Allen reflects on Indiana Jones

Actress Karen Allen spoke about her career at Yale on Tuesday.
Actress Karen Allen spoke about her career at Yale on Tuesday. Photo by Emilie Foyer.

More than 30 years ago, actress Karen Allen caught director Steven Spielberg’s eye in her first role as a long-suffering girlfriend in the collegiate classic “National Lampoon’s Animal House.”

Spielberg cast Allen as Marion Ravenwood, a love interest of Indiana Jones in the 1981 film “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” launching her career as a Hollywood actress and later, as an entrepreneur. Allen discussed her turn in the Indiana Jones franchise and other aspects of her career at a master’s tea in Berkeley College on Tuesday.

Allen spoke about filming the adventure series, and said she had no idea what she was getting herself into when she first started working on it. Reading the script, she said, she envisioned a subdued adventure more along the lines of the classic film “Casablanca.” She said she was bewildered to find herself in catacombs, where mummies were supposed to be toppling down on her head.

“It doesn’t occur to you [when you’re reading the script] that you’re actually going to be in a pit of snakes,” said Allen.

She also related behind-the-scene moments of the filmmaking. Allen revealed the origins of a famous scene in “Raiders of the Lost Ark” in which Harrison Ford as Indiana Jones fires his gun to end an awkward sword fight. The extra who was supposed to act out the elaborate sword fight with Ford was ill-prepared, Allen said. Ford, who was then suffering from Montezuma’s disease — better known as traveler’s diarrhea — grew impatient under the scorching sun. At one point, Allen said, Ford announced, “I’ve got a gun, why don’t I just shoot him,” and the scene was created.

When asked about her return to the series in the 2008 movie “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull,” Allen said she was happy to resume the role.

“Some characters I left behind when I finished working on them, but [Marion Ravenwood] stayed with me for the rest of my life,” she said, adding that the script for the film was as familiar to her as an old friend.

Allen said the filming “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull” was exceptionally well-coordinated, adding that Spielberg’s crew was “a well-oiled machine.”

Still, Allen said, the film was not perfect. She said she finds the movie’s last scene “cheesy” because of the heavy use of computer graphics. Acting in front of a green screen can be difficult, she added, since an actor must use his or her imagination to fill in the scene’s setting.

After acting for 15 years, Allen gave birth to a son at the age of 38. Though she said she was able to bring him with her as she traveled across the world to film sets, she said it became more difficult to do so once he began school.

Her career in theater and her life as a parent became difficult to balance, Allen said, so she returned to a passion she had left behind to act — knitting. Though she still acts and is scheduled to direct a theater production this year, Allen said she now has a knit apparel studio in Massachusetts called Karen Allen Fiber Arts.

“I didn’t know what to expect because she acted in a lot of big films, but she was refreshingly down-to-earth,” Ray Xiong ’12 said after the event.

Tim Kressman ’12, president of the Yale Film Society, which hosted the event, said Allen is “the most personable” member of the Indiana Jones franchise.

(Kressman is a former copy editor for the News.)

Allen has also filmed with famed actors such as Jeff Bridges, Al Pacino, Cate Blanchett and John Malkovich.

Clarification: April 22, 2011

This article quoted Allen saying that she found the ending scene of a spaceship taking off in the film “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull” as “cheesy.” She went on to explain that the movie was set in the 50’s when there was an infatuation with science fiction films in America amid the context of the Space Race and other technological developments. The quote was part of a broader expression of personal opinion regarding working with computer graphics as an actress.

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