Welcome to Random Roles, wherein we talk to actors about the characters who defined their careers. The catch: They don’t know beforehand what roles we’ll ask them to talk about.
The actor: In the canon of truly beloved movies, Karen Allen’s name pops up with stunning frequency. Allen made her big-screen debut in National Lampoon’s Animal House in 1978 as the sarcastic and with-it Katy, the movie’s sole voice of reason. Three years later, she paired with Harrison Ford in Raiders Of The Lost Ark. For good measure, she played the mom in 1993’s The Sandlot, a nostalgic favorite among millennials. Allen’s career extends far beyond those three chestnuts, though. (She’s also set to direct her first short film, an adaptation of Carson McCullers’ short story A Tree A Rock A Cloud.) While promoting her most recent effort, the emotionally raw indie drama Bad Hurt, Allen shared her acting memories—while offering her thoughts on the modern blockbuster, typecasting, and acting in film versus theater.
Bad Hurt (2016)—“Elaine Kendall”
Karen Allen: The director and the writer, Mark Kemble, just thought of me for it and asked me to come in and meet with him. So I was in New York and I sat down with him and we talked about it. Lo and behold, they asked me to play it. It’s Mark’s mother that he’s writing about, so he’d have to tell you what elements about me made him feel [like casting me]. But I told him that I had a very strong, powerful reaction to the script when I read it. Scripts [are] kind of a bare bones type of reading material, but I was deeply moved by the script when I read it.
I think it’s very important that films like Bad Hurt don’t get lost in the mix of the sci-fi-kill-everything-on-the-screen-blood-dripping-down-the-walls sort of the world of the cinema that we live in. [Laughs.] I go to Sundance every year—in fact, I leave on Friday. I watch many, many, many independent films every year that you see once in a film festival and they’re never heard of ever again. Many of them are very, very good. When independent films break through and actually make it into any level of mainstream-ness or get seen by people or find a life actually in theaters, it’s extraordinary. And it doesn’t happen that often.
I grew up in a different world of film, and I feel bad for kids and adolescents and people in their 20s and 30s these days that they’re only served a certain type of film in theaters. When I was in my 20s and 30s, there was such a variety and diversity of types of films that you could see. So many of them were really more about the human condition and about relationships between people, and they were smaller films that had a much greater impact on me as a human being. They weren’t just entertainment and they weren’t just like how many cars can we crash and how many helicopters can we put into a building. We didn’t have all of that coming at us, that sort of “everything’s got to be a thrill a minute!” [Laughs.] Those kinds of films, most of them kind of bore the crap out of me. I feel bad that that’s all they get to see, for the most part.
AVC: A lot of those movies carry a little bit of that Indiana Jones DNA in them, don’t you think?
KA: Maybe so. The beauty of Raiders Of The Lost Ark is that it had a story and it had real characters and it was about something. Another aspect just has to do with the CGI. CGI is to me like watching a cartoon. It can be effective, if it’s done well. A lot of times you don’t feel any real risk. You’re watching a bunch of computer-generated graphics. [Laughs.] I think you can feel it in Raiders Of The Lost Ark. I think you can feel that that stunt guy is really risking his life when he goes underneath that truck.
Raiders Of The Lost Ark (1981) and Indiana Jones And The Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull (2008)—“Marion Ravenwood”
AVC: You’ve mentioned before that you were learning by the seat of your pants when it came to acting in film.
KA: Yeah, definitely.
AVC: But when you got this role, did you feel ready? Raiders Of The Lost Ark is a big-time Hollywood production.
KA: Well, you don’t know whether you’re going to be ready for it or not, because you don’t know what it’s going to be. I have to say [with] Raiders Of The Lost Ark there was a demand in terms of that film that I had certainly never come up against before. I had done essentially three films before that. I had done Animal House. I had done The Wanderers and I had done my first leading role in a film, which was A Small Circle Of Friends, with Rob Cohen. All three of those—even Animal House—are really kind of small human stories, you know? It’s about relationships between the characters really more than anything else.
