He is trim and muscular and in control of Tara, a man-eating tigress.

Tiger Talking with Randy Miller

At the top of his game and looking tough, Randy Miller dresses all in black. His blond hair fans to his shoulders. It is only several minutes into the 2001 World Stunt Awards show, and Miller has just been handed an enormous gold trophy in recognition of the animal stunt of the year.

Miller holds the trophy aloft and looks stoked. Sitting in the audience are such celebrities as Arnold Schwarzenegger, James Cameron, and Sharon Stone. They smile and applaud.

Later in the night, back on-stage, Miller intends to blow their minds. His beautiful assistant pops open a cage, and out trots Tara. Miller raises a hand and Tara rises up on her haunches. Then she practically falls on top of him. In a split second he’s down on the floor. Tara’s got him pinned. He’s barking orders. She’s not obeying. She bares her teeth and snarls into the hidden microphone attached to his shirt.

Schwarzenegger appears shocked. Is he about to see a tiger trainer transformed into dinner? Miller’s assistant thinks so. She runs over to help, intending to somehow stop the attack before her boss buys it on national television.

That’s when Miller barks another order: “Hey, I’m just fucking around.”

The audience breathes a collective sigh of relief.

“When that was over,” Miller says, “I laughed my ass off. Her running out there” — the assistant really was frightened for his safety, even though the attack was fake — “made it look all the more real. Gary Busey and Schwarzenegger wanted to know whether or not we scripted it. Everyone was impressed. And the most important thing is that it created talk.”

But Randy Miller doesn’t need the talk. He has already established himself as the king of the wild-animal-attack scene. Most famous for fighting lions ’in tightly confined spaces, Miller has done work for dozens of movies, commercials, and magic shows around the world, bringing wild animals into controlled environments and making them look deadly. It’s why director Ridley Scott hired him for the animal attacks in Gladiator, and why Miller has just returned from a six-month stint in the jungles of Asia with director Jean-Jacques Annaud (an animal specialist whose films include The Bear, Seven Years in Tibet, and Enemy at the Gates). They recently finished shooting Two Brothers, an epic that stars Guy Pearce and involves a pair of fraternal lions who get poached and separated in the wild.

Thirty-eight-year-old Miller, offstage and burned out from a 24-hour flight home, has still got the long hair, but on this day he wears battered blue jeans and a white T-shirt printed with a message that tells you all you need to know about the Two Brothers production: WHEN WE DIE WE WILL GO TO HEAVEN BECAUSE WE’VE ALREADY DONE OUR TIME IN HELL.

Miller operates his company, Predators in Action, out of a large compound in central California. He lives and works there in a modest prefab house not far from Big Bear, where Mike Tyson trained for his last fight against Evander Holyfield — a formidable opponent, but nothing compared to the beasts that Miller squares off against each day. He’s got a 750-pound grizzly, blood-thirsty lions and tigers, and a pair of sleek black leopards. The leopards are so beautiful, you could easily underestimate their abilities. Curled up in repose, their eyes tracking my every move, they practically beg to be petted. I tell Miller that the beasts don’t seem so dangerous; he shoots me a curious glance.

“Speed is power,” he says, “and these leopards are very fast. Plus, pound for pound, they are the strongest. They will drag you up a tree and kill you.”

Beyond being inherently deadly, the big cats can be unpredictable — even for someone accustomed to working with them. There is perhaps no animal handler in the world better known than Roy Horn of the famed Siegfried & Roy Las Vegas spectacular, but in October, while onstage at the Mirage, Horn was attacked by his beloved Montecore, a seven-year-old white tiger. Though Horn survived the mauling, the long-running show was immediately shut down and his condition at press time remained critical.

Others in the field have not been as lucky. “A trainer I knew was grooming a young tiger, which is usually pretty safe,” recalls Miller, now sitting at a desk in his home office. “But then the tiger just looked up at him, lunged, and grabbed his throat. The guy was dead in a matter of seconds.” Asked why it happened, Miller shrugs. “It could have been a playful thing…. My guess is that the tiger challenged him, he responded, and it escalated real quickly. Once the screams and bloodshed begin, you know it’s just about all over.”

For a guy like Miller, who not only gets up close and personal with the animals but must make them agitated and aggressive in order to deliver the goods for the Ridley Scotts of the world, dangers are acute. That proved itself in a big way in 1996, when Miller was making an appearance with one of his male tigers on the TV show World’s Most Dangerous Jobs.

“I had him attack me from behind,” says Miller. “That’s when I felt his tooth going into the back of my head-right near my neck, where it’s dangerously soft. Luckily there was not a lot of blood. We kept shooting. In fact, I pried his teeth out of my head and yelled for my assistant to stay back. I didn’t want him to come in and mess up the shot.”

“The guy was dead in a matter of seconds. Once the screams and bloodshed begin, you know it’s just about all over.”

