Inside the Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny Surprise Cameo: I Was Profoundly Happy

SPOILER ALERT: This story discusses major plot developments, including the final scene, in “Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny,” currently playing in theaters.

When Lucasfilm announced in 2016 that Steven Spielberg was making a fifth “Indiana Jones” movie with Harrison Ford, fans naturally wondered how much of a role Karen Allen’s Marian Ravenwood — Indy’s spitfire equal from 1981’s “Raiders of the Lost Ark” and the love of his life — would play in the new film. The last time audiences saw Marian, she was getting married to Indy at the end of 2008’s “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull,” after she revealed to Indy that they’d had a child together, who Indy meets as teenage greaser Mutt Williams (Shia LaBeouf). So any follow-up movie would at the very least need to address the fact that Indy is married with a (grown) kid.

That’s certainly what Allen was thinking, at least. “I don’t know that I thought we’d pick up from where we left off, but I did always imagine that it would be a story with Indy and Marian going forward,” Allen tells Variety.

That’s not quite how things turned out. After three years of development, Spielberg decided to turn over directing duties to James Mangold (“Ford v Ferrari”), who overhauled the script with screenwriters Jez and John-Henry Butterworth for what became “Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny.” According to Allen, Marian was largely cut out of the movie; instead, the couple had separated after Mutt was killed in the Vietnam War. It’s only at the end of the film, following Indy’s time-bending adventures with his goddaughter Helena (Phoebe Waller-Bridge), that Indy and Marian have a tender reunion in Indy’s New York City apartment — and, according to Ford, draws the curtain on Indiana Jones.

But perhaps not on Marian. Allen talked with Variety about the character’s possible future, how her relationship with the role has evolved since “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” and what it was like to film Marian’s final scene with Indy.

Lucasfilm first announced they were making a fifth “Indiana Jones” movie in 2016. Did you have a sense that you would be coming back at that point?

I think because the last time you see Indy and Marian, they’ve gotten married — I don’t know that I thought we’d pick up from where we left off, but I did always imagine that it would be a story with Indy and Marian going forward. When Steven was going to direct the film, I think the scripts were more focused on an Indy/Marian story. But when Steven stepped aside and James came in, he started fresh with new writers and they just went in the direction they went in. They were going to tell a different story. That’s not to say that I had ever read a script that Steven was working on, because I hadn’t. But I just knew from conversations that we’d had that the ongoing story had involved Marian in a much bigger way than the story that they ended up with.

So when you learned that that the new script had Indy and Marian separated, very much on the way to divorce, and also that Mutt had been killed in Vietnam, what was your reaction?

Well, I was disappointed, of course. I knew that there had been talk that they did not want to go forward with Shia, so I knew that something in the story had to create the potential for him to not be there in a way that made sense. I didn’t know that he was going to die in Vietnam until I read the script, oh gosh, maybe just it was maybe six months before they were going to start shooting. I was deeply happy that Marian came back at least the end of their story. If this is indeed truly the last film of this particular group of films — if this is the last story with Harrison as Indy and me as Marian — I was profoundly happy that it didn’t end without them coming back together. That meant a lot to me, to feel like they were going to ride off in the sunset together.

How many days did you shoot for?

I think I was [shooting] for two days. But they wanted me to come out early and have plenty of time to play with the costume designer. We had decided to put me in a gray wig that had been built for me, but James and I hadn’t seen it. So I came out about two weeks early. It was nice, because I hung out on the set a bit and got to watch them shooting and got to meet everyone. You know, Phoebe was there, and John Rhys-Davies, and Harrison, and that lovely young man, Ethan. It just gave me a chance to move back into that world a little bit without just jumping onto the set to shoot.

How did it feel to step back into the character and her relationship with Indy that you’d started 40 years earlier?

It was pretty great, I have to say. I think Harrison was very, very happy that we were going to do this scene. We just kind of jumped into it. I had watched James Mangold working with the actors for quite a few days when I went to the set, and I just had a wonderful feeling about him as a director. Very clear, very straightforward, you know, full of energy and fun. I had a sense that I would work with him well. For me, it was a wonderful day. Everybody came up to me afterwards and said, “Oh my God, that was just my favorite. I just loved seeing the two of you come back together.” So it had a kind of sweetness to it.

I was particularly fond of the callback to the scene from “Raiders,” when Indy asks Marian to kiss all the parts of his body that don’t hurt, only this time, he’s kissing her in the same way.

It was great. It’s such a brief little scene and I think there is this sense of trying to put so much into it somehow. But it was lovely that they were able to bring the grief that Marian had been through with the loss of her son and just little moments like that all into that one little moment in the film.

How did you think about what was going on with Marian and what she’d been through off screen? Is that something you think about?

I always do that. I’m a very rigorous actor in that way. I love to just delve into what their history was. I wasn’t given a lot of information in the script. We know Mutt has been killed; we know it drove a wedge between them. But we don’t know much else. So I usually sit down and write a little bit of history and think it through. It was just a sense that they had not seen each other for a while and that there was a real sense of them grieving in very different ways, as I know people do when they lose a child. I liked the thought of coming into that room without really knowing what I was gonna find or whether it was the right thing to do. But I think Marian at that point maybe has come to some decisions herself about whether or not she wants this to be the end of the relationship.

How has your relationship to the character of Marion — and to the whole idea of the “Indiana Jones” franchise — changed over time?

It’s changed a lot, I think. I was a young actor when I did “Raiders of the Lost Ark.” I think I had done three films. You don’t really know what it’s like to be so identified with a character until you are. Sometimes as an actor, it can feel like a bit of a straitjacket. You want to walk into a room to meet people for a film or a play or whatever it is that you might be interested in doing, and you don’t necessarily want a character that you’ve played to precede you into the room. You want to be wide open. 

On the other hand, the fact that you’ve been in a very, very successful film often is the thing that got you into the room. So it’s a little bit of a double edged sword. There was a period in which it was uncomfortable for me. I think I felt a little too identified — not personally, necessarily, but like the world was a little too identified with me as that character. I didn’t do another film for a couple of years. I went back and worked in the theater. Everybody thought I was nuts, but it just felt like the right thing to do.

But it sounds like things changed for you?

I think I just had to get it out of my system. I had to play some other very different types of characters, because another thing that also happens is, you do a film like that and then the next 10 things you get offered are very similar types of roles and very similar types of films. For me, I didn’t necessarily feel like, oh, yeah, I want to go right back into another film and play another character [like that]. Marion Ravenwood is such a special character. I mean, it’s one of the most wonderful introductions to a character I think you could offer someone to play in a film. We meet her in that bar, and she’s drinking men under the table to make money, and Indy walks in and she smacks him in the jaw. Most of the other things that would be at all similar are going to pale by comparison. So the the really interesting thing to do, it seemed to me, was to go off in a completely different direction. I mean, the next character I played was deaf and blind [in the 1982 Broadway production of “Monday After the Miracle.”]

Finally, Harrison has been very clear that this is his last go around as Indiana Jones. Would you however, be interested in playing Marian again, if that opportunity were to come up?

Absolutely. I don’t necessarily think that that is something that’s going to happen, but it would be delightful to play her again. I mean, I feel like I didn’t really have the opportunity in this film to take her into this later part of her of her life. It would be incredible to be able to explore who she is and who she’s become. I don’t know. They’re so interwoven with each other, I can’t imagine someone creating a film that revolved around Marian without Indy, but never say never. It could always happen!

This interview has been edited and condensed.

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