Raiders Of The Lost Ark is a film that kind of takes place on a whole different level. We flew to London and North Africa to shoot it. We shot some of it in France. We were on this huge, Hollywood type of set that created worlds that you’d never seen before. A film like that is often about learning to work with the camera as opposed to forgetting that the camera is there. In a film like Raiders Of The Lost Ark, there were times when there were cranes inside of the Raven Bar or whatever, and we were doing these long shots and the requirement was very different. I had to be very aware of where the camera was and how it was moving and when I moved from one place to another, I had to be very aware of if I stopped and if I was in the light. Sometimes these shots would go on for minutes. It took a long time to set them up, and if you did one small thing wrong, you’d have to go back and start all over again.
There’s a kind of requirement to this kind of filmmaking that was totally new to me. When I said I was learning by the seat of my pants, I was learning by the seat of my pants. [Laughs.] No one had ever asked me to have to do some of the things I was doing. It was both very exciting and stimulating to be learning and it also felt like a lot of pressure to be learning right there, on the job. [Laughs.]
AVC: You’ve admitted to having some difficulty working with Steven Spielberg. Did that play a part in your work experience?
KA: You know, people have made a lot of more of this than really is true. We didn’t so much have difficulty working as I think we just worked very differently. His approach, and the fact that I then wasn’t in the next two films—which had always been planned; from the very beginning, I knew I wasn’t going to be in the next two films—somehow the media wanted to make something of it, as though there was some sort of issue. And it was never an issue. They always wanted the next movie to go backward in time, which would have meant Marion couldn’t possibly have been in it.
He liked to work with storyboards, which I had never worked with before. Every single shot is drawn out, and he’d have these storyboards with him. And he often would want on some level for the actors to step into the storyboard. It was just a very different way than I had ever worked before. I was used to working, both in the theater and in the films I had done, where we would come to the set, rehearse, find the kind of positions, find what was going on in the scene, and through doing that it had a more organic kind of quality.
In this particular film, I often felt, above and beyond the fact that I felt like I wasn’t sure what I was doing, [that] in my own mind—and I’ve actually talked about quite a bit—you read a script and you see the film in your head. It’s just inevitable. At least I do. And I think I had a very different film in my head. [Laughs] I had never seen any of these [adventure serials]. I didn’t grow up having gone to those. So I didn’t have that genre in my head to make reference to. So I think I read the film and I saw Casablanca. [Laughs.] I think when we started out, I was making a different film than he was making. And I had to get on board. More than us having any issues, it just took a while for me to figure out what we were doing. I was often a little perplexed at how to make it all work. [Laughs.]
AVC: Was it easier when you did Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull?
KA: Oh, absolutely! [Laughs]. It’s so much easier when you’re working with people for a second time, because there’s that familiarity, which just makes things much more relaxed. Also, for this film, I had a sense of the style of film that we were working in and I had a very clear sense of the character that I had already created in the one film. And a sense of what worked between [Indiana Jones and Marion]: what that relationship was—and the fact that they had enough confidence in that relationship that they had decided to marry these two characters was so lovely. It was a very, very different experience.
AVC: Raiders Of The Lost Ark is an undisputed classic, but audiences and critics had mixed reactions to Crystal Skull. What do you think of the movie?
KA: I like it. I totally get the fun of what they were doing. I had read a lot of these reviews. I’m always surprised when people say, “Oh, it got such mixed reviews.” I guess I didn’t read them. I think the Indiana Jones series has always been sort of an homage to films of its time, and I think Raiders was certainly that. I think the other two films were as well. With Crystal Skull, because they were going to set in the ’50s, the ’50s were an incredibly interesting, fun, and playful time in cinema. So [Spielberg and George Lucas] wanted to bring that sci-fi element into it. They wanted to bring that kind of hot rod-jukebox element into it. They wanted to bring certain qualities to it, with Shia [LaBeouf] pulling up à la Marlon Brando. They wanted to play with that stuff. It seemed to me, at the time, some of the criticism came from people literally not getting it. [Laughs.] Maybe the audience was not significantly people who had grown up in that era and understood the kind of wonderful, light-hearted fun they were having with the film.