You’d think an accident like that might have Miller reconsidering his line of work, but he keeps the risks in perspective. “What I’m doing here is not science,” he says. “These are live animals with brains. If one decided to take me out, he can do it. However, because of the way I raise and train these animals, I’m not so worried about getting attacked in a premeditated way. The bigger concern is that our wrestling might get out of hand.”

Or the animal might take it upon himself to do something that even Miller, who practically thinks like a big cat, could not have anticipated. Such was the case on the set of a Friskies commercial when one of his tigers locked eyes on a sandbag. “She became very possessive of that bag,” says Miller, explaining that the tiger picked up the object with her teeth and simply refused to let go of it. “My fear was that she would take off with the bag. Then she could end up near a crew member and maybe attack him. It’s the kind of situation that can very quickly spiral out of control, so I dusted the animal with pepper spray. She dropped the bag, we both coughed a little bit, and within a few minutes she was back to hugging me.”

So how does somebody become such an expert on dealing with exotic and lethal animals?

For Miller the roller-coaster ride began in rural Texas, where he spent much of his boyhood and where he developed a love for wild things in their natural habitats. He would routinely emerge from the woods with bobcats and raccoons in hand. Over time he turned his family’s backyard into a sanctuary full of found creatures. In his late teens he moved to Southern California, where life took a dreamy turn. Working with his father, Alan, in 1982, Randy cofounded a soft-drink company called Original New York Seltzer. The Millers produced high-quality sodas with lighter flavorings than those offered by competitors. Logoed in art-deco type and sold in glass bottles, the product took off.

Suddenly the Millers were multimillionaires and Randy lived the lifestyle you would expect of a teenager who is suddenly flush with scratch ( at its peak, in 1987, Original New York Seltzer was valued at $250 million). He drove a Porsche — “Pomona Freeway was my racetrack and I’d get the car up to 220 miles an hour” — dated a bevy of hot models, and threw legendary parties. It was in the mid-1980s that Miller first indulged his love for animals in a big way. He purchased lions and tigers from exotic-animal breeders across the United States, obtained permits to house them, and hired handlers to help him care for the big cats. Working closely with the Exotic Feline Breeding Compound in Rosamond, California, Miller learned about the animals’ nutritional needs and picked up a few pointers about how to train them. Then he built a house to showcase his pets: “The place was five stories, ultramodern, in the Hollywood Hills. A glass cage ran through its center, so you could watch the animals from inside.” With a smirk, he thinks back to those golden years. “The whole thing was a real snatch magnet. Girls see that you’re a guy who owns exotic cats, and” — he snaps his fingers — “they’re right there.” Asked if part of the appeal lies in the fact that anyone who can control a leopard could most likely control a woman, he allows the smirk to become a leer and replies, “I’ve gotten a lot of that.” By the late eighties, gravity — in the form of enhanced competition from the big soda companies — took hold and brought the Millers back to earth. Sales plummeted. Bye-bye, house with the glass cage. Bye-bye, fancy parties larded with hot chicks and trendy celebs. When the smoke cleared, Randy was left with just his Porsche and the animals. He received a lucrative offer from a large corporation to develop new soda flavors, but Randy decided it would be more fun to wrestle bears than balance sugar content. Just one problem: Hollywood had plenty of animal trainers, so Miller had to come up with something special.

“I decided to provide attacking, snarling, aggressive stuff,” he says. “At the time, there were some attacks being done in movies. But they were weak, obviously fake, and the audience was able to tell.”

For a glimpse at the reality Miller brings to a production, watch Gladiator. When you see Russell Crowe’s character getting mauled in the Colosseum by a teeth-baring, flesh-chomping tiger, you might assume that the whole thing is computer-generated or trick photography. And it is — but not how you think. For the fight scenes, Miller decked himself out in the metal-and-leather garb of a gladiator while actors held back Tara, the man-eating Siberian tiger, as she strained against the chains. Then, on director Scott’s cue, Tara was released and she attacked Miller. Once the attack shots were nailed and the movie was in postproduction, Scott had Crowe’s face digitized over Miller’s. The attacks look so real because they are real.

In fact, it got a little too real. “While I was down on the ground, Tara started grabbing at the leather with her teeth,” recounts Miller. “Then she started dragging me. She got so into it that she bit right through the leather.” The shot looked great, but Tara was sinking her teeth into Miller’s skin. Film kept rolling even as the handler working with Miller began to panic. “No! No!” the handler shouted at the tiger. But Tara’s focus was elsewhere. She wanted to get to the bottom of the leather that encased Miller ù and this time there was nothing fake about it.

“I’m thinking up scenarios that can incorporate the hottest women in porn with my exotic cats.”

