During a recent interview on The Graham Norton Show, Johnson, 30, shared that Hedren, 90, still lives with tigers and lions. “She has 13 or 14,” Johnson said. “There used to be like 60 cats, and now there’s just a couple.”
Referencing a series of 1970's photographs — which included a photo of Johnson’s mother, Melanie Griffith, with a 400 lbs. lion named Neal — host Norton asked whether Johnson also grew up with the animals.
“By the time I was born they were all in huge compounds and it was a lot safer,” Johnson said. “It wasn’t as totally psycho as it was when they first started.”
Hedren has since expressed regret over the images, saying it was “stupid beyond belief” to let the animals roam free.
Hedren, who is best known for starring in the classic Hitchcock film The Birds, began rescuing exotic cats back in 1971, and went on to found the Roar Foundation in 1983, in order to “educate the public about the dangers of private ownership of exotic animals.” The non-profit exists to support her animal sanctuary, Shambala Preserve, located in California, where the actress lives.
"I’ve been an advocate of animals everywhere," the actress told Variety in a 2016 interview. "I made two films in Africa in the 1960s and early '70s, and at the time environmentalists were telling us that if we didn’t do something right then to save the animals in the wild by the year 2000, they’d be gone."
Hedren first began rescuing animals while working on the film Roar, which ended up taking years to make and resulted in numerous injuries for herself and her family, including Griffith.
“The script was written and we handed it out to different Hollywood animal trainers and every one of them came back and said, 'You’ve got too many animals in this movie. We can’t supply you with them. Why don’t you get your own cats to do it?' ” she told Variety. "So we went out and got a bunch of lions and tigers. They were all rescues."
Hedren’s big cats have also made appearances on Griffith’s Instagram account. “Easter with my Mama,” she wrote back in 2018 alongside a photograph of Hedren with one of her tigers at the sanctuary.
Taking a trip down memory lane, Griffith, 62, reflected on the bond she made with one lion in particular.
“I grew up with lions. This was my best friend Neal,” she wrote in another post, alongside a photo from the 1970s photoshoot, as she went on to caution others against trying to befriend wild animals. “We rescue wild cats at my Moms preserve. Do not go out and try to find a wild cat.”