Starman (1984)—“Jenny Hayden”
A Dog Year (2009)—“Paula”
AVC: Aside from the rapport you and Harrison Ford have in the Indiana Jones movies, what immediately comes to mind is you and Jeff Bridges in Starman.
KA: I know. We had just a grand time. He’s one of my favorite people and one of my favorite actors. [Laughs.] I couldn’t have been trapped in a car with anybody I would have loved more to be trapped in car with. He’s a delight. He’s a wonderful actor. He’s very, very imaginative and resourceful. He was so good in that role. We would love to find something to do together again. It hasn’t happened yet.
I did play his wife. He did a film—I’ve never seen it, unfortunately; I’d like to find it—called something like A Dog’s Year. He did it for HBO, I think. I played his wife who has left and gone to India and we have some phone calls with each other. So it’s just my voice. He called me from the set and I played the role from my house.
AVC: What did he do that made it such a pleasure to work on Starman?
KA: I was afraid of the film, personally, for myself. Because, I thought, how do you do this? How do I believe this story? And [Bridges] came in with such conviction and such a clear sense of who this being was, he solved all or most of my problems immediately. Just by the sheer force of his imagination and conviction and willingness to just step totally into this character and create a voice and movement and a way of being inside of his own body that I could easily believe the story. He’s all I have to react to throughout the entire film. I have to believe both that he is who he says is, or who I discover him to be, and that he is a dead ringer for my husband, who I know is dead. It’s a difficult premise really. I just knew it would be delicate and difficult to pull off. You don’t really want egg all over your face as an actor. [Laughs.] You don’t want to be kind of pretending to something that you’re having a hard time really believing. My fears came from that, and Jeff came along and was the perfect person to make it possible that I didn’t have to be concerned about any of that at all.
The Glass Menagerie (1987)—“Laura Wingfield”
AVC: You have an extensive stage background, so this might be a personal favorite of yours.
KA: You can’t go wrong with a great play—it’s really a masterpiece from one of America’s greatest playwrights. And then from the moment I got drawn to work on that play, I was working with Joanne Woodward and James Naughton, and just an extraordinary group of people. We had three different Toms: John Sayles was our first Tom on stage, then Treat Williams was our second Tom on stage, and then John Malkovich came in to do the film with us. We had a great director in the theater, Nikos Psacharopoulos, and then Paul Newman came in to do the film.
I was a huge, huge admirer of Joanne Woodward as an actress, and I think when Nikos Psacharopoulos asked me if I would do this play with her, I almost fainted. It was an extremely meaningful period in my life. I did two productions of the play and then did the film and very rarely do you get to spend that kind of time with a piece of material. So really from the first production, you have it all memorized and it’s really just then a matter of really working on it and being with the character and then deepening what you’re doing. So, yeah, it holds a very special place in my heart.
AVC: What was it like working with Paul Newman?
KA: I work as a director now quite a bit, and I have to say from an actor’s perspective, to work with a director who has been an actor through most of their career is a pleasure. They generally have a very deep understanding of the process of what you’re doing, of how you are building and exploring the character. Which is not true of all directors—not because they’re malicious or anything [Laughs]. But just because they really don’t know how. They don’t understand it from the inside out. Not only was Paul himself a terrific person and director, but he also innately had this capacity to really bring out the best in all of us. On one hand, it’s kind of great that we’ve done two productions of the play as we started to work on the film. On the other hand, it can be a handicap because you’re so familiar with the material that you can almost not know now where to go with it. So he handled that aspect of it so beautifully. It was a joy working with him.
It’s hard sometimes to explain, but I had the same experience with Arthur Penn when I worked with him for about a year-and-a-half, two years on a play. Through the eyes of a really profoundly gifted person as your director, you rise to an occasion sometimes that you don’t even know is there. They allow you to be the absolute best that you have inside of you. It’s a really extraordinary experience to have as an actress.
National Lampoon’s Animal House (1978)—“Katy”
AVC: We’ve discussed movies featuring tortured matriarchs. Let’s talk about another.
