Karen Allen discusses playing the abused matriarch in White Irish Drinkers, Indiana Jones 5 and much more.
They say when it rains, it pours. When actress Karen Allen was first starting out, it most certainly poured. After being passed over for Carrie Fisher as Princess Leia Organa in Star Wars: Episode IV - A New Hope, Karen Allen was cast in her first major motion picture role, playing Katy in the comedy classic Animal House. Just three years later she found herself in the midst of another classic as Marion Ravenwood in Raiders Of The Lost Ark, a role she later reprised in Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.
Karen Allen can next be seen as the fantastic Margaret Leary in the powerful indie White Irish Drinkers, which will hit theaters on March 25. She plays the dutiful wife of an abusive husband, Patrick (the phenomenal Stephen Lang) and mother of two vastly different sons (Nick Thurston and Geoffrey Wigdor). I recently had the chance to speak with the actress over the phone about her role in this powerful indie drama. Here's what she had to say.
Karen Allen: Well, it's funny. At the beginning, I can't say that I really took to the title, but I really, really loved the script. Since we shot the film, the title has grown and grown and grown on me. Now I really like the title. I think, at first, I didn't quite the title suited the film, but now I do. These things happen.
Before reading anything about it, the title comes off as some sort of weird comedy, like in a Boston fraternity or something like that.
I think it's cool, though. If you go in thinking that it's this kind of comedy, and you see it's this wonderful drama with a lot of humor in it, you'll be surprised when you come out of the theater, expecting something else.
Karen Allen: Yeah. And, at the same time, it's a very poignant moment in the film, where he says, 'We're White Irish Drinkers.' It's a very defining moment in the film, where the title really sinks in and makes sense. It's a defining marker that these kids are kind of stuck in this little world, this little bar. They're not going to leave. They aren't the ones who are going to make it outside.
There is a lot of depth to your character, Margaret. She remains devoted to an abusive husband, but you see these glimpses that she's thought about escaping. Do you think that is more of a product of the time this is set in, or of the character herself?
Karen Allen: I think some of it is the product of the time. She would really have been of my mother's generation, so, in the 70s, when this is taking place, I was a little bit older than these kids, but not much. That generation, they stuck to their guns in a situation, and in a marriage, more than my generation has, for sure. There is that Irish-Catholic sort of I've made my bed and I'm going to stick to it. I feel that she's never going to leave him, that she loves him, but she can't control everything as much as she would love to. I think she's just a hard-working, working-class, second or third generation Irish woman who is trying to do the absolute best she can for her family, and just doesn't know how. She's kind of up against it, in a lot of different levels.
I was really struck by the balance of humor and drama here. There are some really funny moments here, but there are also some really heavy parts as well. Was that something you noticed when you first read this?
Karen Allen: Yeah, I think that's what I loved about it. I love films that don't get stuck in a genre. I love films that you can't explain in two sentences. I think it really rises up a genre type of film, where it can embrace the humor of this world, and also have a scene where they're running naked through the graveyard. Then, at the same time, bring you into the violence of a world like that. Of course, we have (writer-director) John Gray, who lived in this world and grew up in this world. He has a very personal vision. The film just feels so very true to me. He's not really cariacturing people, he's really writing out of his own experience. It really shows on screen and rings true.
I've never been to New York, so I have no idea what these areas are like, but that scene where they kick the disco guys out of the bar, I was laughing hysterically. That seems like something that would happen in that area, in the 70s.
Karen Allen: Right. John said he remembered a moment like that in his own life, where something like that happened (Laughs).
That's awesome. When I was talking to Stephen, we talked about the cast, with both of you, very established actors, alongside these younger actors like Nick and Geoffrey. Can you talk a bit about that aspect of the movie, working with Stephen and these younger actors as well?
Karen Allen: I had a blast working with Stephen. We have tried to work together numerous times before. We were going to do a play and we keep almost working together. I was delighted and, in fact, knowing he was doing it was one of my big motivations to try and clear my schedule out immediately so I could do it. Nick and Geoffrey, they were just really, really wonderful to work with. I think they both just dove into this and just gave it their all. Nick was living in this apartment next to where we were shooting, literally this condemned apartment, just trying to literally live and breathe the atmosphere of this part of Brooklyn. He's a California boy. I don't know how much time he ever spent in Brooklyn before he came to do this film. They were just two passionate young actors who just threw themselves, heart and soul, into the roles. It's always so delightful to work with young actors who are capable and willing to do that.
Can you talk a bit about working with your director, John?
Karen Allen: As an actor, it's always so delightful to work with someone who has also written the material. I've done it maybe a half-dozen times, or so in my life. I have to say, they're very special experiences, because there's no shadow between the writing and directing. He really knows, from his core, what this is about, because he imagined it. That's always very exciting for an actor. I found he's really good with actors. He would come and just whisper something in my ear, just some moment he wanted me to develop a little more, or something that needed to be simpler. I just have to say, he always said the right thing. I always knew exactly what he was talking about. For me, it was a very serendipitous working collaboration. I mean, here I am, playing his mother, really. I didn't get an opportunity to meet his mother, and she actually passed away not long after we finished shooting, but, in the film, I am essentially playing John's mother. He was very, very helpful to me. A lot of times, with very wonderful directors, they don't need to say very much. They just need to say a little, just the right thing. I felt that way about him.
One of the running gags was Margaret's ability to make her food hotter than the sun. Was that something that John's actual mother would do?
Karen Allen: You know, I actually don't know. I'm going to ask him. I actually don't know if that's something his mother did or if that was something he borrowed from the neighborhood at large. I know this isn't autobiographical. He didn't have a brother who was killed, so it's not autobiographical in that sense, but it's very close. I think he's really writing about the whole world he grew up in, and these characters are all pieced together from different experiences.
I've got to ask, is there anything you've heard about Indiana Jones 5? Would you return as Marion?
Karen Allen: Oh, I'd love to do it. I mean, we're married now, so it would be difficult, I think, to move forward without her. That's my thought (Laughs). Until there's actually a script, there's no real knowing of who's going to be in it or how they're going to go about doing a fifth one. I know that they're working on it. I know there is a story that George (Lucas), Steven (Spielberg), and Harrison (Ford) all like. Other than that, I haven't heard a thing. I'm sure I will hear something, when and if they have something they want to go forward with.
Is there anything that you're currently working on or looking to join in the near future, that you can talk about?
Karen Allen: I'm directing a play. I'm just casting it right now. It's Michael Weller's first play called Moonchildren. It was done on Broadway in the early 70s, I think. I directed it about a year and a half ago, with students, and now I'm going to do it as a professional production. It goes into rehearsals in late May. That's going to take up the next two or three months of my life. After that, there are a couple of projects I'm looking at, but nothing set in stone yet.
Just to wrap up, what would you like to say to anyone curious about White Irish Drinkers, about why they should check it out in theaters on March 25?
Karen Allen: I just think it's an extraordinary film. I'm just so proud to be a part of it. I've sat in four or five audiences who have seen it, from the Tornoto Film Festival to a screening here in New York, I just think it's a very, very satisfying film for an audience. I think it's the type of film that you don't see very often and I just want to encourage people to go and see it. I think it's really wonderful. It's an experience that people just keep talking about. They're very moved by it, very intrigued by it, and it's a lot of fun. I'm hoping that a little film like this, that starts in such a simple but pure way, I'm hoping it breaks through and makes its way out into the world.
Great. Well, that's all I have for you, Karen. Thank you so much for your time and best of luck with your play and anything else you have coming up.
Karen Allen: Thank you so much.