Indiana Jones. Karen Allen always knew he’d come walking back through her door.
Since 1981’s “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” Allen has been only a sporadic presence in the subsequent sequels. But the glow of the freckled, big-eyed actor who so memorably played Marion Ravenwood has only grown stronger over time.
Indiana Jones may be one of the movies’ most iconic characters, but he’s always needed a good foil. It was Kate Capshaw and Ke Huy Quan in “Temple of Doom” and Sean Connery in “The Last Crusade.” Yet none could top, or out drink, Allen’s Marion, a wisecracking, naturalistic beauty and swashbuckling heir to screwball legends like Katharine Hepburn and Irene Dunne.
Allen’s place in the latest and last “Indiana Jones,” the just-released “Dial of Destiny,” has long been a mystery. Now that the movie is in theaters — spoiler alert — we can finally let the cat out of the bag. Allen returns. And while her role isn’t large — tragedy has driven Marion and Indiana apart — it’s extremely poignant in how she figures into Harrison Ford’s swan song as Indiana Jones.
“Secrets,” Allen chuckled in a recent interview, “are not my specialty.”
Allen, 71, was a magnetic presence in some memorable 1970s and ‘80s films, including 1978’s “Animal House” (the performance that caught Steven Spielberg’s eye), 1984’s “Starman” and 1988’s “Scrooged.” But while she’s steadily worked ever since, the era’s male-dominated Hollywood often seemed to squander her talent. Allen has lived for decades in the Berkshires, where she opened a textiles and clothing boutique and has frequently performed at Tanglewood.
Allen also returned to Marion in 2008’s “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.” But as much as “Dial of Destiny” signifies the end of Ford’s run as Indy, it’s also Allen’s goodbye to her most beloved character. This time, Indiana’s sidekick went to Phoebe Waller-Bridge, the “Fleabag” creator and star. Allen, praising Waller-Bridge as a strong woman, approves.
“If it wasn’t going to be me,” said Allen, “I’m glad it was her.”
AP: Did Spielberg or “Dial of Destiny” director James Mangold reach out to you about returning as Marion?
ALLEN: There was a period of time when Steven was going to direct the film. It was my understanding — although I never read any of those scripts — that it was being developed very much as a still-ongoing Marion-and-Indy story. When Steven decided to step down and James took over and brought in new writers, I knew it was going into a different direction. Having not even known what it was before, it was even more mysterious after they took it over. So I really didn’t know anything for a long period of time until they had a script. And I have to confess, I was a bit disappointed that she wasn’t more woven throughout the story and didn’t have more of an ongoing trajectory. However, the way in which she does come back into the story was very satisfying. I just thought, “OK, I’m just going to embrace this.” I certainly would have been wildly disappointed had Marion just sort of vanished into the ether.
AP: Did you always think Marion and Indiana were destined for each other? You don’t exactly get a sense of permanence between them in “Raiders.”
ALLEN: It’s funny. When I first started working on it, I just decided that Indy was the love of her life. I just decided to make a deep commitment to that and to play through “Raiders of the Lost Ark” with the feeling they’re soulmates. When we end up married in “Crystal Skull,” I wept when I read that script.
AP: “Indiana Jones” could be a boys world but you were such a spirited force of nature.
ALLEN: Well, Steven and George had this experience as young boys with these Saturday afternoon matinee serial films. They were just a little bit older than I am, so I kind of missed that. I don’t have a reference point for that. So I don’t think that I necessarily understood the genre of film we were making. I thought we were making “Casablanca.” I really, truly did. So I sort of defined my character in that sort of genre — which I think weirdly enough works quite well for the film. I never imagined Marion as a damsel in distress in any sort of way. I was always pushing back against that, and in the end, Steven was supportive of that.
AP: Do you ever wish you had gotten the chance to star in more Hollywood films?
ALLEN: I make movies all the time, although I have tended in the last 10 or 15 years to focus more on indie films. In truth, the kinds of roles I’m really hungry to play, particularly for someone my age, they’re written more in the indie world. People kind of think, “Where have you been?” There were times I was raising my son but I often do at least two films a year. They’re very satisfying, probably more satisfying than the sort of roles I would be offered. A lot of times I turned down things. There’s a lot of thankless roles for women in bigger budget films.
AP: What has Marion meant to you?
ALLEN: She’s sort of at the core of my growth as an actor and certainly my relationship to the world. As I move through the world, I’ve become very identified with that character. There was maybe a brief period of time where I found it annoying. But that passed and now it’s just this character that I love. I can’t imagine anything more satisfying to have had the chance in life to create a character that has some meaning for people.
AP: What was it like to shoot your scenes with Ford in “Dial of Destiny”?
ALLEN: It was fantastic. We shot it all in one day or maybe two days. To just imagine these two people that have been wrenched apart through grief and loss and then she’s coming back with this hope that they can move forward. When we played the scene, that was very, very affecting. We were both very affected by it and a little teary. And the crew was a little teary.
AP: How has it been keeping your role in the film secret?
ALLEN: It’s been excruciating. (Laughs) I never have to do anything like this again. People have come up to me and they’ve been so upset because they didn’t see my name on IMDb. People would be so mad I’d have to stand there and just be like, “What do I say? Do I say, ‘Yeah, isn’t that a drag?’ or ‘You never never know — wink, wink.’” I’ve had to say I just can’t answer any questions about “Indiana Jones” — which I feel like is sort of saying that I’m in the film. It’s a lose-lose situation. (Laughs)
AP: Does playing Marion one last time cap anything for you?
ALLEN: More so for Harrison than for me. He’s such a fully developed character and has done all five of these. With Marion, I’ve kind of come and gone. But she will always be a character that moves through life with me. I don’t know if I really have a sense of it being over. There always was a sense that one more would be done, even if it took 20 years. Now, they’ve been very clear that this is the last one. So it is a letting go.