Welcome Back, Karen Allen!

Karen Allen, the tough-as-nails heroine of the first "Indiana Jones" movie, is back in its sequel, and carrying on as if she'd never gone away. The story of her return has several threads, which Rita Braver now weaves together:

When you see her hard at work at her knitting machine, it takes a few seconds to realize that it really is Karen Allen, the one who stole a lot of hearts 27 years ago playing the feisty Marion Ravenwood in the very first Indiana Jones film, "Raiders of the Lost Ark."

Allen's own life has taken as many twists and turns as a Steven Spielberg film. As it happened, she was working at her textile studio in the Bershires of Massachusetts when she got a call from the director:

"And Steven said, 'I guess you know why I'm calling,' and I said, 'No, I don't!' And he said, 'We're gonna make the fourth Indiana Jones film, and we've written this wonderful part for you,' You could've knocked me over with a feather."

So that's how Karen Allen, now 56, found herself reprising the role of Marion, back on the set with her old buddies, including Harrison Ford.

"There was great chemistry between you and Harrison in the first film," Braver said. "Did you feel that again this time?"

"I did, very much so," Allen said, "from the first day we started to shoot. And it's just great to be able to pick it up so seamlessly."

"She was the one person who made me feel nostalgic about it all," said Ford, who was delighted when he learned he'd be working with Allen again.

"She's always been up for whatever the boys were up for," he said. "And she never complains. I've never seen her down. She's just great to be around."

So how has Marion changed in this new film?

"You know, there's still a very strong spirit," Allen said, "and she's much more, i think, 'take charge' in a lot of situations."

(Lucasfilm Ltd.)
[Allen and Ford are all tied up in the original "Raiders" (1981).]

But what does Allen have in common which her on-screen counterpart, who is a pretty independent woman, as is she?

"I think we have very similar spirits," she said. "Her stamina in the drinking department definitely supersedes mine! And I've never punched anybody in my entire life. So I think she's maybe more impulsive. I think maybe she's a bolder personality than I am in certain ways. But I think that we share a lot of characteristics."

For one thing, Karen Allen has always done things her way. The child of an FBI agent, she moved around a lot. She started out studying design, and leapt into acting at age 21. She started in theater, and then 1978 won a role in the film "National Lampoon's Animal House."

She said she couldn't ask for a more fun experience as a first film. But that didn't apply to a scene where director John Landis wanted to show Allen's bare bottom …

"I said, 'It's not in the script, nobody ever talked to me about this before,'" she said, which set the two glowering and digging in their respective heels. "And I look over and there's Donald Sutherland looking very amused, standing off on the side. And he says, 'Well, you know, I think it's only fair if you're gonna ask her to show her rear end, that I should have to show mine.'"

Which he did.

After her first two hits, Allen went on to do lots of theater. She did a slew of movies, too, including the highly-acclaimed "Starman" with Jeff Bridges.

But there weren't any more big blockbuster films, the way "Animal House" and "Raiders" turned out to be. Was that just the luck of the draw, Braver asked?

"I think it was just whatever in the blockbuster department I was reading wasn't interesting me," she said.

Besides, by 1988 she was married to television actor Kale Browne. They are now divorced, with one son born in 1990. Allen curtailed her work to be a mom … and suddenly she was in her mid-forties.

"I think that becomes a difficult time for most women in film," she said. "The parts are fewer and far between, especially the ones that you might want to do."

And of course there was something else …

"You don't have that look that a lot of Hollywood actresses have, that they've had a lot done," Braver said.

"That 'scary' look?" Allen said.

"On one level, you know, if I get a paper cut, I have my head between my knees," she laughed. "In that way I'm not not like Marion. I mean, I'm a real wuss when it comes to volunteer for somebody to cut into my face! And on the other level, I just really appreciate the beauty of women who don't do it. And I thought, I want to be one of those women that doesn't do that!"

And, having spent years bouncing between the Berkshires and New York City, in 2001 she decided to move to rural Massachusetts full-time, and return to the passion she had abandoned long ago for acting: design.

"I thought, I need to reinvent myself. I want every day of life to be wonderful, fascinating, interesting, creative. And what am I gonna do to make that happen?" she said. "I thought, I'm gonna go back to FIT, the Fashion Institute of Technology, and I'm gonna study machine knitting, and I'm gonna move forward from where I left off. And I'm gonna create a line of knitwear, because this is something I've always really wanted to do."

So she learned to work these sophisticated machines, and soon Karen Allen Fiber Arts was launched.

And it's not just the studio: she also owns a shop in the town of Great Barrington, Mass.

Was she afraid to start her own business?

"I wasn't afraid, probably because I didn't know very much! That was the only reason I wasn't afraid!" she laughed.

She's had the store for four years now, but does she hope the new film sets producers and directors beating down her door?

"If there are no other wonderful roles that come my way, I have a quite an interesting, dynamic life," she said. "And if there are, I feel as though I would be delighted to come back into working in the film world, and working in the theater world again. I'm just gonna see what happens."