'Indiana Jones' star Karen Allen to attend toga party, sans robe, in Fort Lauderdale

Actress goes behind camera to bring 'A Tree. A Rock. A Cloud.' to life

PEMBROKE PARK, Fla. – "Toga!" "Toga!" "Toga!"

It's a familiar chant that the members of Delta Tau Chi repeat moments after Faber College's dastardly Dean Vernon Wormer stops by to tell them that they've been placed on "double-secret probation" in the 1978 film "National Lampoon's Animal House."

The folks at the Fort Lauderdale International Film Festival are sure to be chanting it again Saturday night at Villa de Palma, where a toga party will be held in honor of one of the film's stars.

Karen Allen is in South Florida for a special screening of her short film, "A Tree. A Rock. A Cloud."

But don't expect the 66-year-old actress to be donning the ancient Roman cloth required for admission to the after party. 

"I think it's going to be hard to get me into a toga tomorrow," Allen told Local10.com in a sit-down interview Friday. "My excuse will be that (her character) Katy didn't go to the party (in the movie)."

Fair enough.

Allen, who lives in Massachusetts, has been traveling frequently this year to promote her directorial debut, for which she also wrote the screenplay.

"A Tree. A Rock. A Cloud." debuted at the Manchester Film Festival in March and has been shown in, among other places, Cannes, Madrid and other locales throughout the United States. Next up is a screening Saturday night at Savor Cinema in Fort Lauderdale.

The movie, based on the short story by Carson McCullers, is almost entirely set at a roadside café in 1947 during a chance encounter between a boy and an older man who relates a personal tale of heartbreak and loss.

"This little story jumped out at me and it stayed with me my whole life, and I always imagined if I was ever going to shoot a first film, I would want to make this story," Allen recalled.

So she turned to her friend and fellow actor Jeffrey DeMunn, who starred in the first two seasons of AMC's "The Walking Dead," to take on the leading role.

"I imagined him in this role when he was 40 years too young to do it, and so the timing was perfect, because he's now the perfect age to do it," Allen said.

Karen Allen visited Local 10 News to chat about her directorial debut, "A Tree. A Rock. A Cloud."
Karen Allen visited Local 10 News to chat about her directorial debut, "A Tree. A Rock. A Cloud."

Allen said she took some creative liberties in the movie adaptation -- "I create a beginning for the film that is not necessarily in the story" -- but mostly stays true to McCullers' work.

"I didn't fall in love with the story because I had a desire to change it," she said. "I think it's perfect just the way it is."

Allen's interest in directing began in her 20s while working in theater, but she realized she was going to have to focus on acting at that point in her career. Her itch to direct really took hold about 10 years ago, when she returned to directing theater productions.

It helped having worked with acclaimed directors like Steven Spielberg ("Raiders of the Lost Ark"), John Landis ("National Lampoon's Animal House") and John Carpenter ("Starman").

"I don't think there's been a director I've worked with that I haven't learned something very meaningful from," Allen said.

Of course, perhaps the most meaningful -- and memorable -- character she's embodied on celluloid was Marion Ravenwood. Allen said she's often recognized whenever she's out and about as the tough-talking, strong-willed love interest to Harrison Ford in 1981's "Raiders of the Lost Ark" and its most recent sequel, 2008's "Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull."

"I think Marion has become, to a lot of women, young women, a kind of very independent, tough spirit," Allen said. "You know, she's like a woman who can take of herself, a woman who's out in the world. You know, she's making a living drinking men under the table and she feels wronged and she doesn't hesitate to clock somebody in the jaw, not that I recommend that."

Marion is a character that Allen is proud to have portrayed, serving as an inspiration to female empowerment.

"I take great pleasure in enjoying that aspect of the character," Allen said.

She's also been part of another iconic film that served as her introduction to the silver screen.

"National Lampoon's Animal House" will be shown on the big screen at the mansion during Saturday night's toga party, where she'll be presented with a lifetime achievement award from FLiFF.

Although Allen has no intention of putting on a toga, she does plan to attend the party, unlike her character in the movie. Her friend and special guest, DeWayne Jessie, will even be there to serenade her.

Jessie is better known by his stage name, Otis Day. The actor-turned-singer famously lip-synched the songs "Shama Lama Ding Dong" and "Shout" portraying the frontman for the fictitious band, Otis Day and the Knights, in the movie.

Allen said she keeps in touch with many of her "Animal House" co-stars, including her on-screen boyfriend, Peter Riegert, more than any other movie in which she has appeared. 

"It's a good group," Allen said of the cast and crew. "I enjoy their company, I have to say."

Karen Allen and "National Lampoon's Animal House" co-star Peter Riegert pose for a photograph in 2002.
Karen Allen and "National Lampoon's Animal House" co-star Peter Riegert pose for a photograph in 2002.

Despite starring alongside Hollywood heavyweights like Ford, Jeff Bridges and Bill Murray, Allen still considers her Broadway debut in 1982 to be her career-defining moment.

"That was my first and foremost hope," she recalled. "I really knew nothing about the film world, and when I got the opportunities to work in film, I was very excited, but I was very much learning by the seat of my pants as I went."

Allen said she still tries to take time away from film to work on a play, fondly recalling the amount of time involved in theater that doesn't exist in a movie production.

"You don't get a chance to work like that in film," she said.

Surprisingly, Allen said she has no real regrets in her professional life, although conflicts have occasionally prevented her from doing something that she's wanted to do.

"I mean, I've turned down some films that have become very successful, but I knew when I turned them down why I turned them down," she said. "So, you know, there's success and there's success.  I mean, success doing something that you don't necessarily respect is not really success, from my perspective."

Naturally, plenty of people want to know if she'll be back for another go-round as Marion in the fifth installment of the "Indiana Jones" saga, set for a summer 2020 release.

Harrison Ford and Karen Allen attend a fan screening of "Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull" on May 21, 2008 in New York City.
Harrison Ford and Karen Allen attend a fan screening of "Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull" on May 21, 2008 in New York City.

"You can put me on the list of people who want to know, because I'm one of them," Allen admitted.

She's still waiting for Spielberg to call her.

"I'm very hopeful," she said. "I would love to be a part of the next one." 

For now, though, she'll just have to settle for the toga party.

"A Tree. A Rock. A Cloud." will be shown at 6:30 p.m. Saturday at Savor Cinema. Tickets to the toga party at Villa de Palma are $100 for FLiFF members and $150 for non-members.