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

Last June, when Nick was preparing to go to college, his father came east to stay with him while Allen headed for New Mexico to start the Indiana Jones sequel. On the first day of filming, she and Ford, who turned 65 during the shoot, had to leap from the back of a moving truck into its cab. "Harrison and I were laughing in between takes, saying, ‘Here we go again,’" she says. "It just felt really seamless." The new film is set in 1957, with Indy and Marion battling Cold War Russians (led by a diabolical Cate Blanchett) for the possibly supernatural artifact of the title. Shia LaBeouf (Transformers) plays a young man who may or may not be the couple’s love child.
This time around, Allen reports, she will not share a scene with 7,000 snakes, as she and Ford memorably did in the original. (Trivia: To simulate the noise made by the slithering reptiles, the sound designer ran his fingers through a cheese casserole.) She deals with only one snake in this go-round, but it’s satisfyingly jumbo size. "I adored it," Allen says. "It was huge and beautiful and cool."
But the script presented plenty of other challenges, and according to LaBeouf, "Karen was down for it all. It was never Karen saying, ‘No, Steven, the fire’s too close,’ or ‘That bomb’s too loud.’ Instead, it was ‘Karen, we’re about to go jump in these rapids,’ and she was so excited, like a kid."
Initially, LaBeouf was a little dazzled by her. "Anybody who saw Raiders is in love with Karen Allen," says the 22-year-old. "I feel that way, my dad feels that way, a lot of the crew feel that way." He laughs. "You come to the set and you’re fighting with other guys over Karen’s attention!" Besides being beautiful, he says, his seasoned costar was overwhelmingly kind. "Here I am, this young-buck actor on this gargantuan movie," he says. "And every time I was nervous, I’d have a talk with her. As soon as you see her smile, the nervousness is gone. Without Karen, I would have had a very tough shoot."
Back in 1981, it was Allen who was the intense young actor. But this time, "it felt so natural and easy," she says. "Now we’ve all grown up, we all have kids: Steven has seven children; Harrison has several families." She laughs. "As a younger actor, I had a harder time enjoying the process. I was so serious about it all; there was more ego involved. I’d never worked on big action things where you spend the entire day navigating through snakes or having corpses fall on your head, and I was overwhelmed. My film career happened so quickly, it was all by the seat of my pants."

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