The handler let loose a blast from a fire extinguisher loaded with carbon dioxide. The loud sound was enough to detract Tara’s attention from her master’s arm. She backed off and left Miller with a gaping hole in his bicep; she’d bit clear down to the muscle. It would have been a good time for him to check into a hospital and recuperate, but the show, so they say, must go on. “I was told that the main camera, the special-effects camera, had broken film and they weren’t sure how far back, so… I had to do it again. We built a brace that went over the wound. It matched the leather. Then Tara and I resumed wrestling.” Miller calls his more recent project, Two Brothers, due out next summer, “the biggest, most expensive tiger-adventure movie ever made.” The logistics of the film made what is always a difficult job even more trying. Remote corners of Cambodia were used for locations (mine sweepers cleared the area as shooting proceeded) and the tigers had to be flown in by helicopter. Shorter-distance transport took place on foot, with a half dozen men sharing the burden of each animal and its cage.

Once the cameras rolled, Miller had his big cats running through jungles (one feline collided with a camera, sent the $300,000 piece of equipment flying, and didn’t miss a step), scampering to the edges of cliffs, and fighting one another for the entertainment of characters in the film. “Getting the animals to fight is relatively easy,” says Miller. He does it by matching up tigers that have been going at it with each other since they were cubs. “The harder thing is a jump. I had one tiger doing a three-story fall from a collapsed bridge. She dropped into a pile of cardboard boxes and landed so lightly that only one box actually broke.”

An even bigger challenge rested on Miller convincing his animals to act and emote, just like human thespians. In one instance his tiger had to chase a truck, catch up to it, and jump on its flatbed, where a cub was stashed in a box. “Not only did my tiger jump on the truck, but as he got on there, he almost lost his grip, struggled, and lost it again, then he finally made it,” says Miller. “After that the tiger is pulling at the box with the cub in it, ferociously trying to rip it open. As that’s going on, the truck is swerving all over. It’s driven by an actor who’s playing a poacher, and he’s trying to knock the tiger off the flatbed— which he eventually does.”

If it’s true what they say about men, that the way to their hearts is through their stomachs, the same can be said of Miller’s menagerie. “I use food and tease the animals,” he says, picking up a cane that he always has with him when he steps into a cage (he prods but doesn’t hit). “I keep the food in my hand and use it to exert control. My hand moves and the animal’s mouth moves. Then, when we’re all done, there’s a payoff in the form of food.”

This all sounds fine until we make our way down into the animal pen, where Miller’s got a half-dozen cages. He gestures toward the steel enclosure that stands between me and Dakota, a 750-pound bear, and remarks that the grizzly recently busted up the bars that hold him. “It’s a very solid cage, but he broke the weld points, which are the weak spots,” says Miller, sounding impressed as he steps inside and is greeted with a bear hug — literally. Luckily the compound itself is caged in, so there was no risk of the bear breaking loose and wandering into town.

Other animals in the compound would not welcome Miller so warmly. He catches the attention of a tiger in midmeal. She opens her mouth, reveals enormous blood-rinsed teeth, and lets out a roar over the pile of meat sandwiched between her deadly paws. Miller knows never to get between a tiger and its food; he feeds her through a chute in the back of the cage. “They eat 100 percent raw beef, bones, and chicken,” he says, absently patting the side of his belt where a handy can of pepper spray is always at the ready. “Full-grown tigers eat between ten and 12 pounds of raw meat per day, five days a week. Instinctively they’ll do anything to protect their food.”

Back in his office, Miller talks about the near future. He’s working with a couple of cubs to devise a new kind of man-versus-animal fight scene. It will combine plain old wrestling (generated by agitating the animal, which is less predictable but looks very real) with his more standard food-fortified attacks. And, always open to new challenges, he mentions a possible foray into porn. “I’m thinking up scenarios that can incorporate the hottest women in porn with my exotic cats,” Miller says, emphasizing that there will be no contact between the beasts and the beauties. “It’ll be something along the lines of a woman has sex, turns into an animal, eats her partner, then turns into a woman again.”

Miller allows that synopsis to hang in the air for a moment. Then he catches me staring at a photograph of him falling through the sky clutching a bottle of Original New York Seltzer. It dates back to the company’s big-budget glory days.

He was considering a second career as a stuntman at the time, and told his girlfriend that he could do a six-story jump with no problem. She didn’t believe him. So he did it — and shot the jump for a TV commercial. “I’m freefalling into an airbag right there,” he says wistfully. “Things were pretty crazy back then.”

A satiated tiger roars in the compound. Miller shows off a couple of battle scars and flashes a few shots he’s done of naked girls alongside a pristinely groomed leopard, but I keep thinking about the porn star who devours her sex partners. For Randy Miller, things are still plenty crazy.

People choose strange jobs all the time, and good reasons theoretically exist for them choosing those paths. This does not mean we understand these choices every time, however. From an objective point of view, it seems like an animal lover might choose something other than potentially deadly animals, like tigers, for example, to train. Sanity might dictate this to have been an aberrant choice for Randy Miller to make, honestly. Of course having said that, we concede that Aubrey Lovelace, our own November 2023 Pet also has similar interests. Why not choose something with a little more room for error – like, say, dachshund training? … You can find Randy’s Instagram handle under Predators in Action, if you have questions of your own. We offer this link to provide some perspective.

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