KA: [Bursts out laughing.] I wouldn’t go so far as to call her a matriarch. That’s pretty funny, though.
AVC: Do you get tired talking about the movie and your role in it?
KA: I very rarely talk about it. We did a little reunion at the Berkshire International Film Festival last spring, so we talked about it a bit leading up to that. But, no, it’s not a film I talk about very often.
That film was the very first film I ever made. It was an enormous amount of fun. It started the whole possibility of me working in film, which I hadn’t really imagined for myself. It’s where, for me in a way, a lot of my early understanding of the process of working in film began. I just had a theater background at that point, as did almost everybody in the cast.
AVC: Was that fun to be a part of?
KA: Oh, absolutely! It was a joy. I was working with this wonderful group of young actors. We were all kind of in the same boat. None of us really quite knew what we were doing. John Landis was a little bit in the same boat—he had more experience than any of us with the exception of maybe Donald Sutherland and Tim Matheson and a handful of other people. John Belushi was really moving into the height of his career at Saturday Night Live. It couldn’t have been more fun. It was the happening place. [Laughs.]
AVC: I don’t know if you heard about this, but a few years ago GQ named you in Animal House as one of the sexiest women in film history.
KA: I think somebody said that to me, yeah.
AVC: What are your thoughts on that?
KA: [Laughs.] What am I supposed to think about that? I don’t know. It’s sweet. It’s such an ensemble film and Katy has her one little moment there with Donald Sutherland. I would never think of Katy’s role as a sexy role for a second. The fact that it can makes me smile for a moment, I think. [Laughs]
Knots Landing (1979)—“Annie”
Manhattan (1979)—“Television Actor #2”
AVC: Were you on Knots Landing when Animal House started to get big?
KA: Gosh, you know, Knots Landing is like a blip on my radar. I never lived in Los Angeles, but I dated someone who lived there. And I think at one point I had gone out to visit him, and I got a call saying, did I want to do this? Whether I did that before—I must have done it after Animal House, because I hadn’t really been on film before we shot Animal House. But it might have been before the film came out. I really don’t remember. You know, honestly, it was like a day or two of work.
AVC: You were the daughter of Don Murray’s character, right?
KA: Yes, I was. I played his woe-be-gotten daughter. I was probably 24 or 25 at the time and she was supposed to be 16 or 17. [Laughs] But they cast me and I think I’m sort of running away from home, using drugs or something. [Laughs.] “Oh,” I thought, “that’d be fun.” Other than that, I don’t remember much about it one way or another. But, at that point, I was trying to get some experience. I think working on Animal House showed what a craft working in film was, that you had to understand things like hitting your mark and finding your light. There was a whole comfort level that you had to get to in front of a camera that was quite different than working in the theater. And if I was going to do it, I had some serious catching up to do. I was quite eager to work, anytime somebody was offering me a job, if I liked the role. Because I was always very discriminating from the very beginning, in the sense that I had absolutely no problem saying no to jobs when they came along if somehow they didn’t fit into my universe—whatever that was.
AVC: How did you come about being in Manhattan?
KA: I was in New York. Woody Allen was meeting people for the Mariel Hemingway part. I think he wanted somebody that was 16 or 17; maybe he was having a difficult time finding somebody. And here again, I guess l Iooked somewhat young at the time for my age, although I was definitely in my mid-20s. I went in to meet Woody Allen for that role. I guess he thought I was not young enough to play the role. But I think that’s how he casts, from what I hear: He just meets people, likes them, and tries to find a place for them in the film. He just asked through my agent if I would do a little role in the film and, of course, I said yes. I am a huge Woody Allen fan.
It was a one-day thing. I showed up. I worked with two actors. He came down. He said, “Look, I haven’t had a chance to write you guys anything. But you’re playing three comedians on a type of Saturday Night Live television show. I just want you to make up a routine that’s sort of in bad taste.” That’s what he said to us. And then he just left us, and went up to shoot some other stuff. The three of just fooled around and we came up with…I don’t remember that much about it, but it had something to do with the Disease Of The Week show or something like that. [Laughs.] We decided I was going to be catatonic and married to some sort of politician. We just did something silly. And he came down, we showed it to him, he liked it, and we shot it. That’s it. [Laughs] That’s the whole story.
