In early 2007, weeks before it was announced she would be returning to the Indiana Jones franchise I talked to actress Karen Allen, better known as Marion Ravenwood from Raiders of the Lost Ark.
How did you get the role of Marion Ravenwood in Raiders of the Lost Ark? Can you tell us how you experienced the casting?
Steven Spielberg had seen me in a movie called A Small Circle of Friends. He also knew the director John Landis for whom I had done the movie Animal House for. I originally auditioned with Tom Selleck who was supposed to play Indiana Jones but then couldn’t do it as he had to do Magnum P.I., the TV series in which he had the starring role. I then had an audition with actor Tim Matheson. Now, they had their ‘Marion’ but no Indy! Eventually, Harrison got the role.
Can you share some of your memories regarding working with Steven Spielberg and Harrison Ford?
Harrison was the seasoned actor. He had done two Star Wars movies at that time and knew what it was to be in a movie like Raiders; full of effects and large sets. I had never done a movie like this so he told me how it all worked. Steven is a director that really knows what he wants from his actors. He exactly knows how he wants everything to be which is something most directors don’t know.
In Raiders of the Lost Ark you did a scene with a lot of real snakes. How did you experience this scene? Was it tough and did the whole situation scare you?
No, it didn’t scare me as I am not afraid of snakes. However, I am afraid of spiders, even to this day. The scene with Alfred Molina in the beginning of the movie is something I could never do as they really scare me, especially the big ones!
Can you tell us about some funny or strange things that happened on the set of Raiders of the Lost Ark?
Steven Spielberg once saved a snake. Two of them were fighting and one got bitten. Steven took the snake and put it in a cool place. After a few days the snake had healed and was able to ‘play’ again. Another snake died during the scenes we filmed at Elstree. In one scene, where Harrison is climbing the statue in the Well of Souls he touches a snake that is hanging there and falls down. That snake had died a few days earlier and was decomposing. It fell down and splattered all over the place. A classic scene was where a swordsman confronts Indiana on the marketplace. The guy that played the swordsman didn’t know how to use a sword. And then Harrison just said let’s shoot him. (starts to laugh heavily)
What was your inspiration for the role of Marion ? Did you look at other roles or actresses and their characteristics to portray the role of Marion?
No, the part was wonderfully written by George Lucas and Philip Kaufman. She establishes herself early in the movie as a tough woman in the drinking game. I didn’t look at other roles and it wasn’t necessary to get inspiration elsewhere as there was really no need to.
After Raiders of the Lost Ark you weren’t cast for the next two Indiana Jones movies. How did you feel about this? Did you ever get an explanation and would you have loved to reprise your role?
I knew from the beginning I wasn’t going to be in the next one. Steven told me he wanted to do three movies and go backwards in time. The other two movies are set before Raiders.
The Last Crusade takes place after Raiders.
Well, Steven always said the other two would take place before Raiders. To be honest I have seen The Last Crusade just once, and that was a long time ago. It was also that it becomes clear in Raiders that Marion and Indiana have a past that goes back ten years, so even if Marion had been in another movie we would have gotten to see her at age sixteen or something like that. And that is too young for me to play.
(Editors note: the chronological timeline is Temple of Doom, Raiders of the Lost Ark. The Last Crusade)
Well then, have you ever been contacted for a part in Indiana Jones Part 4 which will be released in 2008? There are rumors that Indiana will have a son in this movie, maybe Marion is the mother. So, you could be in that one since it is said it will take place in the fifties.
Yeah, I have heard those rumors too. I haven’t been contacted or anything, but I would be interested in playing the role of Marion again. Of course!
What do you regard as the cinematic highlight of your career?
That’s really hard. I guess it’s a movie called Glass Menagerie. It was directed by Paul Newman and stars John Malkovich and Joanne Woodward. We all went to the Cannes filmfestival which was quite an experience.