Karen Allen: Back in Action

Karen Allen, 56, has a thriving business and a reunion with Indiana Jones in the role that made her famous.

By Jancee Dunn
Karen Allen, 56
Photograph: Photo by: Michael O'Neill

The Heroine Returns
She was the first crush of a million boys, the spunky role model for a generation of girls. As Marion Ravenwood, the game-for-anything heroine of 1981’s Raiders of the Lost Ark, Karen Allen threw punches, drank burly men under the table, and even managed to look good in a fussy white dress with a big flower on her backside.
But Marion didn’t make it into the blockbuster film’s two sequels, and Allen moved on — to other roles (Starman, Scrooged), motherhood, and a new vocation as a maker of knitwear. Over the years, fans never gave up hope that she’d return to the role, and friends would call whenever rumors surfaced that Steven Spielberg was planning a fourth Indiana Jones film, but Allen never heard anything official.
Until January 2007, when the man himself phoned.
"Steven said, ‘I guess you know why I’m calling,’" Allen says. "And what’s funny is that his wife, Kate Capshaw, had just bought a lot of my knitwear for Christmas presents." She throws back her head and laughs. "I thought he was going to tell me he loved the presents! He said, ‘Haven’t you been watching television? We’re doing another film, and you’re in it.’ And it wasn’t a cameo, it was a big, beautiful part! I was jumping up and down."
Yes, at 56, Allen is reprising her iconic role, in Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, a film so feverishly anticipated that when the trailer was released, it was viewed more than 200 million times in its first week. What’s even better, she says, "is that we’re not pretending that we haven’t aged — the movie takes place more than 20 years later."
If she had to, though, Allen could easily pass for 20 years younger. When I meet her at her 1820s home, a converted barn in the Berkshires, in western Massachusetts, she is waiting at the door with a big grin, her clear blue-green eyes alight, looking slim and strong in black jeans and a chic black shirt. "Come in!" she says, throwing open the door and bounding up stairs to the kitchen. "Are you hungry? How about some tea?"
Allen brims with warmth and energy. "Karen has this sort of girlish streak to her, even as a mature woman," says Indy himself, Harrison Ford. "And yet it’s not a coy thing. It’s not a weak thing. She has a sense of adventure." On the first day of filming, "there I was in a fedora and a leather jacket," he says, "and she showed up looking like the Karen of old." He laughs. "Or of young."
The actress is flattered but also somewhat baffled by the emphasis on her youthful appearance, which is dissected on Internet message boards under headings such as "What the hell is her secret?" As she offers me a bowl of yogurt and raspberries, she muses, "When people say to me, ‘Oh, you haven’t aged at all!’ I think, that’s a nice thing to say, but yes, I have. I feel as if I embody my age: healthy, good, age-appropriate." (She does give fountain-of-youth credit to good genes, a lifetime of yoga, elliptical-machine workouts and skincare products by SK-II, Patricia Wexler, and Bobbi Brown. Plus a complexion tip from Joanne Woodward: witch hazel. "I’ve used it every day since," Allen says.)
We settle into cushy chairs, and Pumpkin, one of Allen’s two cats, jumps into my lap. It’s the coziest scene imaginable, and Hollywood seems far, far away.
Allen lives alone in this house, which is filled with books, art, and mementos from her many travels ("This is one of my favorite vases," she says, pointing to a large Greek vessel with an octopus painted on it). Divorced from actor Kale Browne, she moved here five years ago with their son, Nick, and made their second home a fulltime residence. Now Nick, 17, attends a nearby college. She misses him, but she’s not the type to sit on the couch paging through photo albums. "Honestly, I have to say, 56 is my favorite age ever," she says. "I’ve raised my son, and I’ll never stop being his mother. But now he’s moved on in his life, and that opens up mine as well. It’s taken me this long to figure out how to create a life that’s diverse and interesting and balanced."

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