May 12th, 2008


Marion Ravenwood is back and adventuring for the first time in 27 years

By DANIEL SCHWEIGER, Soundtrack Editor Published 5/12/2008 - From IF Magazine

If there’s one thing cooler than the return of Indiana Jones to THE KINGDOM OF THE CRYSTAL SKULL then it’s the fact that his first, and best love interest Marion Ravenwood will be accompanying the adventurer for the first time in 27 years. Sure Indy’s gotten busy with a Shanghai chanteuse and a Nazi spy in that time, but none of these ladies had the moxie of this hard-drinking, hard-punching tomboy. As personified by the raven-haired Karen Allen in RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK, Marion Ravenwood became an icon of female derring-do as she got herself into one fix after the other between basket chases, devious monkeys and slithering Egyptian snakes. Now Allen will doubtlessly be getting into more trouble in the top-secret plot of the new Indy film (though it’s a pretty easy guess that the presence of Shia LaBeouf has something to do with one enchanted evening on an old steamer ship). And if the saying that everything old is new again has any truth, than Karen Allen must have gotten a useful glimpse into the magical Ark of the Covenant, as the actress’ radiant appearance and charm has changed little in the intervening years.

Yet it wasn’t as if Karen Allen became an actress with the notion that she’d become the stuff of pop cinema legend. The daughter of an FBI agent, Allen pursued “serious” acting in New York City with Lee Strasberg, as well as studying design before landing an auspicious film debut in 1978’s ANIMAL HOUSE. Allen’s pot-smoking student immediately caught attention (especially for a notorious kitchen scene with Donald Sutherland), and led to other notable work in such rebellious period films as THE WANDERERS and A SMALL CIRCLE OF FRIENDS. The self-reliant energy that Allen gave off in these early films would be perfect for the fiercely independent heroine that Steven Spielberg was looking for in Marion Ravenwood for RAIDERS, a character far different for the shrinking violets of the 1940’s serials that the director brilliantly emulated. And whether running a bar in Nepal or using her wiles on a devious archeologist, Allen’s charm was the true find of the first Indiana Jones movie.

While many other actresses would have run with the blockbuster mileage that Raiders bestowed upon her, Karen Allen chose to go in a more artistic route as a psychologically abused housewife in SHOOT THE MOON, a cultist’s girlfriend in SPLIT IMAGE, the tragic heroine of THE GLASS MENAGERIE, and the daringly sexual mistress of UNTIL SEPTEMBER. Yet Allen would also make another huge impact on popular cinema with her role in STARMAN, a romantic spin on Spielberg’s E.T. that saw her beautifully teach Jeff Bridges the ways of earth people. While Allen would continue with noteworthy appearances in such films as SCROOGED, MALCOLM X, THE SANDLOT, KING OF THE HILL, THE PERFECT STORM and IN THE BEDROOM, the actress essentially concentrated on raising her son, and launching her own textile company.

Thankfully, Karen Allen has now returned to indulge in more fantastical adventures with INDIANA JONES AND THE KINGDOM OF THE CRYSTAL SKULL, helping to lead her old boyfriend and a horde of nasty Russkies through any number of merry, cliffhanging chases. And if there’s any treasure to be had for Allen here, it’s the chance to once again enter the great Hollywood adventure. That might be a rare feat for any mature actress. But when you see Karen Allen back in action, one gets the feeling that maybe Marion Ravenwood rebuilt that bar in Nepal, and has been warming up for the kind of romantic fisticuffs that Indy’s been needing for a long time.

iF: As enjoyable as they were, I thought the Indiana Jones films after Raiders really lacked for a strong heroine. Do you think that’s why Steven had you come back to the series?

KAREN ALLEN: I don’t know all the reasoning behind it, though I’d have loved to be a fly on the wall during the discussions. Steven told me that when Frank Darabont was working on the script, he’d said to him that there was no way he could do this film without bringing Marion Ravenwood back, with me in the role. And Steven instantly said, “Of course, that’s right.” I’m just personally happy that they decided to bring me back, because it’s so wonderful to re-enter this world, and play this wonderful character they created for me.

iF: After RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK, you took the route of making more “personal” films instead of blockbusters. Then you essentially disappeared from movies for a while. Is it fun to be back in this big-budget world for you?

ALLEN: I sort of mixed it up a bit. I went back and worked in the theater. And when it came to film projects, I’d look at them individually to choose the most interesting projects for me. But my hiatus has more to do with raising my son, and trying to figure out how to give him a normal life, one where I wouldn’t have to be pulling him out of school to take him to whenever I’d be shooting. But now that he’s just starting college, I feel that this film is opening up the door for me at the right time, where I can come back again, and work as an actress. And I’m excited about the possibilities of that.

iF: It’s been a while since your dodged danger in exotic places. Did you have to do some major physical training for this film because of that?

