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

She grins. "Hey, do you want to see my studio and the shop?" She grabs her keys, and we drive to the store, an airy, inviting place that sells not only her wares but also those of some 60 other designers from all over the world. "Hi, Karen," calls a woman across the street as Allen alights from her car.
A man pops his head out of the store next to hers. "Hi, Karen," he says. "Come see me later." After she proudly gives me a tour of the store, we head to her studio a few streets over, a large, tranquil room that’s like a Crayola box of colored spools of yarn. She straightens a pile of sweaters, then sits in a chair and looks around contentedly. "I’m usually here by myself," she says. "I just put on the music and start knitting." She creates about 725 items a year — "not a huge output, but as much as I can handle" — doing about 70 percent of the work herself; the rest is produced by two knitters in New Jersey and New York.
Occasionally she shares her skills in weekend-long workshops at the Kripalu Center for Yoga & Health, in nearby Lenox. The 50 or so women who attend usually don’t bring up their instructor’s other job — at least at first. "On Friday night, it’s totally about knitting," Allen says. "And then on Saturday, about halfway through the day, someone will say, ‘Okay, was Jeff Bridges really as great a guy as he seems?’ " (The answer? "He was an absolute doll.")
Allen may also dip a toe back into the dating pool. While she was raising her son, she had "two or three" relationships, but didn’t want to traumatize him with a series of new "uncles." Now she’s ready to venture out, although if it doesn’t happen, that’s fine too. "I’m quite enjoying my life," she says. She has a wide circle of friends, reads voraciously, travels, skis, and plays piano. "I feel that if I’m going to get involved at this point, I’m looking for the person I’d spend the rest of my life with," she says. "And short of that, I honestly like being on my own." She shrugs. "Every once in a while, I’ll see a really romantic movie, and think, why can’t I find somebody like him? But I’m kind of reconciled to the possibility that I might not."
She is equally pragmatic about her acting career. "There just aren’t that many wonderful roles for women over 45," she says. "I come from a generation of fantastic actresses, most of whom are not working at all, and I don’t think it’s because they stopped wanting to."
Ford has noted a change in her, born of experience. "I think Karen’s got more self-confidence than she did when she was a bit younger," he says. "For her, now, acting is not the only option. It’s just kind of a hoot."
Over the years, Allen says, she’s had offers for television series, but none excited her. "For actors over a certain age, everybody thinks you’re going to work in television. It seems to me there’s one good show a year — like right now I love In Treatment. But most television I find unbearably bad." She flashes that iconic grin again. "So if an acting job comes along that I want to do, fantastic, and meanwhile, I have this really full, rich, interesting life." And one that’s slightly surreal: She talks about attending Crystal Skull‘s glitzy May premiere in Cannes and facing acres of photographers — but first she’s got a backlog of scarf orders to fill.
Originally published in MORE magazine, June 2008.

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