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Louis Theroux on his new documentary 'Shooting Joe Exotic’ — 'Joe's story has just got stranger and bigger'

Louis Theroux in his new BBC2 documentary Shooting Joe Exotic.
Louis Theroux in his new BBC2 documentary Shooting Joe Exotic. (Image credit: BBC)

Louis Theroux is returning to Oklahoma to discover the truth behind the ‘Tiger King’ Joe Exotic. When Netflix aired its series Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness last year it became one of the most-talked about documentaries of the first lockdown and transformed zookeeper-turned-criminal Joe Exotic into an internet sensation. 

For Louis Theroux’s latest BBC2 film, Louis Theroux: Shooting Joe Exotic, the famous foppish documentary maker — who first met Joe Exotic in 2011 while filming his BBC documentary Louis Theroux: America’s Most Dangerous Pets — returns to Oklahoma to investigate the truth behind the cult figure.

With Joe Exotic now languishing in jail having been found guilty of animal cruelty and a murder-for-hire plot to kill Big Cat Rescue CEO Carole Baskin, Louis Theroux meets the "free Exotic" campaign team, who recently begged then President Donald Trump for a pardon, as well as Joe Exotic’s family and Carole Baskin herself. Here, Louis explains to us what his latest film reveals about Jo Exotic’s colourful life and downfall…

Louis Theroux on what he made of Joe Exotic while filming America’s Most Dangerous Pets in 2011…

Louis Theroux says: “I was aware Joe Exotic was an amazing, made-for-TV character, with his mullet, body piercings and the fact he had 150 tigers. I also knew he wished Carole Baskin ill. But I had absolutely no sense that it would turn into a federal case where he’d end up doing 22 years or that I’d still be talking about him now. His story has just got stranger and bigger.”

Did Louis Theroux get the impression Joe Exotic was hiding anything from him then?

“When I first met Joe I liked him," Louis explains. "He’s charismatic, vulnerable, emotional and liable to cry easily. It tends to make you feel quite protective of him. Because he’s so colourful and funny I didn’t get the feeling he was hiding anything — although it turned out that was wrong, because he certainly was.”

When Louis Theroux met Joe Exotic in 2011.

Louis Theroux meeting Joe Exotic in 2011 for his documentary America’s Most Dangerous Pets. (Image credit: BBC)

What Louis Theroux found out about Joe’s tiger empire rival Carole Baskin in this new documentary...

“I know she went through a lot of fear and anxiety when she knew Joe was coming after her. Since filming Tiger King, she’s made no secret of the fact that she’s been extensively trolled. We filmed with Carole around the time she was taking possession of [Exotic’s former zoo] G.W. Zoo and it was in disarray, filled with rubbish, excrement and with graffiti everywhere, all directed at Carole. It was really unpleasant.”

Carole Baskin in the Netflix series Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness.

Louis Theroux meets Carole Baskin, here in the Netflix series Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness.  (Image credit: Netflix)

Louis Theroux on meeting some of Joe Exotic's family who have never spoken publicly before...

“What I heard most was how they viewed him as greedy and that he was up to all sorts of financial chicanery in order to generate money. I was surprised by how much financial malpractice was going on. They also said his mother doted on him and that was characterised by his ability to manipulate his parents and come out on top in any financial situation.”

What Louis Theroux thinks of the level of fame Joe Exotic has reached now...

“It’s an extraordinary situation Joe’s in now. He’s an internet icon and arguably one of the most famous people in the world. But it’s a mixed blessing because there’s a tendency to see him almost as a fictional character, whereas he’s a real person involved in a real crime.” 

When is the release date for Louis Theroux: Shooting Joe Exotic?

The documentary Louis Theroux: Shooting Joe Exotic is due to air on BBC2 on Easter Monday (April 5) at 9pm before becoming available on iPlayer. Meanwhile, America’s Most Dangerous Pets from 2011 can now be watched on BBC iPlayer.

A similar show Britain's Tiger Kings with Ross Kemp has recently been shown on ITV and is now available on ITV Hub.