ALLEN: I wasn’t necessarily told that I had to. But when I read the script, I knew that we were going to have to be on our toes. These were going to be long days, and the schedule would be stressful. So I went into training on my own, because I think you need to be at your best physical shape. Not just for INDIANA JONES, but for any film you do.

iF: How do you think Harrison Ford has changed the most since you last worked with him?

ALLEN: I think he’s more at home with himself, which comes out in a wonderful sense of humor he has on the set. On the first film, he kept much more to himself. And that made it challenging to get to know Harrison as we were working. But now I think he’s at a place in his life where he’s relaxed, he’s open and emotionally available. And I had a terrific time working with him- not that I didn’t the first time. It was just that the experience on Raiders was a little more tentative, like we were just getting to know each other. Our working relationship was definitely more fun this time.

iF: When the first RAIDERS came out, Indiana Jones was pretty much the kind of archetypical action hero you’d seen in an old movie serial. But Marion definitely seemed a lot more “modern” and spunky than the female he’d usually be rescuing. Do you think that was a quality you brought to the role?

ALLEN: I think there a lot of wonderful things about Marion’s character were there in Lawrence Kasdan’s script. I just fell in love with it. Initially, I’d only read, and auditioned with the scene in the bar when you first meet Marion. And I just loved how she was drinking men under the table and speaking fluent Nepalese. Then when Indy walks into the bar, she immediately cracks him one in the jaw. I just thought “Wow! What a girl!” So I think that how Marion ended up was a great collaboration between this character Lawrence had written and my immediate kinship with her. And I felt very protective of Marion while we were shooting Raiders. I wanted to constantly fight for her dignity, and her willingness to jump into the fray, without standing back on the sidelines.

iF: What’s the biggest change that Marion has made in the new Indy?

ALLEN: Well, it’s difficult to talk about that, given that we’re not supposed to reveal anything about the story. And a lot of the changes in Marion’s life are connected to the plot of the film that’s been kept so incredibly, incredibly secret! But I think I can say that Marion and Indy’s lives over the past twenty years have diverged, and they haven’t seen each other for a long time. She’s been living in the world on her own terms, and has developed into an interesting, completely independent woman who can stand on her own two feet. And that’s definitely a change from the first Raiders. Even though she’s a feisty character in that movie, I felt that Marion was a bit buffeted around by circumstance in it. She’s thrown here, thrown there, dropped into a well of souls and tossed into a basket. But I feel that this time, Marion’s really taking charge of where, and whom she’s going with. And it’s that level of grounding, and maturity in her character that I liked when I read the script.

iF: I remember that there wasn’t nearly this level of secrecy around Raiders. Now the whole blockbuster thing seems to have developed into a “If I tell you about the plot, then I’ll have to kill you” attitude on the part of the filmmakers and the studios. Do you think movie “secrecy” has changed like that?

ALLEN: You know, they were also very secretive when I did the first film. When I was offered the role, they had a courier come from Los Angeles to a location I was filming at. And he had to stay in the room while I was reading the script. That was very odd to me, because I’d never experienced anything like that before! And when I was done, I had to give it back to him. And the courier took the script and left.

iF: Besides FAST TIMES AT RIDGEMONT HIGH, I don’t think there’s been another youth comedy that’s launched more careers than your first movie ANIMAL HOUSE.

ALLEN: ANIMAL HOUSE is the film that will not stop celebrating itself, and I have constant gatherings with a lot of the actors for one reason or the other. I’d come out of experimental theater at the time, and had been steeped in the ’seriosity’ of acting as an art form. So ANIMAL HOUSE was so not the kind of film I was expected to be offered, or to make. Now it’s had a life of its own that’s been amazing to me. It’s aged incredibly well, and it still just as much fun 30 years later. I just went to a reunion for it. ANIMAL HOUSE continues to hold a very special place in my heart. It opened so many doors. Not just for myself, but also for this amazing group of actors, most of whom I’m still quite good friends with.

iF: You made another great “period” youth movie after it called THE WANDERERS, which has its own cult as well.

ALLEN: I had a great time doing it, and Philip Kaufman and the writer Richard Price are two of my favorites. I know THE WANDERERS has an amazing cult status, more in Europe than in the United States. I can’t tell you how many people come up to me when I’m in England to tell me how much they love the film, and how many times they’ve seen it.

iF: You really came into your own as an actress in A SMALL CIRCLE OF FRIENDS.

ALLEN: That was actually the film that made Steven Spielberg interested in casting me for RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK. A SMALL CIRCLE OF FRIENDS was my first leading role in a film, and I was amazed that I was getting a chance to play such an incredible character in a real coming of age film that was set during the 60’s. First she’s a struggling artist who gets politicized, then gets involved in feminism and all the lives of the two characters, one of whom is being drafted to Vietnam. What I remember the most about the experience is what an incredible collaboration it felt like. That was Rob Cohen’s first film, and he was incredibly respectful of me, Brad David and Jameson Parker. He encouraged us to bring our own ideas to the characters and the movie. I loved that, because it connected to a lot of my experience as a theater actor. We rehearsed a lot, and the writer was there all the time. It felt like this wonderful artistic process, and gave me that great feeling of, “Oh, this is how films get made.”

iF: A particularly dark film you made during that period which has been getting renewed interest is William Friedkin’s CRUISING. It might be the most twisted movie that’s ever come out of Hollywood, and you certainly had a difficult part to play as the girlfriend of an undercover cop in the gay S&M scene.

