He has a tiger by the tail training critters for "Gladiator" and other films
Most people would think twice about wrestling a 700-pound tiger, even for a million bucks. But for an average union wage and to feed his passion for the big mammals, Randy Miller wrestles tigers, even lions and bears, on a daily basis.
Miller, 36, has poured that passion into a Big Bear Lake area company, Predators In Action, which provides trained exotic animals to the film and television industries.
"Gladiator", last years Oscar winning movie starring Russell Crowe, featured two of Miller's tigers, Shirkon and Tara, in attack scenes. It also featured Miller, who served as a stunt double for Crowe when the animals were working.
"This was great for us," said Miller of the movie, which required two months of practice at home before it filmed for two months in Malta. "No one else is doing that kind of attack stunt work, but it is exactly what my tigers are trained for."
This is Miller's second glow in the limelight. His first occurred after he decided to forego college at age 18 to create Original New York Seltzer, a soft drink company that bubbled from $200,000 in sales during its first year to more than $100 million its second year.
The venture gave him a chance to hang out with famous people and see himself featured on the television show "Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous." He also started collecting big cats.
The cats became his constant companions. They were by his side at the office, in his commercials, during live promotions, and they stayed by his side when the fizz went out of his soft drink company in 1993.
It's a painful topic for Miller, who politely refuses to talk about it, except to say that he prefers the forest to the business jungle.
Today, Miller shares a 55-acre compound at the top of Big Bear Mountain near Onyx summit with more than a dozen large felines and a grizzly bear.
These days, the cats bring home the bacon, or at least a chunk of it. Miller is often on the road with at least one of the animals, usually for two months or two years at a time. His animals are hired for everything from movies to magic shows, and as a perk, they get to travel the United States and the world.
"This is what I want to be doing for the rest of my life," he said as he greeted one of the white Bengal tigers on his compound. "People in the business world aren't always loyal. These animals, they are loyal."
Each animal has a private pen where they sleep up to 20 hours each day. They eat 15 to 20 pounds of meat five days a week and fast on the other two.
"That's how they do it in the wild. They gorge, and then they rest," he said.
"They are very happy and healthy looking," said Kresse Armour of the Big Bear Lake Film Office. "He is like a mom to them. When he walks by, the cats rub up against the cage like kittens would, wanting his attention."
Miller said he raises most of his animals almost from birth, building the trust and loyalty necessary to work together.
"You have to know the animals and understand their psychology to work with them the way I do," he said.
Sheri Davis of the Inland Empire Film Commission said Miller is among six animal trainers in the industry locally. He and one of his tigers will be featured on this year's edition of the commission's production guide.
"Randy himself has a great screen presence, and he's wonderful with the animals," said Davis, who feels Miller's success with the animals can be attributed to his understanding of them and his positive training style.
Abandoning the whip and using only positive methods, Miller trains the animals in their natural behaviors on cue, using meat and chicken for rewards.
"If you abuse them, they won't let you near them," Miller said, hugging Shirkon, his 9- year old tiger. "It's really their choice if they do a behavior or not. If you love them, they're more affectionate than a house cat."
Miller said it is important to know when a tiger is not in the mood to perform. As he found while filming "Gladiator," it is equally important to know when a tiger has become fixated on an object. "Tigers get possessive about objects as simple as a stick," he said. "On Gladiator, I was wearing a costume with an arm piece. Tara became intrigued with it." Tara started playing, bit through the piece and into Miller's arm, down to the bone. He has a physical scar, but not a mental one.
"I wasn't threatened or scared," said Miller, who claims the bit is the only serious injury he has experienced. "The key is understanding. If there's a problem, I can read them. These guys are moody, but you can get them over it if you understand them."
No matter how profitable his company becomes, Miller said he wants to spend the rest of his life with his animals. "I just want to continue to make things better for them," he said.