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Indiana casting a surprise for Allen

Published: 11:22AM Tuesday May 06, 2008 Source: AAP

In January 2007, Karen Allen was standing in a small fashion studio she built in her home hidden among the lush, quiet hills of south-west Massachusetts.

The 56-year-old was surrounded by eight Japanese knitting machines.

The phone rang.

"Hi Karen, it's Steven Spielberg," the voice on the line casually said.

Allen almost dropped the phone.

"The call was completely out of the blue," Allen, still shocked, recalled to AAP in an interview.

It had been years since she chatted with the Oscar-winning director and producer.

"Steven said 'I guess you know why I'm calling'," Allen recalled.

"I said: 'No, I have no idea'.

"He said: 'Haven't you been watching TV?'.

"I said: 'No, I haven't had the TV on for the past few days'.

"Steven said: 'We've announced we're going to make the movie and we've written a wonderful role for you'.

"I said: 'Fantastic'.

"I was blown away."

The movie Spielberg was talking about was Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, the long-awaited Indiana Jones sequel and a film that many, including Allen, thought might never be made after countless rumours and false starts.

Allen starred alongside Harrison Ford in the original film from the Indiana Jones adventure franchise, 1981's Raiders of the Lost Ark, directed by Spielberg and co-written by George Lucas.

The actress played Jones' former girlfriend, the big-drinking adventurer, Marion Ravenwood.

Ravenwood was left out of the two sequels, 1984's Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom and 1989's Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, but after the aborted attempts over almost two decades to resurrect the franchise, Spielberg and Lucas finally agreed on a script.

Allen had moved on with her life.

The actress' first movie role was in a cheap, low class 1978 comedy she thought would be quickly forgotten - Animal House, co-starring John Belushi.

Animal House became a cult classic for generations of college students and launched Allen's acting career.

But, after the success of Raiders of the Lost Ark and performances in 1984's John Carpenter-directed Starman and 1988's Scrooged, Allen switched her focus to stage roles on Broadway.

When her son, Nicholas, was born in 1990 he became her priority and they retreated to Massachusetts.

That is where Allen, who divorced her husband, actor Kale Brown, in 1997, started her fashion design business, making cashmere jumpers and scarves.

"I just felt at a certain point I wanted to empower myself and do something that would create a fascinating day to day life and then if a wonderful film or role in a play came along, I could do it too," Allen said.

The phone call from Spielberg turned her world upside down.

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull is easily the most expensive and complex of the franchise, with Paramount Studios spending about $US185 million ($A198 million) to make the movie and another $US150 million ($A160 million) to market it worldwide.

The big budget is accompanied by a veil of secrecy.

Ask Allen a simple question about her character or the stunts she had to perform and there are a few moments of silence as she attempts to come up with an answer that will not reveal a plot point.

"It's a little tricky," she responds.

"There is so much they don't want us to talk about, especially with my character.

"Let's just say it's 22 years later (after Raiders of the Lost Ark).

"We're in the 1950s and all I can say is Marion has been living her own life and is thrust back it into another adventure."

Joining Allen and Ford in the cast are Cate Blanchett, John Hurt, Ray Winstone, Jim Broadbent, Shia LaBeouf and New Zealander and former Neighbours star, Alan Dale.

Spielberg swore Allen to secrecy in that phone call back in January 2007.

The plan Spielberg and Lucas devised was to keep Allen's role a surprise for Indiana Jones fans.

The first time they wanted the audience to realise her character had been reprised was when Marion Ravenwood appeared on screen.

"Steven told me he wanted me to do the film and then instantly told me I couldn't tell anyone," Allen said.

Allen did tell her son, but that was about it.

The actress flew to Los Angeles in June to begin work on the film, which caused plenty of problems.

"I still couldn't tell anyone," Allen said.

"Whenever I ran into someone I knew they'd ask 'What are you doing in LA?'.

"I couldn't tell them."

Spielberg and Lucas put Allen out of her agony three weeks into the shoot when they decided to reveal at the Mecca for comic book fans, the annual ComicCon conference in San Diego, that Marion Ravenwood was being reprised.

"What a relief," she said.

It was also a relief for Allen to return to the Indiana Jones set and work with Ford.

This time around she was prepared.

In Raiders of the Lost Ark, Allen thought she was making a Casablanca type film, not a blockbuster adventure popcorn flick.

"It was terrific to work with Harrison again," she said.

"In the first film, I felt like I spent most of the film trying  to get to know him.

"I felt like a fish out of water because it was not a genre I was used to."

Allen also spent hours chatting with Blanchett on the LA set.

"We had wonderful conversations," Allen said.

"I'm so excited Cate and her husband are heading the theatre in Sydney.

"It will be fantastic for them."

Allen is also prepared for her recent life as a semi-anonymous mother and fashion designer to end later this month when Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull opens worldwide.

Although, after years away from Hollywood, the actress is still surprised by fans who come up to her on the street or in supermarkets.

"Between Animal House and Raiders of the Lost Ark, they are two films that reverberate in the culture in a special way," she said.

"It feels a lifetime ago."

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull is set to hit New Zealand cinemas on May 21.