ALLEN: I haven’t seen the movie since it came out. Someone sent me a copy of the new DVD release, which I haven’t watched yet. CRUISING was a bit dark for me when it came out, and I remember feeling very disturbed by it. And the actual making of it was also very difficult, especially for Al Pacino. William Friedkin was very secretive about this film, and I was only allowed to read my scenes with Al. At the end I put on his leather jacket and hat, and people are always asking me “What does this mean?” And I tell them I have no idea! (laughs). Friedkin just asked me to do that out of the blue one day, and it was never in the script. Now I think I have to see CRUISING again. Maybe then I’ll have a better idea about that ending. I just remember that I found the whole experience to be very disturbing. It was not a film I felt comfortable with, and I don’t even know how to tell you why. It was just very dark, brutal and frightening.

iF: After RAIDERS, you took a big risk by making UNTIL SEPTEMBER, a romance where you played a very sexual, and emotional heroine.

ALLEN: Marquand was a director I adored working with, and I was heartbroken when he passed away way too early in his life. He helped make UNTIL SEPTEMBER one of my most enjoyable filmmaking experiences. We shot it in Paris, where I got to live for four months. And I’ve remained friends with the lead Thierry Lhermitte for all of these years. We talk, e-mail and see each other from time to time. He was a delightful person to work with, and it was a magical summer in my life. It was one of those great gifts to get to do a film like UNTIL SEPTEMBER, even though it was a bit risqué for me. I’d never, ever done a film that was so sexually explicit, or emotionally vulnerable. But somehow being in France made it fun! On the weekends, everybody would pile into cars and we’d spend time in the south of France. Everybody would walk around with practically nothing on. And because they were so relaxed, you being to feel terribly uptight as an American! And that in turn helped me to relax, and do the kind of scenes I’d never done, and sworn that I would never do. But in the context of telling that story, it seemed to make sense.

iF: If there’s one movie that mass audiences will remember you for beyond the Indiana Jones films, it will be STARMAN.

ALLEN: That was a special film to me, and has a lovely place in my heart. And it’s the one film I’ve longed to do a sequel to. People often come up to me and ask me where my son with the Starman is. He left telling me that my son would be a wise teacher, half of this world, and half of his. Now the fans want me to give him that ball so he can save the world. It’s a story that would be fantastic to retell. Jeff Bridges and I have talked about it from time to time. But whether of not that will happen, I don’t know.

iF: Do you think that the new Indy could make it happen?

ALLEN: Well, it’s possible. It would be a wonderful thing.

iF: You now have a weaving business. Do you think that sums up the “Zen” attitude that has made your life steadier, and balanced over the years than other actresses who have been in films as big as RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK?

ALLEN: I’ve always wanted to be a creative force in my own life. And I think that’s always been a bit of an awkward fit for me, because I want to have an interesting creative life, day-to-day. I want to wake up every morning and say, “I’m going to dig my teeth into this.” The acting profession is very tricky in that way. You work, and then the job is over. Then you go into a holding pattern, waiting to see what you’re going to do next. Whether you’ll be in the theater, film or tv. You’re unemployed and waiting to be re-employed. And I’ve always had a difficult time with that aspect of it, especially when those holding patterns started to become too long. I felt that I needed to take my life into my own hands, and do something that was interesting and creative, something that would inspire me every day. A lot of my life was also filled with raising my son. And I wanted to be that kind of hands-on mom, and not just somebody who’s dropping into their child’s life from time to time. So I created my design studio and a line of knitwear. This was actually my first passion to work with designs, textiles, color and patterns within those textiles. It excited me the most as a child growing up. And then it drove me to go to MIT in New York City to study design. Even when my life was mostly about acting, design and textiles were always on the back burner. And I knew I’d get back to it sometime in my life. Because you can’t work in the acting world without knowing that there will be a fallow period when you hit your 40’s and 50’s.

iF: How does that make you feel to be an action figure icon for two different generations of Indiana Jones fans?

ALLEN: Those are just wonderful little perks that let you enter the popular culture. I’ve seen my action figure from RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK with my white dress and the monkey. While I haven’t seen my action figure for CRYSTAL SKULL, I have seen the Lego one they’ve come up with as a tribute to RAIDERS. And I get a kick out of it. I mean, to see myself as a Lego figure! That’s incredibly cool. Still, I’m actually glad that my son is no longer playing with Legos, because it would be a little weird to have him playing with mine!