Joel Lambert

Real-life hero Joel Lambert, a former Navy SEAL, is putting his training to great use in Hollywood. But just when he thought he had swopped the war zone for Hollywood’s acting playground, he is thrust back into that volatile environment with Discovery Channel’s ManHunt. Debashine Thangevelo got the full brief on why he gave the nod to the action-packed reality series.

LOOKING rather dapper in his tailor-fitted black suit at the Discovery Channel showcase of Joel Lambert’s show, Manhunt, it was easy to see why this former Navy SEAL – somewhat oblivious (or too much of a gentleman) to the drooling women around him – is being wooed by Hollywood.

He has a natural charm and the camera captures those chiselled features and athletic body with such vividness you would be more inclined to believe he was poached from the ramp rather than a war zone.

I suppose that is what makes Lambert even more engaging as a person. He has this wealth of life experience and the battle scars to prove it.

Now safely cocooned in the celebrity bubble of Holly-wood, where he has been in an impressive array of TV shows (Days of Our Lives, The Closer, Hot in Cleveland, Mad Men and Jericho) and films (Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, Hancock and Transformers) – he found himself in a rather interesting position when Discovery Channel pitched Manhunt, for which he returns to the world where skills in survival, evasion, resistance and escape training as well as close quarters defence and battle are a prerequisite.

Was it a fleeting moment of insanity, or perhaps a secret yearning that saw him agree to complete his mission, which entailed evading capture by elite trackers, border patrol and the military of foreign countries, while thrust into the harshest of environments, until he got to the rendezvous point for safe extraction?

He laughs: “I did it for the same reason that I knew I had to go into the Navy SEALs team – it scared the piss out of me. I didn’t really want to do it – I thought I was done with this. The idea was to kick back, chill, maybe get fat… Then they brought this to me and I went, ‘S**t. I’m going to have the Navy SEAL reputation riding on me. I’m 41 years old now and I’m going to be out there with dudes that are like 22 and in prime shape.’ That’s why I knew I had to do it. For these dudes, it is a matter of national pride to have my head on a platter, so to speak, and they pulled out all the stops.”

With a decade in service, Lambert is not just a pretty boy. He was deployed on combat missions in dangerous locations such as Afghanistan and Kosovo. He has participated in more than 20 real-world combat missions as well as trained SEAL operators and foreign special operations personnel from Singapore, Thailand, Greece, Egypt, Germany, the Netherlands and Estonia.

So this series should have been a walk in the park for him, right?

Not. Lambert says every country was different.

“Some of the similarities really boil down to technical aspects in tracking and the assets (my hunters) have. In the Philippines, they were just jungle fighters. In Poland, they had helicopters with thermal energy, a Swat team, dog-tracking units…

“Everybody tries to find a general direction of travel – by attempting to follow my footprints – and then moving around their assets to box me in by using tactics in different degrees of effectiveness,” he says.

A lot of the time, “acting on instinct” was crucial during the making of this six-part series, where any attempt at a script goes out the window.

Lambert explains: “There was no script as far as I know. But they wanted to see certain beasts like the dehydration factor in the jungle. Capture the survival element with the booby traps.

“They were constantly calling me and the tech adviser for the show, who is a fantastic tracker, asking: ‘What would you do in this place?’ I’m like, the situation will dictate that.

“I could write a whole bulls**t script and give it to you. But as soon as we are in the moment, it is going to be what the situation is and how we are going to react with what we have in the toolbox. Everything unfolds in real-time and is pretty intense.”

Commenting on the hardest thing for him during the making of this series, he shamelessly admits: “Jungle kicks my ass every time. I hate the jungle. I love high desert because of my time operating as military in Afganistan. Cold weather and high altitude – I really love. And where do they send me? To the f*****g jungle. I hated the humidity.

“Water and food aren’t the problem in the jungle – the problem is everything that you can eat probably wants to eat you as well. There’s bacteria, infections, guys getting dengue fever, Mercer’s disease, all because of the jungle.

“Everything is wet. You constantly have to hydrate. Heatstroke is a problem. There are lots of little cuts and scrapes.”

Despite filming in those horrendous conditions, giving up was not an option – even though he was often working with a crew with no real tactical insight, which often hindered his evasion strategies.

Lambert says viewers will love the behind-the-scenes episode.

He teases: “One of the executive producers almost got killed by a flying fish. One of the cameraman tore his shoulder and had to be airlifted out. Then there was an attack by jungle bees and the guys went into anaphylactic shock. The crew was just going down with the heatstroke, dengue fever and Mercer’s. I got to tell you, some of the footage is hilarious. Like this one cameraman running through the jungle, screaming like a girl as he was getting stung, but he was still filming the whole time.”

Gruelling experiences aside, you can’t help but get the sense that Lambert loved every adrenalin-packed moment of it, including dodging South Africa’s International Anti-Poaching Foundation team in one of the episodes.

After all, he didn’t hesitate, even for a millisecond, when asked if he’d do it again. Arnold Schwarzenegger eat your heart out – this is a real-life action hero.

ManHunt airs on Discovery Channel (DStv channel 121) on Tuesday at 8.30pm.