KA: Okay. [Laughs.] I don’t know if I have much to say about that film.
AVC: At the time of its release, the movie was extremely controversial. As someone starting out in their film career, did anyone warn you not to do Cruising?
KA: Nobody warned me not to do it. If you were a young actor living in New York City at that time, Al Pacino was one of the most respected actors. I was always drawn toward the Actor’s Studio. I studied at the Lee Strasberg Institute when I first came to New York. One of my favorite teachers was one of Al’s teachers, a guy named Charlie Laughton, who was just a wonderful, wonderful man.
When I was being asked to audition for this, first of all I wasn’t allowed to read the script, as no one was. William Friedkin gave me a couple of my character’s scenes, which were in the house with Al. I didn’t know much about it. Friedkin maybe gave me a little sense of the story: he was a cop; there were these killings in the dock area that involved homosexual men. Al was going undercover. I was going to be his girlfriend; she was a teacher. Other than that, I knew nothing. For me, the motivation really was to work with Al Pacino. To me, that seemed like an incredible opportunity, just a learning opportunity because I thought so highly of him.
AVC: What was it like working with Al Pacino?
KA: We had an awful lot of fun. He’s really just a sweetheart of a person, got a wonderful sense of humor. He’s somebody also who was raised on the stage. There is a difference when you work with actors who have worked on the stage. When we’re out there in front of an audience eight times a week, you can’t do it on your own, you know? [Laughs.] You rely on your partners, on your fellow actors. It’s almost like being a trapeze act. You don’t get caught up in yourself. You are there as a company telling a story. He’s that kind of actor. He’s very generous and very aware and very tuned in to his fellow actors. It was a pleasure to work with him.
The Sandlot (1993)—“Mom”
AVC: The movie has become this big cult classic among twenty- and thirtysomethings. Do you get a whiff of that?
KA: It came as a total surprise to me. I saw the film. I thought it was totally cute. I think I did the film when my son was about a year old. It was the first film that I did after my son was born. You take the year off that you’re pregnant, and I did a play not long after he was born. So it was me kind of sticking my toe back in the water of doing a film.
I’ve been an adjunct professor at NYU through the Strasberg Institute and in Massachusetts at Bard College. I think it was then [about 10 years ago], because of the age of the kids that I was around, I got a lot of people who were telling me what huge fans [they were]. The Sandlot, for them, was this seminal film growing up. I guess I hadn’t been around kids that age. My son was literally 2 years old when it came out—and it scared the crap out of him. I was at the opening of it, and he started to scream. The first time the dog showed up—they’re afraid of what’s behind the fence—he got totally freaked out. [Laughs.] He was not quite of the right age. But kids maybe who were maybe 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10 really connected with that film. No, I didn’t have a clue that it was such a big hit. At all. But I have now become aware of that. It’s sort of sweet, actually.
I liked that mom. I think it might have even been the first mom I ever played, which is kind of fun.
Year By The Sea (2016)—“Joan”
KA: It’s the largest role I’ve ever played in any film or piece of theater ever in my life. [Laughs.] In the entire film, I think there are five or six scenes I’m not in. It’s a whole lot of me. [Laughs.] Or a whole lot of her [Joan Anderson, whose memoir the movie is based on], depending on how you look at it. It’s about a time in her life in which she just needed to walk away from everything that she knew and get to know a deeper part of herself and kind of reinvent her life. She went off to live on the Cape near Wellesley, Massachusetts and spent a year doing things she’d never done before, ever dreamed of doing before, and she kind of found her voice.
She’s become huge in the women’s movement. She’s written six or seven best-selling books. I think her book has been translated into 25 languages or something. Women all over the world have looked to her for the inspiration to rediscover themselves.
AVC: What similarities are there between Joan and you?
