The Inverse Interview

Indiana Jones turns 40: 6 revelations from the stars of the movie

“Stephen stood on the floor yelling at us: ‘Turn left! Turn right! Look down on the ark! It looks wonderful! It looks beautiful! Now it's going to eat your head.’”

Wanna feel old? Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark come out 40 years ago, today!

The classic film that united Steven Spielberg and George Lucas, and gave us arguably the greatest opening scene in any movie ever, premiered in theaters on June 12, 1981. (Raiders of the Lost Ark was such a huge hit it played in some theaters for over a year.)

To celebrate this historic anniversary, Inverse spoke to two of the movie’s stars: Paul Freeman (Indiana’s rival archeologist René Belloq who’s hired by the Nazis) and Karen Allen (Indie’s old flame who joins him on his adventure). Separate conversations with the two actors covered everything from how they joined the cast of Raiders of the Lost Ark to drinking too much cheap Tunisian wine during production to working with snakes.

“I don't have a problem with a couple of snakes,” Allen tells Inverse, “but I do have a problem with 6000 snakes all in one room being tossed at me while I have nothing on my legs or my feet.

Read on for six highlights from our interviews with the stars of Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark.

6. Exploding heads

In a film full of iconic moments, the death of Belloq and his Nazi collaborators is perhaps the most famous scene. But for Paul Freeman, filming it was also a particularly difficult challenge.

Paul Freeman: Well I knew that my head would blow up from early on. We had to go and have the false heads made, which is much simpler. In those days, you were covered in this silicon plaster stuff, which set on your head and got very heavy. You had props on your neck to hold your head up. It was very unpleasant with straws up your nose, and in your mouth to breathe.

So I knew that was going to happen. What we didn't know was how the actual scene would be filmed of opening the ark. There was no indication while we were filming it of what we were actually seeing. So Stephen stood on the floor yelling at us: “Turn left! Turn right! Look down on the ark! It looks wonderful! It looks beautiful! Now it's gonna eat your head.”

It was very, very confusing as well, and you had no indication really of, Is this good enough? Am I doing the right thing? Does this work? Until I saw the movie cut together and then it made sense. But what we were meant to be looking at coming onto the ark was nothing at all. There was sand.

5. A “classic” romance

Raiders of the Lost Ark never makes it totally clear, but there’s no denying the questionable age difference between the movie’s romantic leads — especially since they dated ten years before the movie begins.

Karen Allen: You know, we talked about it. I don't know if it's said explicitly in the script, but she was 16, and he was 26. And then it's been 10 years. So she's now the age that he was when he left. And he's coming back. So she hasn't seen him for those 10 years. I may say that in the script, but I probably don't say I was 16. I was young. I was in love. Right? He was my father's student. It's maybe a very classic kind of romance.

Karen Allen in Raiders of the Lost Ark.Paramount

4. How Paul became Belloq

Freeman describes his memorable first meeting with Steven Spielberg and George Lucas, plus the scene that convinced him Indiana Jones was worth doing.

Paul Freeman: I was just finishing a film called The Dogs of War in Belize, and my agent said, “Spielberg wants to see you for this movie in LA when you finish. Can you go over there?” I was happy to do that, Obviously. It turned out that they had already cast the part of Belloc to an Italian actor called Giancarlo Giannini. But Stephen had seen me in a very scandalous docudrama I did in 1980. called Death of a Princess. It was about the actual killing of a Saudi Arabian princess by what turned out to be her grandfather. And it was a big scandal because the Saudis got very upset about it. Some of it was shown on PBS in the US and some of it wasn't. Some stations refused to show it.

But anyway, Stephen saw it and thought I might be right. So I went to meet them, him and George [Lucas], who were in a little brick bungalow on the old Universal site, which was just off the main drag. They were lying on the floor listening to one of the original cassette players, this was the first time they'd come out. And what was different about this was you had little speakers about this high that you could plug in on each side. Talk about retro tech. They said, “Listen to this. Get down.” So we all got down on the floor and listened to this stuff for a while. I can't remember what the music was. But we were blown away by the sound.

And then out of that, they just sort of said, “Oh, by the way, do you want to read the script?” So when I read the script and I got to the bit where the poison date is thrown up and monkey grabbed it, I thought this is a wonderful script. I've got to do this. It just made me laugh. That was it.

Harrison Ford and Steven Spielberg on the set of Raiders of the Lost Ark.Sunset Boulevard/Corbis Historical/Getty Images

3. Indiana Jones 4

Allen talks about her return as Marion Ravenwood in 2008’s Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.

Karen Allen: I didn't expect there to be a fourth one. I never expect expected to re-enter that world. And when I was asked to come back and revive Marian, I couldn't have been happier. I had never done a sequel to a film before. There's something wonderful about it. When you enter a film, often, you're entering a whole world of people that you don't know, and you haven't worked with, and you spend half the film trying to get to know people. And to come back to a film where I was working again with a lot of the people I had worked with in the past just makes it a lot easier.

2. “I hate snakes!”

Allen says she doesn’t mind snakes, though filming that one particular scene wasn’t exactly fun either.

Karen Allen: You know, I don't have a thing about snakes. Well, I don't have thing about a couple of snakes, but I do have a thing about 6000 snakes all in one room being tossed at me while I have nothing on my legs or my feet. That was challenging in many ways. I got used to it. You kind of think. "How do you get used to 6000 snakes?" But we were there every day for two weeks or something, and I got kind of fond of them — with a few exceptions.

We had pythons that would bite people and that was not so great. I would take off in the opposite direction if I saw one coming for me. And we had cobras that were very dangerous, but they were handled with great care, and I never felt in danger from them. But most of the snakes were fairly harmless. You kind of felt sorry for them. They weren't being given any sort of special treatment. When you have 6000 of them you can't really look after each one.

1. “Rather frivolous.”

Freeman’s favorite part of filming Indiana Jones? A behind-the-scenes moment.

Paul Freeman: My favorite part? So much of it. It’s very difficult to say... Finding a lot of extremely cheap champagne in the hotel in Tunisia. The labels had washed off in a flood, but that was rather frivolous.

Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark is streaming now on Paramount+ and available to own in 4K.

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