There almost wasn’t a Dakota Johnson.
During the filming of the movie Roar, the Fifty Shades star’s mother, actress Melanie Griffith, then just 14 years of age, was viciously attacked by an actual lion. Terror pierces Tippi Hedren’s voice as she screams and pulls at the lion mauling Melanie, who lies sobbing in the big cat’s clutches: “Get off of her!”
Yes, Hitchcock’s murderous birds had nothing on the hundreds of lethal lions, tigers, and other exotic predators who co-starred with Hedren and Griffith in 1981’s Roar, the most dangerous movie ever made.
The brainchild of Hedren and then-husband Noel Marshall, her business manager and a producer on The Exorcist, was a wild idea, indeed: Inspired by the sight of a house overrun with lions the Hollywood couple came across during a trip to Africa, Roar would star Marshall as an animal researcher living among lions and tigers. Hedren, Griffith, and Marshall’s sons Jerry and John would play the unwitting family who came to visit dad only to be terrorized and hunted by hordes of lions, tigers, and in a few harrowing scenes, one pissed-off elephant.
During the making of Roar the entire clan caught Big Cat Fever, inviting full-grown lions into their home. Life magazine stopped by in 1971 to snap a series of shocking photos of the family living with a 400-pound lion named Neil, the first of a swelling coterie of lions they eventually collected during the 1970s.
The photographs were sensational—and, years later, came to haunt Hedren, who divorced Marshall a year after Roar’’s disastrous release, when the overbudget and overschedule $17 million feature the couple had sunk their own finances into only brought in a reported $2 million. “I cringe when I see those pictures now,” Hedren said last year. “I have to tell you we were stupid beyond belief. We should never have taken those risks. These animals are so fast, and if they decide to go after you, nothing but a bullet to the brain will stop them.”
Everyone who worked on Roar was traumatized from the experience, John Marshall told me, which resulted in several bites, clawings, maulings, and near-death injuries to the cast and crew.
Griffith suffered a clawing to the face during filming so bad it required reconstructive surgery, and the future Working Girl Oscar nominee had another harrowing run-in on set while shooting this scene in the clutches of a very determined lion. “No blood was drawn, but the lion grabbed her hair and pulled her back,” explained Marshall, who said he was able to make the lion let Griffith go in the scene by throwing himself onto the floor as a distraction after his father refused to yell “Cut.”
Watch the close call below: