Contributing Editor David Rensin met with actress Karen Allen in her Los Angeles hotel room. The plucky, comely star of last summer's box-office smash "Raiders of the Lost Ark" was in town to tape the "Fridays" show. Says Rensin: "As wonderful as Karen Allen looks, our conversation revealed that there's much more to this woman than meets the eye. She has done years of theater work, as well as movies such as 'The Wanderers,' 'Cruising,' 'A Small Circle of Friends' and 'National Lampoon's Animal House.' Her latest film, 'Captured,' is about religious cults. Frankly, if there were a Karen Allen cult, I wouldn't mind approaching strangers in airports on her behalf."
Playboy: In one article we read, the reporter was so obviously smitten that his descriptions of you were rhapsodic. How can you tell when someone's falling in love with you?
Allen: I was really surprised when I read that piece, because when I sat down with him at the restaurant, I immediately knocked my drink on the floor and thought, Oh, God, this is going to be disastrous. Actually, we had a very nice conversation. As for someone falling for me, well, I think I'm guilty of not being astute in that way. That's what some of my friends tell me. Unless we're falling in love simultaneously, I'm unaware of it. Sometimes it's love at first sight---you know, seeing someone across a room, feeling that incredible attraction that you want to dismiss as only an incredible attraction. But it's all you have to go on.
And you have to trust that instinct, which will sometimes lead you astray, because people are not always what they appear to be. And then there are times when it happens with someone you've known for a long time as a friend. And then, all of a sudden... .
Playboy: Which do you prefer?
Allen: I think the second way is the healthier of the two, because then the love is on top of some foundation. One of the strangest changes that have occurred between men and women is all this freedom of sexuality. You have people immediately jumping into bed together---it's like fast food. What happens, often, is that you experience a kind of intimacy with someone before you know anything about him. Then you try to catch up. And when you can't catch up, it's usually detrimental to the relationship.
Playboy: Has that been a problem?
Allen: For me? Years ago. I'd been with one person for about four years until recently, so I was experiencing a totally different side of things. But I think it was a problem for people I knew when everyone went "Yippee! We're going to do exactly what we want to do and be impulsive and instinctive!" It created a whole new set of problems that nobody really understood.
Playboy: In your movie about college life in the late Sixties and early Seventies, A Small Circle of Friends, you're involved in a ménage à trois. The arrangement seems very sweet, charming and natural. Now, looking back, would you say that kind of experience was easier then?
Allen: I guess the answer is yes. It seems harder to have an experience like that today than it would have ten years ago. But I don't know if it's just because you go through certain experiences and then move on to others or if they're just not that interesting now because they're familiar. When I'm around college-aged kids today, it doesn't seem as if that experimentation exists. Everyone seems to have become very bookish, competitive. Fraternities are back. Dress codes are back. Things we fought to get rid of.
Playboy: Is romance making a comeback in the Eighties?
Allen: It's on the upsurge. Maybe it's a different kind of romantic approach, though. Things are more complex today because of changing attitudes about sexual roles. No one knows how to act. I've always led an individualistic life; in a way, spontaneous and impulsive. Sometimes it has made men insecure. It made it difficult to have consistent or long-term relationships. But a lot of things are changing for me right now. I'm feeling as though I'd like to be a little more stable. Strangely, about a dozen people I know are suddenly getting married. Others are now having their first children. On the other hand, because of the decision to postpone marriage for so long, some people have become harder to coexist with. They're not as flexible. I have three men friends---just friends--- who go on and on about the women they see. And it's just like Woody Allen's Manhattan. These men wish they could find one perfect woman who combined certain qualities found in each of the many women they currently see. These people are limited because they believe things will never change; that if a woman is lacking in one quality or another, that's it. People grow. A good friend once said that eventually you love people---friends or lovers---because of their flaws.
Playboy: Your newest movie, Captured, is about religious cults and the deprograming process. The subject is both controversial and full of contradictions. What have you learned about cults from making the film? Do you see anything positive in them?
Allen: In the film, the cult is a utopian kind of environment that's very modernistic and self-sufficient. Everyone in the community is chaste. There is no sexuality, to the extent that a lot of women have stopped having their periods and the men have stopped having to shave. The cult goes out into the world and tries to bring in the healthiest, most intelligent and most productive people in society. What makes these people vulnerable is that they've gotten to a point in their lives where they lack direction. And, strangely enough, it is usually the most intelligent people who join these things. There are 2.000,000 people in this country in religious cults and some are Harvard and Yale graduates. The film doesn't take sides. The cult is not portrayed as a horrible, weird place, and the parents are not portrayed as villains or good guys. And the deprogramer has an ironic point of view about what he's doing. There's a total lack of spirituality in this culture. Many of the people I met who had gone into these cults were normal. They came from both extremely wealthy homes and from the streets. And the one thing (continued on page 207) Karen Allen (continued from page 151) they had in common was that the cult gave them a sense of spirituality. They had ecstatic spiritual experiences that didn't match anything they'd encountered. And even after they'd been deprogramed, it was the one thing that kept coming back to them.
Playboy: Cultists are also portrayed as fanatic. What are you fanatic about?
Allen: Physical exercise. I'm very vulnerable to physical tension, and maybe it's because I have so many conflicts inside me all the time. Maybe it's just from living in New York. So I do as many physical things as I can, every day, whether it's running or playing tennis or working out in a gym. It's the only way I can feel relaxed.
Playboy: You had some real physical experiences doing Raiders, especially with snakes. Have you since learned to like them?
