To elicit a career-defining performance from Tippi Hedren in "The Birds" (1963), Alfred Hitchcock used a secret method.

"He lied to me," Hedren said in a phone interview from her home near Los Angeles.

Hitchcock and his filmmaking crew told Hedren she'd only interact with mechanical birds in a scene, but when it came time to shoot an assistant told Hedren that those birds were broken and they'd have to use live ones. The terror and surprise you see in Hedren's eyes are real.

"I wasn't hurt," Hedren said. "I really didn't have any fear of birds."

Hedren, now 81, earned a Golden Globe for the role, and in retrospect said it was worth being tricked in order to deliver what Hitchcock needed.

"He was the most wonderful director," Hedren said. "I really was very, very fortunate, in that not only was he my director, but my drama coach. I had no training as an actress when I signed."

Hedren was a successful model when Hitchcock spotted her in a TV commercial and decided to cast her in "The Birds." He signed her to an exclusive contract and tried to shape her public image (Look magazine called her "Hitchcock's New Grace Kelly"). He used her again in the psychological thriller "Marnie" (1964).

But there were drawbacks to his devotion.

Hedren said Hitchcock was "obsessed" with her, and tried to control aspects of her life until she refused to work with him. She said Hitchcock threatened to ruin her career, and suspects he did his best to hold her back.

"He became very possessive over me," she said. "It's not a good thing to be the object of someone's obsession if you're not interested."

Hitchcock's motivation? "I don't know what the hell it was, frankly," said Hedren.

She reappeared in the late 1960s to resume an acting career that continues to this day, but said Hitchcock kept her out of the spotlight when she was "hot."

Hedren, the mother of Melanie Griffith, said she remains passionate about acting and is devoted to the cause of protecting wild cats such as lions and tigers.

She lives on the 72-acre Shambala Preserve outside Acton, Calif., providing a home for abandoned exotic felines. She worked toward the passage of the Captive Wildlife Safety Act of 2003, which restricts the transportation of exotic cats across state lines, and co-authored two bills to tighten the restrictions on the exploitation of her beloved animals.

Hedren will be in Tucson this weekend for a screening of "The Birds" at The Loft Cinema. Proceeds from the screening benefit the Invisible Theatre, the Loft and Hedren's Roar Foundation, which protects exotic cats. All proceeds from an autograph session before and after the screening benefit Roar.

Hedren said she believes no one - not even, eventually, Shambala - should be allowed to keep lions and tigers in captivity, and is particularly angry at circuses.

"The most dangerous animals in the world should not be bred as pets in shows to entertain us," Hedren said. "I firmly believe that animals should not be allowed in the circus."

Hedren said she's always wanted to do right by exotic cats.

"I find them to be absolutely fascinating," Hedren said of the animals for which she fights. "I always have."

If you go

• What: "The Birds" screening, with star Tippi Hedren.

• When: Autograph session starts at 11:30 a.m. Sunday. Screening starts at noon, followed by a Q&A.

• Where: The Loft Cinema, 3233 E. Speedway.

• General admission: $10. VIP tickets that include a catered post-event reception at an undisclosed location with Hedren are $50.

Another chance to see Tippi Hedren in Tucson

Tippi Hedren also will attend Saturday's sold-out performance of "A Conversation with Edith Head," at the Invisible Theatre, 1400 N. First Ave. Susan Claassen stars as the Hollywood costume-design diva, whose long and illustrious career included designing Hedren's wardrobe in "The Birds." Hedren and Head became close friends, Claassen said.