Often regarded alongside other influential and highly esteemed explorers such as Buzz Aldrin, Jacques Cousteau and Dr. Jane Goodall, Oliver "Olly" Steeds may only be 35 years old but he's made an impressive mark for himself by traveling the world over both as an accomplished journalist and a inquisitive explorer. While each profession shares many qualities, Steeds is hoping to take his vast experience and direct his focus and attention on the many historical mysteries in the world on his new Discovery Channel series "Solving History With Olly Steeds." Whether he's investigating the Ark of the Covenant, the Lost City Of Gold or trying to finally solve the mysteries surrounding the disappearance of Atlantis, Steeds does it with a rugged Indiana Jones flare that should see results in not only answering questions but also in drawing a legion of fans, many of them female. The handsome Steeds talked with our Jim Halterman recently about why he can't stop asking questions that begin in why, what it takes for a mystery to become a part of the show and how becoming a sex symbol could prove painful if his friends ever find out.
Jim Halterman: How did you and the Discovery Channel get together?
Olly Steeds: There was an opportunity to look at some of the world's greatest iconic mysteries that are out there. It's been a motivation of mine obviously having watched far too many Indiana Jones films as a kid but also I kind of attacked it from the journalistic side so I combined my two great passions of being a journalist on one side and being an adventurer/explorer on the other side. It was a perfect way to take on these subjects.
JH: The name Indiana Jones has been getting thrown around in some of the press for the show. How do you feel about that?
OS: I think there are two parts to Indy. On one side, he was defined by his incompetence because he seemed to get himself in all sorts of scrapes and that's the great mark of an adventurer. The other side he'd go around stealing shit and I don't really do that. But he was a huge inspiration for me as a kid.
JH: Have you always been someone who just had to ask the question 'Why?'
OS: Absolutely. One of my first memories is jumping out of a tree when I was probably about 4 or 5 with a brick to see which would hit the ground first. It was really about gravity and I really didn't understand what it was. So I had to crawl back home with blood gushing from my head and then having to have my head sewn back together again. Yeah, I caused my long-suffering mother years of suffering.
JH: Why is it important that we uncover the historical mysteries of the world as opposed to merely leaving them be a part of history?
OS: History is constantly being interpreted and manipulated by the present. What do these mysteries mean today? As a journalist I go in and ask very tough questions and try to project myself into the story. It's kind of like going to the zoo, I suppose, and looking at the animals and go 'Oh that looks interesting" or you can get in there and look out and ask all these tough questions. Obviously, these mysteries and myths come from somewhere. Where is that? What can that actually tell us about our past and our present? There's so much within each of these stories which still exists in the present day that I think it's a fascinating looking glass into both history and today.
JH: In the first episode, the Archbishop was showing you an altar but he would not let you get very close. It looked like it being kept at a distance was killing you.
OS: [laughs] I asked him about 10 times. 'Please! Let me in! What are you stopping me for?' But even if I got in to see it, it's very difficult because you have to be able to test it to see how old it is and all those things but in many ways it's really about believing. If you believe it's there, then it is. That's very difficult to question that. You can know the historical aspects up to a point but then you have to believe that it exists and in so much of our understanding of history there are gaps and within those gaps is where the mysteries are.
JH: What does one of these mysteries have to have to get your interest and be a part of the show?
OS: It's got to have something to it, really. One side is seeking out the iconic subjects with people that will make them be fascinated with it and then there might be some romantic Indiana Jones inside of it but the other side is there needs to be a very modern component to it. There are the people and the places obviously in the present day which are defining my evaluation of the subject matter so I'm constantly looking for different ways in to be able to explore the subjects.
JH: You've been all over the world in your explorations. Is there a favorite one that you've been on or one that you have yet to venture on that you're dying to embark upon?
OS: There's so many unknown parts of the world for me I don't know where to start but my favorite expedition was probably one of my first ones going across the Gobi desert in Mongolia. It was one of my first ones and I was pretty young then and it was probably the single most worst organized expedition ever mounted! Everything went wrong. We ran out of water in the desert! We got held hostage! We were arrested as spies! You name it and it went wrong so that helped already define what adventure meant to me.
JH: When you go to these foreign lands that may not be as media savvy as we are, is there a lot of coaxing to let you and your camera crew do your work?
OS: Sometimes, especially with the indigenous communities who aren't really aware of what these cameras are they obviously are very concerned about them. They don't know what they are and they may be very sensitive to them so it's a very sensitive line that you have to tread and you have to respect them. If they say 'No, get out,' [then] you get out, end of story. But one group we were with after a day, they said 'Oh, we know how the cameras work' and then within a few days at one point they said 'You can't shoot that' and we said 'why?' and they said 'Because the sun is behind you. You can't get that shot.' It's remarkable how fast they pick things up.
JH: If the show is a hit, are you prepared for what comes with being labeled a sex symbol?
OS: If it happens, I'll probably get beaten up by my friends. [laughs]
"Solving History with Olly Steeds" airs every Wednesday at 10:00/9:00c on the Discovery Channel.