The resourceful Marion Ravenwood was the perfect sidekick for Indiana Jones in his first big screen adventure, Raiders of the Lost Ark. Actress Karen Allen fondly reflects on her time shooting the Steven Spielberg classic, which celebrates its 40th anniversary this year.
What do you think distinguishes Marion from other adventure movie heroines, and what input did you have into the character?
KAREN ALLEN: I think she has one of the greatest entrances for a woman on film. To be seated at the opposite end of a table in a mysterious looking mountain bar in Nepal across from a 300lb man trading shots. I think that there’s something kind of glorious about that as an introduction to a character. I think that she has a bold spirit.
I had as much input as I could get away with. I wrote a wonderful fictional background for her, about her history with her father and how they ended up in Nepal. I made her active as opposed to passive; I didn’t want her to be a damsel in distress. I didn’t want to pull her out of that bar in Nepal where she was so resourceful and suddenly put her in a big white dress with a big bow on the butt, and suddenly she can’t do anything.
I’m not an aficionado of the sort of films [Raiders] was created from, those Saturday afternoon matinee serials. I never saw those as a kid, so I don’t have the stereotype of what those characters were in those films. Oddly enough, when I read the script I didn’t see those Saturday afternoon matinees, I saw Casablanca. So, I had a different idea about who she was. I didn’t see her as a movie cliché.
There‘s a strong chemistry between Indy and Marion. Did you develop a good working relationship with Harrison Ford?
We had a nice relationship. I think we’re very different as actors and I think at the beginning it was hard for me because I was mostly coming out of working in the theatre and was used to being around actors who were very gregarious and enjoyed collaboration.
Harrison was coming from a very different place, where he likes to work very much on his own – at the time he didn’t really like even talking about the scenes. I was a little confused, I didn’t really know what to make of that or how to form a conducive working relationship with him in the beginning. But getting to watch him work, he was so much more comfortable in that technical realm of filmmaking because of his experiences on the two Star Wars films. For me, a lot of times it was just standing back and kind of appreciating something he had developed in his craft that I’d never been exposed to. That was a good aspect of our relationship, that I got to watch him in action, and it made it a little easier for me to approach what I had to do.
How did you cope with all the snakes?
Fortunately, I’m not really frightened of snakes. But I have discovered since making the film how many people are really deeply frightened of snakes. It has become a huge topic of conversation in my life, “the snakes”. I don’t think I was put off by the idea of being around snakes, but then of course there were 6,000 of them, I think, and it got to be very challenging to be in their company all the time. Often they were all over me – I was barefoot and once that dress gets ripped off and my legs are bare… There were some pythons that were biters, but I just got to a point where if one was coming in my direction, I just moved away as quickly as I could.
How did you find working with Steven Spielberg?
It took me some time to adjust to working with someone as different as Steven was. The few films I had done, The Wanderers with Phil Kaufman and Animal House with John Landis, they were collaborative efforts where everyone’s input was very much required and invited.
Steven very much knows what he wants, much more so at the time than anyone I had ever worked with. He storyboards his films in great detail and there is a sense of Steven wanting you to enter his picture, and his picture existed in his mind before I was even cast. In the beginning that was very difficult; I wanted it the way I had always worked. Suddenly I was in a film where I had to know where the camera was all the time and not feel self-conscious, and to find that balance.
Indiana Jones: The Complete Adventures is out on 4K UHD on June 16 – PRE-ORDER your copy today