Before ‘Tiger King’ Mania, Dakota Johnson’s Mom, Melanie Griffith, Was Attacked by Lions That Belonged to Her Own Mother, Tippi Hedren

The tagline, “No animals were harmed in the making of this film,” is often used in a joking way when something remotely dangerous happens in film. It’s usually always true though. With the 1981 film Roar, that was also the case, just not for the humans involved. It went down as the most dangerous film set in history and wasn’t even distributed in America because of the injuries on set. It starred Tippi Hedren and Melanie Griffith — grandmother and mother to Dakota Johnson — and it turns out Hedren still lives with big cats today. 

Melanie Griffith and Dakota Johnson at the 2017 LACMA Art + Film Gala on November 4, 2017.
Melanie Griffith and Dakota Johnson at the 2017 LACMA Art + Film Gala on November 4, 2017 | Taylor Hill/Getty Images)

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Melanie Griffith had to have reconstructive surgery after she was attacked by a big cat on ‘Roar’

Johnson’s famous family doesn’t just include her mother, Griffith, or her dad Don Johnson, or even her former stepfather, Antonio Banderas. It also includes her grandmother, Tippi Hedren, who starred in Alfred Hitchcock’s famous film The Birds. And before Tiger King mania or Carol Baskin’s tale that may or may not include her killing her ex-husband, Hedren owned her own big cats. She had over 100 on her property. 

In the ‘70s, Hedren and her ex-husband Noel Marshall were inspired to house big cats and then make the movie Roar. The plot almost mirrors their real-life family in the roles of mom, dad, and kids with Griffith and her stepbrother John Marshall co-starring. Marshall played a naturalist living with wild lions in Africa, and his family comes to visit. It turns into a horror movie of sorts when the wild lions attack and act like, you know, wild animals. 

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Since there were hundreds of wild cats and the actors portraying fear, it turned deadly very quickly. 

“You’re fine with lions and tigers as long as you don’t show any fear,” John Marshall said, according to the New York Post in 2015. “The problem is that the plot required us to show fear. These animals who had learned to respect us were totally confused when we started acting terrified.”

Hedren broke her leg while filming, director of photography Jan de Bont had his scalp ripped off and required over 100 stitches, and Griffith suffered a back injury. Not to mention a lion mauled her face and she had to have reconstructive surgery. The movie wasn’t released in America until its rerelease in 2015.

‘Roar’ is the most dangerous movie set, ever; ‘It was amazing no one was killed’

Under these conditions and the fact that no one really had control over the animals, it was dubbed the most dangerous movie set, ever. No one died, but the promotional material for the rerelease said 70 people were injured. But Hedren insists it wasn’t that many

“In the five years, I think there were seven people that were hurt, but not seriously,” Hedren told Variety in 2016. “When we were making the movie there were a few instances. I was hurt. Melanie [Griffith] was hurt. My then-husband [director Noel Marshall] was in the hospital so many times they were going to name a wing after him.”

The New York Post reported that Hedren said, “It was amazing no one was killed.” She also told Variety that she doesn’t “know how we survived it.” It was only supposed to last nine months to make but took five years.

Dakota Johnson said her grandmother still has tigers, but it’s ‘a lot safer’

Dakota Johnson, Tippi Hedren, Melanie Griffith, and Stella Banderas at the 22nd Annual ELLE Women in Hollywood Awards on October 19, 2015.
Dakota Johnson, Tippi Hedren, Melanie Griffith, and Stella Banderas at the 22nd Annual ELLE Women in Hollywood Awards on October 19, 2015 | Jeff Vespa/Getty Images for ELLE

Hedren told Variety that she got into animal activism because of the movie, urging the government to stop big cat domestication and breeding. “They shouldn’t be pets,” she said. “They’re apex predators, top of the food chain, one of four of the most dangerous animals in the world.”

It’s probably safe to say she’s not a massive fan of Joe Exotic. Despite that, though, Johnson revealed in a new interview that Hedren still owns “a couple,” aka 13 or 14 big cats as opposed to hundreds. But it’s more secure than before. 

“By the time I was born, they were all in huge compounds and it was a lot safer — and it wasn’t as total psycho as it was when they first started,” Johnson said on The Graham Norton (virtual) Show on May 25. No baby Dakota Johnsons were harmed in the making of her youth. 

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