Spend five minutes in Karen Allen's company and you don't want to leave -- no more than you would want to walk away from her spunky heroine Marion Ravenwood in the first and last installments of Steven Spielberg's "Indiana Jones" adventures. Even now, at 60, with her freckled face and girlish bangs, Allen draws you in with wide, expressive eyes and a warm, husky laugh that banishes all bull. She took time off from rehearsing Jon Fosse's play "A Summer's Day," slated to open at Manhattan's Cherry Lane Theater in October, to discuss one of her most beloved roles, as Indiana Jones's one true love and the one he almost let get away. Why now? This week, Lucasfilm Ltd. released the four films in a complete set that includes seven hours of extras with never-before-released behind-the-scenes footage on Blu-ray.
Snakes in a well
Thelma Adams: Of all the dangers you had to submit to making the film, the most shiver-inducing is when Marion tumbles into the pit of snakes in the Well of the Souls. It couldn't have been as scary to make as it looks onscreen, right?
Karen Allen: The snakes came as a bit of a surprise to me! I knew there was that scene in the Well of the Souls, and there were all these snakes down there, but I didn't have a concept of what that was going to be. I didn't really picture 6,000 snakes. In fact, when we first started shooting, Steven had made these mechanical snakes out of rubber and they were somehow electronically hooked up and they made these snaky motions. He thought this was going to work, that all of the distance shots could be done with mechanical snakes. The plan was that when we got to close-ups, you can have some of the real snakes in there. So he only had a couple of hundred snakes on the set. Suddenly, it became clear that these mechanical snakes looked terrible. It didn't matter how far away you got the camera [she laughs], they just didn't work. So the fake snakes were torn up from the base of the set and this call went out to "Snakes R Us" or something. Most of the snakes came, I think, from India. All of these snakes came pouring into London and we had, I think, 6,000 snakes on the set within a matter of days. They lived in these big bins about the size of this coffee table. There would be hundreds of snakes per bin, and they would put me on the set and then because the snakes hated the light, they wanted to be someplace cool and dark, and so they would bring me out there with nothing on my legs, in that little white dress that had been ripped, so it's gone from being to the ground to being up to my knees. So, basically, I'm naked to my legs and I lost a shoe when I fell down the well, so I'm there with one shoe on and one shoe off and now suddenly they're pouring snakes onto me. And, because they wanted them to lie very close to my feet, they literally were like pouring them onto my feet. The first few times it happened I was like, "ucch, I can't believe this is happening to me." And then after a while I really got as comfortable as a person can be [laughs] having snakes thrown at them. Bring 'em on. Although there were pythons that were dangerous, most of the snakes were grass snakes. You can stick your finger in their mouth and they won't bite. But there were some dangerous snakes on the set as well, and if you saw those snakes coming toward you, you just had to get outta there as quickly as possible because they would bite you.
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The bar scene: one in the kisser
TA: On the new "Indiana Jones: The Complete Adventures," there's behind-the-scenes footage of Steven Spielberg directing the bar scene between you and Harrison Ford in "Raiders of the Lost Ark." What do you remember about filming that sequence?
KA: We shot it over a period of about a week. It was a scene that I absolutely loved because it was also my audition piece. I love the character in that scene, I loved Indiana Jones coming in, and he's the last person Marion expects to see. And I love that it turns out that he's come there just to find out if she has something that he wants. Here is this person who broke her heart and, in her total lack of impulse control, she launches a punch right off his jaw and lands it. What's so funny as an actor, the things that really stand out for you, because I really love actions -- you know like there are words that are the text of the scenes and then there are the actions. Even to this day when I watch that scene, I'm watching the glasses that I'm putting on the table and I'm bothered by the fact that there is not enough reality to the way I'm bussing the tables. Nobody else in the world will probably ever notice it. We shot it so many times and when I look at the scene, it just doesn't quite make sense to me the way I'm doing it -- and that bugs me. Still, after 30 years, I'm like, 'No, that's not right, she wouldn't do it that way.' [Laughs.]
The mysterious disappearance of Marion: The fans demand a return
TA: It seemed to me that you were the great female role model of the "Indiana Jones" quartet. You did your part in "Raiders of the Lost Ark" and it was almost by general acclaim that, by "Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull," fans said, "We have to have Marion back." And you returned. How did it really play out?
KA: Over the years, there was the backlash of people saying to me, "Why weren't you in the other two films?" They felt really betrayed, like I had said no to participating in the next films, which I hadn't. I had been told from the beginning that I would only be in the first film and that the other two were going to go backwards in time. But for some reason, and I don't know why exactly, it somehow didn't get talked about in the press when the other films came out. People somehow were left with the impression that I had had the opportunity to do these films and had turned them down. Well, no, that had never happened. I would have loved to continue to be in the other films. Steven Spielberg now says that the only reason that he made a fourth one was because people kept saying, "Aren't you going to do another Indiana Jones film?" So he finally surrendered. I guess at that point, he decided that now that they had done the two that went backwards in time, it was necessary to go forward. I guess the possibility of me coming back into the story came up. Steven told me that it wasn't even his idea! It was Frank Darabont's [Ed. Note: Darabont wrote an early draft of the script]. Frank was one of the first persons to have a crack at the script. Steven said this to me [laughter in her voice] and I thought, "Really?" Steven had asked, "What kind of female character do you think we should have in this?" and Frank turned to Steven and said, "Well, we have to bring back Marion." And Steven said, "Ooh? Yeah, I guess that's a good idea," or something to that effect.
Ya think, Steven? It may be sacrilegious to admit this, but "Raiders of the Lost Ark" has always been my favorite Spielberg movie -- and that is largely thanks to Marion Ravenwood and the interplay between Ford and Allen. For those, like me, who always craved more Marion onscreen (and met the arrival of Kate Capshaw -- the future Mrs. Steven Spielberg -- in "Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom" with an eye-roll), her return in the fourth episode was essential.
For more insider information about the vivacious actress and the making of the "Indiana Jones" quartet, check out the five-disc collector set.
See outtakes with Karen Allen and Harrison Ford from 'The Raiders of the Lost Ark':