Allen: I never hated them. The worst thing about it was how totally undressed I was in those scenes. I mean, I had nothing on my feet, and nothing on my legs, and this dress with no back on it. The first few days, the snakes did bother me a little, because there were so many of them and because they moved so quickly out of the shots, and so the people working with them had to throw them back into the shot---at me. So I would be standing there, getting hit by hundreds of snakes in order to get them around my feet and make the shot look scary. I actually started to like them and be able to pick them up. I only minded the ones that bit, but of all of them, we had only about 50 pythons. I never got used to them. The others were sort of cute.
Playboy: One thing Raiders did for you was increase your bank account. What do you spend your money on?
Allen: Actually, I've been pretty restrained. Well, I produced a play in New York with my own money---actually coproduced it, so the money wasn't all mine. I guess I'd like a house in the country and horses; some place outside New York that's far enough to be away but from which I could still travel back and forth. Having money is still a little overwhelming to me. I sometimes think of myself as I did earlier in life, when I was on my own and had no money at all. It's a little incomprehensible that I don't have to worry about paying the rent. It's not a totally familiar state to me yet to think I have enough money to be extravagant.
Playboy: What do you do to blow off steam?
Allen: I play music with a lot of friends. We get together and jam. I play the guitar a little and the piano, but lately I'm into the harmonica. I'm a pretty mad harmonica player, though I wouldn't say I excel. But it's become my fascination in the past couple of years. Besides, it makes me feel great. It gets me really high, like anything that makes you push your breathing to the extreme. And since I smoke, it's necessary that I have something to balance that out.
Playboy: We understand your father was in the FBI. What's it like to grow up with a G man for a dad?
Allen: I always found it kind of intriguing. First of all, because I didn't really know what he did. He could never talk about his work. But I always thought that whatever he did, it must have been fascinating. It's like your father being a minister or something. There's a certain sense of responsibility you grow up with. You feel you have to live up to a certain standard. When I was 18, 19, 20, during the years when all the demonstrations were going on, it had its biggest effect on me. I figured that if I got myself in trouble, it would have some effect on him. The FBI is very tough about who it takes on. My dad was very hard-line FBI---though he's not with them anymore---and he thought the world of J. Edgar Hoover.
Playboy: What do you read or watch?
Allen: I'm pretty seriously addicted to Time and Newsweek. As much as I like reading a newspaper, I just don't find the time to do it. Besides, those magazines also avoid going into all the gory things that go on in New York as some of the papers do. I don't like to read about murders and child abuse and all that. It really depresses me. It's not that I want to blind myself to what's going on, but you take in all that stuff and it tends to scare you. All of a sudden, you're afraid to go out by yourself.
Playboy: Yet you've traveled extensively. What do your trips tell you about where you live?
Allen: Every time I leave this country, I'm reminded of our enormous affluence.
People who haven't traveled have no idea of the number of choices we have. It's unbelievable the way people live in Tunisia, where we shot Raiders. It was fascinating, because I'd never been in a Moslem culture before, where you see women walk ten steps behind men. And they never touch in public. I had a chance to talk with a woman who spoke English who, at the age of 18, had decided not to wear the veil. She was ostracized from her community and eventually left for Paris. In Tunisia, if you're an American, you're the scum of the earth. And picture me, running around in my little white dress, shooting this film, surrounded by thousands of Moslem men. They looked at me like the worst kind of evil.
Playboy: Any problem with sexual advances?
Allen: No, but they probably thought I was a whore or something. I never had a chance to talk with one and really find out. And I don't know if they even would have told me. They were really aghast at a woman on the crew, working in 125-degree heat, dressing in shorts. It was like they were among sin. They had a saying: "Men are for love and women are for babies." That's their philosophy of life.
Playboy: Sounds like you had a good time. What's your philosophy of life?
Allen: It's just believing there's a purpose to life and that we all have a task. That doesn't necessarily mean doing one job your entire life. It's just an attitude. The task is living life, accepting it. I remember something my father told me when I was a kid. One of the happiest people he knew was this guy whose job at the FBI was to change the rolls of toilet paper. He would go around this huge building and put new rolls of paper in each day. That's all he did. And my father envied this man because he was always singing and whistling and always had a kind word for everybody. My philosophy is giving as much of yourself as you have to give; it's appreciating anything you do well. And the same must be the secret of relationships.
Playboy: What sort of man need not apply to Karen Allen?
Allen: I don't like role playing in a relationship. There are still men who expect women to perform certain tasks. I find that very irritating. It drives me crazy to think the man can be messy or chaotic and the woman is supposed to run around after him, cleaning up and straightening out his life.
Playboy: In Raiders, your character, Marion Ravenwood, is introduced in a drinking scene and comes across as a woman with a cast-iron constitution. Is that you?
Allen: I don't drink much. Maybe wine and stuff, and then mostly with dinner. I like cognac, too, and that's about it.
Playboy: Where do you hang out in New York?
Allen: I like to go hear music, so I go to those kinds of clubs. I like the Ritz a lot. They've developed a wonderful atmosphere there. And they have interesting bands. I'm fascinated by the punk and New Wave music. I think they're doing some really wonderful things.
Playboy: Now that we have a beautiful, intelligent, independent woman captive, would you please tell us what is so attractive about Woody Allen?
Allen: Well, the obvious things are his incredible wit and his ability to laugh at himself. And there's also his verbal sensibility. He's a sensitive man, yet that doesn't shut down his ability to express the irony of life. You know, he sees all around. At the same time, it's obvious he doesn't think of himself as attractive. There are a lot of contradictions in who he is as a person that are fascinating.
Playboy: When did someone last ask what your sign was?
Allen: God! Just the other day. Does it still matter?
"Having money is still overwhelming. It's incomprehensible that I don't have to worry about the rent."