KA: Well, there are a lot of differences and a lot of similarities. She remained married. I was a single mom through most of my child-rearing. She kind of put all of her career, work-related stuff on the back burner. I never had the luxury or the ability to really be able to do that. I think at the core of who we are there are a lot of similarities: the desire to have a very rich, creative life; a desire to keep asking the big questions and keep rediscovering who we are. When I was first meeting with them on this and I read [A Year By the Sea]—it’s a beautiful book. I was very, very moved by it: by her honesty and her bravery and her desire to live her life as fully and as deeply as possible. She was with us through really all the shooting of the film, and I’ve gotten to know her quite well. She’s a fantastic person.
AVC: Was it strange to deal with someone who you’re portraying?
KA: I was a little nervous about it. You’re afraid they’re going to go, “Oh, that’s not right.” You, of course, want them to like what you’re doing because you’re playing them. [Laughs.] But she was a big part of the decision to choose me for the film. That gives you a certain amount of confidence, that she was a part of the decision and that she wanted me to play her. She has continued to consistently tell me much how she is liking the film. It’s still in the process of being edited and worked on right now. She’s been very, very positive about everything. But, yeah, it’s intimidating to have somebody on the set who you’re portraying.
In The Bedroom (2001)—Marla Keyes
KA: Oh, that’s interesting. I’ve seen it once. I met [director] Todd Field in New York when he was casting the film. And I was under consideration for the role that Sissy Spacek ended up playing. But I loved the film so much and I said to Todd, “Look, even if you decide to go in another direction for this role, I would love to be in this film.” This was during a time when I was raising my son, and I had kind of stepped back from doing leading roles for a while because I really couldn’t do it. I didn’t want to be pulling my son out of school for two or three or four months to go and shoot a film. It didn’t seem fair to him after a certain age for a kid’s life to have to revolve around mine.
But this was being shot in the summer and I felt I could actually do it. In the end, they went with Sissy Spacek. And he did get in touch with my agent and he offered me that role. I think I was there for a day. I went up and I shot it in an afternoon and left. To tell you the truth, I saw it when it came out and I haven’t seen it since. Tell me why it seems significant because I don’t have a sense of what the role was.
AVC: You were defending Marisa Tomei’s ex-husband (played by William Mapother) in court. You were so steely and stone-faced, which was different from being a warm presence in everything from Animal House to The Sandlot, but you played that role and played it well.
KA: Well, you know, we’re actors. [Laughs.] We like to play a lot of different roles. I was interested in a part for something recently, and it came back from the casting director to my agent that they thought I was too soft for the role. I said, “What? What does that even mean?” They said, “Well, maybe not tough enough or something.” I just hate that. I think I can play the most evil, demonic person in the world. I played a serial killer. I played a murderer once. I love the range. I think that Hollywood, sadly, does do this thing [where] they see you do something well and they think, “Oh, that’s what she does.” Actors love to go in all different directions. Like, if you just did a comedy where you played a lighthearted, kind of silly, wonderful person, the thing you might want to do next is play a really dark character. It’s like being an athlete and only exercising one part of your body. If you just work on your upper body, you’re not going to be a full-range dancer or performer. You’ve got to work in all directions as much as you possibly can. Unfortunately, I feel as actors we have to fight for the right to really go in as many directions as possible.
After Raiders Of The Lost Ark, everybody wanted to cast me in those kinds of roles. I think on some level because of that I took a play [Monday After The Miracle] that I did with Arthur Penn, we did four different productions of it, and it eventually ended up on Broadway. I played an adult Helen Keller. That is the thing that carbonates or ignites one’s interest in doing the work. You want to move into worlds you’ve never been in before. It would be like going to the same restaurant all the time or going to the same place for vacation all the time. Where is the adventure in that?
AVC: Is that why you keep going back to the stage, because the work is more varied and you have more opportunities to branch out?
