Q&A with Karen Allen for 40th anniversary of “Raiders of the Lost Ark”

Karen Allen starred in "Raiders of the Lost Ark," released in 1981, which became the biggest film of that year. PARAMOUNT
Caption
Karen Allen starred in "Raiders of the Lost Ark," released in 1981, which became the biggest film of that year. PARAMOUNT

Credit: Paramount

Credit: Paramount

She can’t say if she’s in the fifth “Raiders” installment.

Four decades ago, the popcorn adventure film “Raiders of the Lost Ark” hit movie theaters with plenty of pedigree: Harrison Ford, fresh off two huge “Star Wars” films, was the primary star Indiana Jones, with the powerhouse team of Steven Spielberg and George Lucas as executive producers.

They also cast up-and-coming actress Karen Allen as Marion Ravenwood, Indy’s former lover and a tough-talking, hard-drinking bar owner in Nepal who helps Indy find the ark of the covenant.

The chemistry worked and the film became the biggest movie of the year. Allen is doing press to help promote the new 4K Ultra HD release of the entire “Indiana Jones” series. There is also a fifth installment of the “Indiana Jones” journey in the works now, but she was unable to say anything about it, which implies she’ll probably be in it. (She did appear in the fourth version in 2008.)

Here is my ten minutes with her by phone earlier this week:

Where are you now?

Allen: I am in the southwest part of Massachusetts in the Berkshires. I have had a place here for 30 years. I’m part time here. This is my home away from home in the country. It’s near some wonderful small town.

Some films stand the test of time. Other’s don’t. What is it about ‘Raiders’ that makes it timeless?

Allen: It’s an interesting combination of things. Steven Spielberg is a great storyteller and beautiful filmmaker. Harrison plays a kind of imperfect hero. At the time, we didn’t see that. Most heroes were very macho and gung ho. Or they’re suave like James Bond. Indy punches somebody in the face and it hurts his hand. He is that normal guy in the guise of a hero.

The new Raiders 4K Ultra HD box set.
Caption
The new Raiders 4K Ultra HD box set.

Credit: PARAMOUNT

Credit: PARAMOUNT

How would you describe the Indy-Marion dynamic?

Allen: The relationship between Marion and Indy is beautifully fashioned. They have this history. But we know something happened that was hurtful to Marion. So they have this wonderful love/hate rat-a-tat-tat. It harkens back to those 1940s movies with Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy. It honors a wonderful cinematic tradition that we hadn’t seen in awhile.

It’s also just a great story about the ark. I didn’t know the powerful, mysterious story going in about the ark of the covenant. I didn’t know how obsessed Hitler was with powerful objects. He was having people go out and try to find them. The film is a great story with a great filmmaker, as well as wonderful characters and script.

When was the last time you actually watched the film?

Allen: People will do screenings in a theater usually for a benefit and they’ll invite me to come and introduce it and do a Q&A. I will often sit in the audience and watch the movie again. It’s so important in a sense. I don’t know if I’d be really keen to see it on a small screen. There’s a screening this August at a Norman Rockwell Museum near where I have my house. It’s a benefit. That’s kind of my history with it.

Could you sense at that time that Steven Spielberg was going to become a legend?

Allen: I had just seen “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” [which was directed by Spielberg]. I was very moved by that film, by that story. I had grown up in the 1960s when things that came from outer space were seen as evil and dangerous and wanted to eat us up or blow us up or suck us into a black hole. To see a film where there was this desire for community. I was touched by that. It really did something to me. So going into ‘Raiders,’ I already had a love for his work as a filmmaker. He had just come off the John Belushi film [”1941″] that had been such a disappointment to him. He was feeling blue and humbled. I was just in awe. I had a really good experience auditioning for him. I was so happy when they gave me the part.

Karen Allen in "Raiders of the Lost Ark." PARAMOUNT
Caption
Karen Allen in "Raiders of the Lost Ark." PARAMOUNT

Credit: PARAMOUNT

Credit: PARAMOUNT

What did you like about Marion the most as a character, especially given the context that this was 1981?

Allen: It was 1981. The film, of course, takes place in the 1930s. Her character harkens back to Old Hollywood in the sense of all those great films I grew up with. I didn’t grow up in the 1930s and 1940s but those films were on television all the time. Those were the films I was most familiar with. There were a lot of strong women in those films. It was Joan Crawford and Bette Davis and Lauren Bacall. These were not shrinking violets. I don’t know what happened in the 1950s and ’60s. Women became more sex objects and not bright.

When we meet Marion, she’s drinking 300-pound men under the table, knocking back shots. She stands up and starts speaking Nepalese, ordering a horde of drunken men out of her bar. Then she cracks Indy in the face. You’re immediately, like, “OK. Who is this woman? And how could I be more like her?’”

There’s a fifth Indy movie happening. Are you in it?

Allen: They love to keep their secrets. I have been asked to keep it in the secret nest and say nothing. We’ll let everyone speculate!

About the Author

ajc.com