Actress' role maintains original's feistiness

The May 22 bow of “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull” not only marks the return of the whip-cracking archaeologist to the screen after 19 years, but his long-lost love, Karen Allen as Marion Ravenwood.

Allen promises that the new Marion is the same independent woman she used to be — a firecracker with a chip on her shoulder who could outdrink Sherpas in Nepal or thwart Nazis near the Nile — only even feistier.

Her scenes with Indy sizzled with the Tracy-and-Hepburn chemistry of the 1930s screwball comedies of that period. “They wrote a beautiful role for me,” Allen told Variety. “In ‘Raiders of the Lost Ark,’ while she’s this wonderful strong character that we meet in that bar in Nepal, and she’s drinking men under the table and ordering vast numbers of Nepalese men around in Nepalese, she’s also buffeted around by circumstances. She’s thrown there and thrown here.

“She’s now become somebody who takes charge of things and is not so easily thrown into a bed of snakes. She’s somebody who sees what needs to be done and can do it. And that’s lovely.”

The film is set 20 years after “Raiders,” in 1957; the only returning characters are Ford’s Indiana Jones and Allen’s Marion Ravenwood.

“We are older and wiser,” she says with a laugh, “but just as quick on the draw.”

One major addition to the cast is Shia LaBeouf, who may or may not — Allen herself is still sworn to secrecy — be playing the love child of Indy and Marion.

LaBeouf is a hot young rising star, but he lost his cool when face to face with Indy and Marion. They were shooting camera tests when LeBeouf showed up on the first day. “There was Harrison in his hat and his jacket with the whip on his belt,” says Allen. “Meeting Harrison and me for the first time, (Shia) was completely bowled over. He just couldn’t believe his luck getting cast in this film.”

Allen remembers how tough it was when she was a young actress with method training shooting the original. She felt “like a fish out of water” on the set in 1980. “I didn’t initially understand the kind of film we were making,” she says. “I had never seen a Saturday afternoon serial. I didn’t have that kind of genre in my mind. So when I first read the script, I saw the story as ‘Casablanca.’

“I had done a few films, but they were small films about relationships between people, not working on such a large scope.”

By the time filming was over, she says, she still didn’t know what the film would be. “You spend two weeks in a snake pit and two weeks having corpses fall on you with snakes coming out of their eyes, and days go by and all you’re doing is screaming and having dirt go down your throat and in your eyes and down your ears, and you lose a perspective on the story that’s being told,” she recalls with a hearty laugh.

Not until she saw a screening did she really get it. But when the offer came nearly 30 years later to reprise the role, her reaction was “Let’s go. Let’s do it.”

Reporting to film “Crystal Skull,” she found much of the old gang back: Steven Spielberg, George Lucas and Ford, but also producers Frank Marshall and Kathy Kennedy, who met on “Raiders” and eventually married.

Time had mellowed that old gang.

“On the first film there was a lot of pressure on everybody,” she says. “We were all more at the beginning of our careers.”

Now, though, after marriages and children, “I think we’re all just a little bit older and wiser and can carry the pressure of doing this film more lightly, with more joy or with more of a sense of fun. That felt good to me.”

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