KA: [Pauses.] That might be a part of it. I think that there is a real beauty to the live aspect of the theater, and the working with a director for a month on a script in the isolation of a room and really deeply delving into who are these people, what is the story we’re telling, how do we want to tell it? That kind of work you do in the theater, and then getting up in front of a live audience and being a live storyteller. In the theater, actors are the essential element of the work. In a film, it’s a real collaboration—not that theater isn’t, because it is—but it’s a collaboration to such an extent that you can give a performance in film that sometimes you look at and you go, “Well, that’s not the performance I was trying to give at all.”
When I read a film script, as I said, I kind of see it in my head and I see the moments that shape what I understand the character to be. There’s very little time for rehearsal. You have brief conversations with the director or the writer. Ultimately, the film is made in the editing room. And sometimes every little deed or every little moment that I have sort of tried to craft to create the inner life of the character as I see it ends up not in the film. So I’ll see it and it’s the director’s interpretation of who the character is through me being there, but it’s not really what I was trying to bring to the role. There’s no right or wrong about it. That is how film functions. I show up there kind of as raw material to make a film and I’m collaborating, but ultimately I’m not making the decisions about the way in which the character is created on the screen.
I couldn’t just do that. I need to work in the theater. I need to feel like I’m owning the work and I’m creating the character myself—because that’s what ultimately feeds the part of me that was drawn toward being an actor. It’s about telling the story through my sensibility. I can do that completely in the theater. I don’t really feel that’s always an option for me [in movies]. I hand myself over. I try to offer as much as I can to the director so he has as much to work with as possible to create the character that, really, he wants to create in a sense.
AVC: Is there a role in your film career where you felt you had put in the work, put everything out there, and then you looked at the final product and it was completely different than what you envisioned when you were acting?
KA: Yes, I think that there have been. I don’t necessarily want to talk about them, because I feel that points a finger: “This director didn’t really get what I was trying to do at all.” I think that that is just the nature of film. It’s just the nature of how it works, that actors are not in control. You shoot 10 takes or you shoot 15 takes in different angles and a director then sits in an editing room with his editor and they piece it together in a way in which makes sense to them.
AVC: Was there a time when the opposite occurred on a film—
KA: Where it felt like someone totally got what I was trying to do? [Pauses.] Gosh. To tell you the truth, I can’t say that I’ve ever felt as though it’s a black and white situation. Often there are moments where you go, “That’s the scene I saw in my head that I was trying to play. That is what I found interesting about the character. Ah, it made it to film!” And then 10 minutes you’ll see another scene that for me, internally, in terms of the character, I feel like it completely missed. The thing is, I can’t be completely objective. [Laughs.] I’m not there watching myself. So I only have a memory of what I was trying for and a memory of what I think I did or didn’t do in any given scene or take. I also don’t know whether the take that I thought was the take might have been unusable for some reason.
There are so many elements in making a film that I’m not in charge of. I’m actually just about to direct my first film [an adaption of Carson McCullers’ A Tree A Rock A Cloud], so this will be a fascinating experience for me, because I’m now going to step outside and work with actors. I’ll be the one who’s taking their performances and crafting their performances. It’ll be an amazing learning experience.
AVC: We’ve all felt that magic of being at the movies. Does that bring you back to films?
KA: As actors, the magic is in the almost spiritual experience to really enter another world, to really enter a belief of being in another person’s shoes and to really take on their experiences as someone else has written them and imagined them. It’s kind of a sacred thing. It’s a very spiritual experience. That in itself for me is the main thing that keeps me coming back to it. I like to travel, but for me, this is the greatest travel.
For Mark Kemble in Bad Hurt to entrust me with stepping into his mother’s shoes and her experiences and her relationship with her children and the pain that she experienced when she lost her son and the difficulty in her relationship with her husband—that’s like traveling to the moon for me. I get to go on this incredible adventure. There are not too many people who get that opportunity: to enter another person’s world and really try to penetrate it and feel what it would be like to be them. You grow as a person. It expands you in the same way that traveling does. I view it as sort of an extraordinary privilege to do what I do. The magic of the film when it comes out—people see it and they love it or they don’t love it—all of that is what that is. That’s the frosting. It’s the cake that really interests me.