Life of Pi director Ang Lee, questioned by reporters in Manila and Taiwan after The Hollywood Reporter‘s exclusive investigation into the treatment of animals on film and TV sets, has admitted that the tiger star of his movie faced a scary moment during filming.
“It was an accident,” Lee told reporters in Taiwan about the incident. “The crew worked hard to rescue the tiger and then showed him a lot of care, giving him five-star treatment.” He later said in Manila, “We gave a lot of care to the tiger, as much as we possibly could.”
Lee was in the Philippines to take part in a four-day film exchange, including a screening of Life of Pi. He spoke to reporters before and after boarding a plane to Manila, with Taiwan’s Central News Agency reporting on the exchange.
THR revealed earlier this week that King the tiger nearly drowned during filming, publishing excerpts of an e-mail from the American Humane Association monitor, Gina Johnson, who was assigned to the film.
“Last week we almost f—ing killed King in the water tank,” Johnson wrote on April 7, 2011. “This one take with him just went really bad, and he got lost trying to swim to the side … damn near drowned.”
“I think this goes without saying but DON’T MENTION IT TO ANYONE, ESPECIALLY THE OFFICE!” Johnson continued in the email, obtained by THR. “I have downplayed the f— out of it.”
King’s trainer eventually snagged him with a catch rope and dragged him to one side of the tank, where the tiger scrambled out to safety.
Others involved with the production described the tiger incident in far less dire terms, but the film — which went on to earn four Oscars and $609 million in global box-office revenue — was awarded the “No Animals Were Harmed” credit, which AHA is in charge of granting.
A spokesman for Life of Pi distributor Fox denied the tiger nearly drowned. “The tiger, King, was never harmed and did not ‘nearly drown’ during the production,” the spokesman told THR. “We take on-set safety very seriously and take every precaution necessary to ensure that no one — animal or human — is harmed during the production of our films.”
Dr. S. Kwane Stewart, a veterinarian who took over as the national director of the AHA’s No Animals Were Harmed in April, says the AHA monitor on Life of Pi, “probably overreacted. Was it a close call? What is indisputable was that no harm came to King. Could you argue he had a moment? But he continued to work.”
Johnson is no longer an AHA employee, the organization told CNN Tuesday. The AHA has not yet responded to THR‘s request for information about the circumstances surrounding Johnson’s departure.
In a statement released late Monday, the AHA said THR‘s investigation “distorts” its work. It cited internal statistics that it maintains a safety record of 99.98 percent. THR‘s story noted that the figure has no real statistical grounding.