Not many stars go from Hollywood blockbusters to owning a textiles store in a small New England town, yet Karen Allen has always marched to the beat of her own drum. “As a child, I called textile work my first ecstasy,” Karen, 67, exclusively reveals to Closer Weekly in the magazine’s latest issue, on newsstands now. “I would stand in front of a fabric or rug store and my heart would pound. I’d think, Look at what these people created with their hands! I found it so inspiring.” But weaving would have to wait.
In 1978, Karen landed her first role in the raucous comedy Animal House, which led to her biggest smash, Raiders of the Lost Ark. She scored more ’80s hits with Starman and the Christmas classic Scrooged, yet fame soon took a backseat to raising her son, Nicholas, 28 (with her ex-husband, actor Kale Browne), and a rediscovered love of fabrics.
Leaving Hollywood was a welcome change for Karen, who “felt as though I had to say ‘no’ to a lot of really wonderful films [that were] just gonna be a repetition of something I’d already done.” Still, she couldn’t pass on the 2008 sequel Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, and she’s occasionally starred in indie films like 2017’s Year by the Sea. We caught up with Karen to talk about motherhood, her amazing career, and why “if we did a sequel to Animal House, it would be called Animal Home — set at an assisted-living facility!” Scroll down to read our exclusive Q&A interview with Karen!
It’s the 30th anniversary of Scrooged! Any fun memories from the set?
Most have to do with the sheer fun of working with [director Richard] Donner and Bill Murray. As wonderful a script as it was, we got to play around because Bill is a comedian, essentially, who loves to constantly tinker with what was written. I hadn’t had that kind of experience before.
There are lots of Bill Murray stories out there. Do you have any?
My favorite includes [Bill’s ex-Saturday Night Live castmate and Scrooged co-writer] Michael O’Donoghue. It was freezing outside at 5 a.m., and Bill was talking about how he didn’t think a scene was going to work. Suddenly the makeup trailer opens and there is Michael in his bedroom slippers with snow on the ground, cotton pajamas, and a little boy’s hat. He leaped out of bed with a notebook and pen, trying to help us figure it all out. [Laughs]
Have you heard anything about the next Raiders film?
Only that they’ve delayed it because they are still working on the script and they wanna get it right. This will probably, my guess is, be the last one Harrison [Ford] or Steven [Spielberg] will do. I think this feels like the end of a saga, so they’re taking their time. Whether I’ll be involved in it or not may not be a mystery to them, but it’s a mystery to me, so I’m patiently waiting to find out. I think now there’s talk of it starting to shoot maybe a year from this spring, so that’s still a ways away. I’m very hopeful. I would certainly love to be a part of it.
You hadn’t done films for four years before 2008’s Indiana Jones sequel. What emotions did it bring up for you?
I was just delighted! I’d taken off a bit of time from film at that point to raise my son, and he’d gone off to an early college when he was 15 or 16, right as I was starting to go back and work. I was a single mom [since my 1998 divorce], so the timing couldn’t have been better to work with Harrison, and Steven, and George [Lucas], and Cate Blanchett, who I adore. It was thrilling.
Back to your roots! How did you get started acting?
I worked in the theater for about four years before I came to NYC. I had been there only three months when I saw a notice: “College-aged actors and actresses being cast for a feature film. Send picture and résumé, too.” I popped one in the mail and sure enough, it was Animal House. I had a meeting at Universal, I was cast as Katy and it became one of the most successful comedies of all time.
That must have been an insane set.
In the scene where Katy’s [beau comes to her] apartment, Donald [Sutherland] comes into the room and you realize they’ve been together. [Director] John Landis said, “The scene’s going to start on your naked butt.” I said, “No, it’s not in the script.” So Donald goes, “If she’s got to show her butt, then I should have to.” I thought, if he’s willing to make me feel comfortable, then let’s go for it!
What are your favorite films?
I did [1987’s] The Glass Menagerie with Joanne Woodward, which Paul Newman directed. That was very meaningful to me. There’s a quality of an actor that I adore: the ability to be present, and she’s that kind of actor. She was kind, warm, funny, and had such a great working relationship with Paul.
You got married the next year, and in 1990 you had Nicholas, who is now a chef. Did you teach him to cook?
He came into the world to be a chef! He did not learn it from me. He’s had a real gift for it since an early age, and he’s an adventurous eater. I don’t say, “I’ve never had cow’s brains, give me some.” But he’s totally like that!
Was it tough to retreat from Hollywood?
I’ve never had a particularly difficult time saying no to projects people have brought to me. I want to feel I can make a real contribution to the film and a connection with the story, the material, the character. If it’s not there, someone else should do it.
You founded a textiles company!
I closed it, sadly, but I do still have my store that’s a gallery for great textile artists from all over the world that I admire.
You’ve also taught yoga. What inspired you?
Yoga is something I started to do when I was 17 or 18. I started to teach it when I was living in the countryside near NYC. No one was practicing the type of yoga I did, so I began teaching because people were interested in it. I started a little studio, then I handed it off to someone I had trained. I love yoga — at times, it’s had a major role in my life. But I think it’s more of a philosophy for me. There are the physical and the philosophical threads that run through it, and I’m always trying to find a balance between the two.
What’s the greatest life lessons you’ve learned?
One I still keep trying to learn is to enjoy the ride of life! Don’t stress out. It’s an ongoing challenge to be as open and available to people as I can be. At the same time, it’s about balance and being able to take care of others, being able to take on stressful situations and yet try to remain calm and reasonably joyful. I’ll keep working on that for the rest of my life.
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