NEW YORK—Indiana Jones. Karen Allen always knew that she would come walking back through her door.
Since 1981’s “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” Allen has been only a sporadic presence in subsequent sequels. But the radiance of the freckled, wide-eyed actor who so memorably portrayed Marion Ravenwood has only grown stronger with time.
Indiana Jones may be one of the most iconic characters in movies, but he’s always needed a good foil. They were Kate Capshaw and Ke Huy Quan in “Temple of Doom” and Sean Connery in “The Last Crusade”. Yet no one could outdrink, or outdrink, Allen’s Marion, a wisecracking naturalist beauty and intrepid heir to wacky legends like Katharine Hepburn and Irene Dunne.
Allen’s place in the latest and final “Indiana Jones,” the newly released “Dial of Destiny,” has long been a mystery. Now that the movie is in theaters (spoiler alert), we can finally let the cat out of the bag. Allen returns. And while his role isn’t great (tragedy has torn Marion and Indiana apart), he is extremely moving in the way he figures into Harrison Ford’s swansong as Indiana Jones.
“Secrets,” Allen laughed in a recent interview, “are not my specialty.”
Allen, 71, was a magnetic presence in some memorable movies of the 1970s and ’80s, including 1978’s “Animal House” (the performance that caught Steven Spielberg’s attention), 1984’s “Starman” and “Scrooged.” from 1988. But though she has worked steadily ever since, the male-dominated Hollywood of the era often seemed to waste her talents. Allen has lived for decades in the Berkshires, where he opened a textile and clothing boutique and has frequently performed in Tanglewood.
Allen also returned to Marion in 2008’s “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.” But just as “Dial of Destiny” signifies the end of Ford’s run as Indy, it’s also Allen’s goodbye to his most beloved character. . This time, the Indiana partner went to Phoebe Waller-Bridge, the creator and star of “Fleabag.” Allen, praising Waller-Bridge as a strong woman, approves.
“If it wasn’t going to be me,” Allen said, “I’m glad it was her.”
PA: Did Spielberg or Dial of Destiny director James Mangold contact you about coming back as Marion?
ALLEN: There was a period of time where Steven was going to direct the movie. It was my understanding, though I never read any of those scripts, that it was largely playing out as a still-ongoing Marion and Indy story. When Steven decided to quit and James took over and brought in new writers, I knew he was going in a different direction. Since he didn’t even know what it was before, it was even more mysterious after it was taken over. So I didn’t really know anything for a long period of time until they had a script. And I have to confess that I was a little disappointed that she wasn’t more woven through the story and didn’t have a more continuous trajectory. However, the way she returns to the story was very satisfying. I just thought, “Okay, I’m going to accept this.” I certainly would have been hugely disappointed if Marion had simply vanished into the ether.
PA: Did you always think that Marion and Indiana were meant for each other? You don’t exactly get a sense of permanence between them in “Raiders.”
ALLEN: It is funny. When I started working on it, I decided that Indy was the love of his life. I decided to commit deeply to that and play “Raiders of the Lost Ark” with the feeling that they are soul mates. When we ended up getting married on “Crystal Skull”, I cried when I read that script.
PA: “Indiana Jones” might be a boy’s world, but you were such an energetic force of nature.
ALLEN: Well, Steven and George had this experience as kids with these Saturday afternoon serial movies. They were a little older than me, so I missed out on that. I don’t have a reference point for that. So I don’t think he necessarily understood the genre of film we were making. I thought we were doing “Casablanca.” I really, really did. So I defined my character in that kind of genre, which I think strangely works quite well for the film. I never envisioned Marion as a damsel in distress in any way. He was always fighting against it, and in the end, Steven supported him.
PA: Have you ever wished you had the chance to star in more Hollywood movies?
ALLEN: I make movies all the time, although in the last 10 or 15 years I’ve tended to focus more on independent movies. In truth, the kinds of roles that I really want to play, especially for someone my age, are written more in the independent world. People think: “Where have you been?” There were times when I was raising my son, but often I do at least two movies a year. They’re very satisfying, probably more satisfying than the kind of roles they would offer me. Many times I rejected things. There are plenty of thankless roles for women in bigger-budget movies.
PA: What has Marion meant to you?
ALLEN: She is at the center of my growth as an actor and certainly in my relationship with the world. As I’ve moved through the world, I’ve identified with that character a lot. Maybe there was a brief period of time where I found it annoying. But that happened and now it is only this character that I love. I can’t imagine anything more fulfilling than having had the opportunity in life to create a character that has some meaning to people.
PA: What was it like filming your scenes with Ford in “Dial of Destiny”?
ALLEN: It was fantastic. We shot it all in one day or maybe two days. Just imagine these two people who have been torn apart by grief and loss and then she comes back hoping they can move on. When we played the scene, that was very, very moving. We were both very affected and a little tearful. And the crew was a bit tearful.
PA: What has it been like keeping your role in the film a secret?
ALLEN: It has been unbearable. (laughs) I’ll never have to do something like that again. People have come up to me and they’ve been really upset because they didn’t see my name on IMDb. People would be so angry that I would have to stand there and say, “What do I say? I say, ‘Yeah, isn’t that a drag?’ or ‘Never, you never know, wink, wink’”. I’ve had to say that I just can’t answer any questions about “Indiana Jones,” which I feel is like saying I’m in the movie. It’s a lose-lose situation. (laughs)
PA: Does playing Marion one last time limit you in any way?
ALLEN: More for Harrison than for me. He is a fully developed character and has done all five. With Marion, I have come and gone. But she will always be a character who moves through life with me. I don’t know if I really have a feeling that she’s over. There was always the feeling that she would become one more, even if she took 20 years. Now, they’ve been very clear that this is the last one. So it’s a letting go.
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