With vile white supremacists again in the news, what we need more than ever is the return of Indiana Jones and his feisty bride Marion Ravenwood—and if you ask Marion herself, actress Karen Allen, she’s more than ready to resume Nazi-punching duties, should the phone ring.
“They’ve announced it for July 2020,” Allen says from her Massachusetts home. “It’s very much shrouded in mystery at this point, and there’s nothing more that I’d love than to be a part of it. We just got married—there has to be more!” Still, her participation remains, for now, up in the air. “I would just love to do it, and I won’t know until they tell me. I might be in it, I might not be in it—I’m very hopeful I will, but you never know!”
Even with decades of stellar movies on her resume—including John Carpenter’s Starman, Richard Donner’s Scrooged, and Steven Soderbergh’s King of the Hill—the charming 65-year-old Allen remains best known for her work as the roundhouse-delivering love interest of Harrison Ford’s audacious archaeologist in Steven Spielberg’s 1981 classic Raiders of the Lost Ark. Though she didn’t appear in the series’ subsequent two sequels (1984’s Temple of Doom and 1989’s The Last Crusade), she was, to most fans, the ideal foil for Ford’s swashbuckler, a take-no-guff heroine who gave as well as she got. Thus, cinephiles rejoiced when she reunited with Spielberg and Ford for 2008’s Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, in which Indy learns that he and Marion have a son (Shia LaBeouf’s Mutt), and which concludes with the couple tying the knot.
Although that series installment somewhat polarized audiences, Allen recalls it fondly. “It was fantastic. We had such a good time. It’s one of the rare delights—and it hasn’t happened to me a lot—where I’ve gotten to go back and work with the same director again. It’s happened in the theater a bit, but in film, you just don’t get the opportunity to work with the same director again and again. And it can be so much fun, because you know each other already, and it allows for a feeling of comfort and familiarity that is very good.”
A sense of closeness certainly informed Allen’s latest role in Year by the Sea (out Sept. 8 in NYC; Sept. 15 in LA), a new drama based on the memoirs of author Joan Anderson in which she stars as Joan, a married woman who—with her children grown and her husband (Michael Cristofer) uninterested in keeping their spark alive—opts to move to Cape Cod on her own. Having split time over the past thirty years between New York City and Massachusetts, the actress was immediately drawn to the project—even more so after she acquainted herself with Anderson’s work, which echoed certain aspects of her own life. “I wasn’t familiar with her memoirs, but I later discovered that there were lots of different ways in which our lives intersected. For some reason, I had just never come across them. But I was sent the script, I read it, and I thought, ‘Wow, this is a beautiful story,’ and went out and got her first book—Year by the Sea—and read it right away.”
Joan’s New England retreat spoke directly to Allen’s own part-time relocation to Massachusetts. It was a decision that came from a need for a “respite from living full-time in New York City. I would be doing two films back-to-back, or I’d do a play in New York and then a film, and at the end, I would always feel that I needed restoration,” she laughs. Still, lest one think that she’s become a rural woman at heart, she’s quick to add, “I love them both. I don’t think I would want one without the other. I have discovered, about myself, that to be 365 days in New York City is not the kind of life I want to live. But to be entirely in the country doesn’t quite work either. So they both have wonderful qualities. It’s a nice balance to be able to have a bit of both environments in my life.”
A throw-caution-to-the-wind sort of woman, Joan also proved naturally in tune with Allen’s daring spirit. “I’ve always been a go-off-and-have-adventures kind of person, so I really relate to that aspect of [Year by the Sea],” she confesses. “I travelled all through Central and South America, the West Indies and Mexico when I was in my early 20s—went by car all through Central America, and into South America. And my son and I have adventures all the time. We go down to Chile and Argentina, and we went down to the Falkland Islands, and I went to India a few years ago. I’m an adventurer. I love exploring the world.”
Janko’s film afforded Allen a new set of exciting experiences: clamming for the first time; becoming a seasoned row-boater; and swimming with seals—although not too closely. “We had to be really careful, because seals weigh 800 pounds, and while I don’t believe they’re aggressive creatures toward human beings, they certainly are there for the fish. I would imagine there is quite a danger being in the water with too many seals, because they move rapidly, and just the flip of their tail could knock you unconscious.” Consequently, precautions were taken to maintain a safe distance between the star and her aquatic mates. “I think the idea in the beginning was to have me really in the water with a seal a few feet away, but it’s not really possible,” she chuckles. “It’s like having somebody next to a cobra—it reads well on the page, but it’s not really that smart a thing to do.”
Year by the Sea is a feel-good saga about finding liberation, contentment and a sense of self through taking risks—and one that, bucking Hollywood conventions, is headlined and populated by actresses who are well into middle age. It’s a convention-defying situation that pleases Allen, who hopes the film shows the powers-that-be that artists of every generation are capable of making valuable work with significant mainstream appeal.
“I’m not the first one to say it, but there is a certain level of age-ism in the film business,” Allen admits. “There really is this almost disbelief when a film that is about people over 40, or god forbid over 50—or god forbid over 60! [laughs]—actually makes money. It’s just like, that can’t be happening! I so hope that this film does well in the marketplace for so many reasons, but just to even put a little message back out there to the industry that here’s this film with four people over 60 in it, and it has an audience.”
As for her own career path, Allen says the one creative outlet she hasn’t yet fully explored is episodic TV. “I would like to work more in television. Television hasn’t really come my way, but I’m trying to come its way by really putting it out there. There’s so much good work happening in television—really fine writing, directing and acting. I’d actually love to be in an ensemble of people working in television, because you get a kind of experience that I haven’t had yet, which is to stay with a specific group of people, hopefully over a longer period of time. I imagine that could really be one of the more satisfying experiences to have as an actor.”
Year by the Sea is merely the latest sterling Allen performance in a career that began nearly forty years ago, when she made her film debut in John Landis’ seminal 1978 comedy Animal House as Peter Riegert’s girlfriend Katy. Even now, she can hardly believe the confluence of events that thrust her into the cinematic spotlight. “I was just so lucky to get the role in that film,” she remembers. “I was coming out of four years of theater, and I had only been in New York for a few months when I saw a little 3x5 card at a place where I was studying acting. It said, ‘Feature film casting college-aged actresses, send picture and resume.’ I popped my theater resume into an envelope, and I got a phone call out of the blue.
“I had no agent; I didn’t even know what an agent was, really. I wasn’t in the union. I had no idea how you got in the union. And for some reason, from the very beginning, they thought I was the perfect Katy. I was offered the role, and it was such a collaborative film. It was such a wonderful group of young actors—many of whom were doing their first film—and I couldn’t have been in better company. It was an awful lot of fun.”
Fortunately, when it came time for her son to leave for college, her own empty-nest syndrome (“a huge adjustment”) wasn’t compounded by fears that he might have soaked up any inappropriate lessons from watching mom’s maiden big-screen effort. “I certainly didn’t let him see Animal House until he was probably in his teens He may have seen it at a friend’s house or something,” she laughs. “He doesn’t really tend toward those wild directions. He’s a professional chef, and he got very serious about it when he was young, and he’s pursued it very single-mindedly. He did go to college, but then he went to culinary school. So I didn’t have to worry too much—I never imagined him smashing beer cans into his head!”