If you are anything like me, you worship Karen Allen. And not just because she's made so many extraordinary films--and refused to be the damsel in distress in any of them. Karen Allen Year By The Sea. She's acting and directing in A Tree. A Rock. A Cloud.--which she adapted. She was Kay in National Lampoon's Animal House. She was in Cruising, Manhattan, and of course, Raiders of the Lost Arc, Shoot the Moon, Starman, and so much more.
I am so thrilled and honored to host her here. Thank you, Karen!
I want to say that you are a heroine to so many people I know, especially women. You fought for your character in Indiana Jones not to be a typical “damsel in distress” and turned in a nuanced, powerful performance. You were the character who walked away from a relationship in A Small Circle of Friends to have a better relationship with herself. You left the lunacy of Los Angeles to run a fiber arts shop in Massachusetts. But best of all is your making a film that features women over 50—and celebrates them.
When was the moment when you knew you had to make this film?
The script was sent to me by the casting agent and director. I read it and was instantly drawn to Joan's story. I went out that same afternoon and got a copy of Joan's first book A Year By the Sea and read it that same day. From that moment I wanted to be a part of the film. I met with the director, Alexander Janko. We had a great meeting and then I waited to hear back as to whether I would be asked to play the role. When they asked me to play Joan, I was already committed.
"I'm beginning to think that real growing only begins after we've done the adult things we're supposed to do," says Joan Anderson the author of the memoir, A Year By The Sea. As someone who did everything late, late, late in life because I found the “supposed to” things baffling, that line really resonates with me. We can change society by refusing to buy into that idea and become fierce examples! But is there anything else we can and should do?
I think we have the potential to raise our children to not buy into the concepts of the "shoulds" and teach them how to stay true to themselves from the beginning of their lives so that there is nothing to recover from or to reclaim. There are educational systems that encourage children to think for themselves, to speak out, to respect their own ideas as well as the ideas of others, and to be on a journey of authenticity from very early on. Education, as well as parents, has such an influence on young children and on the adults they become. I think schools that are anti-endoctrination and that encourage young people towards their own awakening, should get our support and can become models for more widespread educational goals.
I think reading is a collaborative art in that the reader brings their experiences into what they are reading and that colors the story a bit. (For example, if you just went through an angry divorce, you might not respond to a book about a peaceful divorce as well as someone who had never been married at all.) How did you make the story particularly yours? And have any of the responses (everything I’ve read has been a rave) surprised you?
I always saw this as Joan's very specific journey and story, although I do think it has also many universal aspects to it. From my knowledge of Joan and her books, it was clear that she was always committed to her marriage, but needed to find a way to rediscover herself after giving so much of herself to her family. She didn't know how to do that without stepping outside of the day to day world she was so much a part of and giving herself a chance to break with those traditions which had so established themselves in her life as a partner and parent. Yes, I do think that depending on where someone is in their own life when they read or see the film of her story, they might not understand her feelings and her struggles, but that is as it should be. Most people who have raised children and been in marriages for a length of time will find a lot to relate to in what she goes through.
To me, the film world is so much harder than the publishing world. Once things are in motion in publishing, it’s really difficult for them to stop, but there are so many stops and starts with film. How did you keep your determination and never give up? Was there ever a moment when you knew, okay, this is going to be a go?
Well I'm not really the person to talk with about this. I came on board a month before the shoot began and went home 6 weeks later to start a new project of my own. I have given my support during the film festivals by being there to help promote the film and as we move to commercial screenings in terms of helping with promotion, but the determination and stamina and sheer non-stop fighting power that has kept this film afloat has come from Alexandar Janko and Laura Goodenow, our director and producer.
I know that I am always profoundly changed in unexpected ways when I am finished with a novel or a script. Can you talk about how this film changed you?
I think as an actor the film gave me the opportunity to play a woman my own age who wasn't worn down and discouraged by life. The role of Joan allowed me to feel all the dimensions and optimism of a life moving forward. A sense of discovery and adventure and power to learn still about myself and the world around me. I don't think there are a lot of films for women in their 60's and 70's where the characters are fully developed and have aspirations in their lives as they look to their future. That affected me in a very positive way.
You also have a short film that you directed—can you talk about that to us?
It's based on a short story by Carson McCullers that I have known and loved for many years. It's called "A Tree. A Rock. A Cloud" and is about the passing of wisdom from an older man to a young boy who meet by chance in a cafe in 1947. It's about the nature of love and how when we come to understand the nature of love as this man has come to experience it, it can change the world we live in.
What’s obsessing you now and why—besides the film?
What’s obsessing you now and why—besides the film?
Oh, I have many obsessions. Finding a diagnosis and cure for Lyme disease is one. Getting back to my discipline of yoga and meditation is another. I've been so busy for the last few years that I have lost the thread of some things that I like to stay tuned into. I'm about to begin shooting a new film as an actor so am obsessed with this role at the immediate moment. I also have a play by playwright Joan Ackermann that I would like to turn into a film and that is also obsessing me. We won't even talk about politics or the environment because it's too long of an obsessive conversation to get into. Needless to say, I'm besides with seeing Trump get impeached and the sooner, the better.
What question didn’t I ask that I should have?
Here's yet again another obsession....I have a wonderful store that I opened in 2005 called Karen Allen Fiber Arts on Railroad St in Great Barrington, MA. It is a celebration of all the phenomenal textile and fiber artists that I know of in the world from Japan to France to England to India and all over the US. I have loved textiles since I was a young child and to bring so many of these artists together in a shop for other people to see and wear and enjoy has been a blast.Karen Allen