acting. The things you don’t see in it are the most powerful.
I don’t often have an actor that would draw me to a film, but I make an effort to see anything that has Jack Nicholson in it. One of the first things I remember him in is The Shining; I thought he was amazing. Ever since, I’ve always enjoyed watching him.
I love the bustling Asian cities for their madness, but the fact is they’re not pleasant to spend too much time in. But I love Paris. I had a job selling chestnuts there, and I also used to sell little tin bicycles at the Pompidou Centre. Walking along the Seine in May is special. You can take lefts or right and dip into areas like St Germain-des-Prés or Boulevard Saint-Michel. Or just sitting in a cafe and watching life go by is a good way to spend a day.
My favourite gadget is my Leatherman. They’re like Swiss army knives and they’ve got every little gadget you could ever need. I was filming by a dam at the Mississippi river in America at winter and it was like -20 degrees. I’d been waiting for coyotes, but when dusk was falling, I left and needed to unlock the gate to get out of the dam. But I couldn’t get the key into the lock because my hands were absolutely frozen. I thought to myself that I was in a really serious situation because I had no phone and no one was waiting for me on the other side, and unless I got that key in the lock, I was there for the night, and that would be it. But my Leatherman had a grip on it, so I gripped my key on to it, and used it to put the key into the lock. So it potentially saved my life.
Serial was done really well – the narrator was really natural and the storytelling was excellent – and that got me into podcasts. Now if I’m going away to a place that’s not going to have internet, I download a load of podcasts. I’ve just started West Cork, about the murder of Sophie Toscan du Plantier, and last night I listened to Criminal, a quick, 20-minute podcast. They’re great for putting on just before bed.
Colin Stafford Johnson presents Living a Wild Life at Mermaid Arts Centre, Bray, on September 27th; and Axis, Ballymun, on September 29th