Karen Allen has an encounter of a real close kind in "Starman," an interplanetary romance directed by John Carpenter who's abandoned his scare tactics for something more cosmic.
Alien meets Allen, as a recently widowed Wisconsin woman who wakes up with a hangover and a clone on her floor. The Starman "goes into the cellular structure of a clip of my husband's hair that he finds in an old photo album," explains Allen. Lights drift in. Electricity goes haywire. Wind whips the pages of the album. She describes the scene like a little kid telling a ghost story at camp. Convincingly.
But it's no high-tech ghost story. "It's really an on-the-road adventure." After seeing the film, she realized that over half her scenes are set in a car as the two travel cross-country to meet the mother ship. "Half the time, I'm terrified of him. And then I begin to realize what an intelligent peace-loving being he is." Only, he wants to go home.
Long-distance love affairs usually don't work out, especially if you're talking light years. But "Starman" has a beautiful ending, says Allen, sounding misty-eyed. "Happy and unhappy." The same could be said for the final scenes in her last, lamented release, "Until September," with French hunk Thierry Lhermitte. The director, Richard Marquand, revised the script so the main characters -- "a hot couple," it was said round the set -- could live happily ever after.
Speaking of living, Allen says that, despite Carpenter's reputation for violence, "not a single person gets killed, I swear." She abhors rough stuff: "I hate it. I won't go see it." She rented videos of Carpenter's films, "Halloween" and "The Fog" and "The Thing," but never made it through a single one. "When that head starts to crawl across the floor, ugh." She laughs now -- she laughs a lot -- but she was scared then.
"It's a new direction for Carpenter," says Allen. Directors, like actors, sometimes get pigeon-holed," says Allen, who varies her work in film and stage for that reason. She's produced her own off-Broadway play, written some scripts -- mostly unfinished -- and starred in works by Yeats, Steinbeck and Spielberg.
"Raiders of the Lost Ark" didn't make her name a household word. People tend to mix her up with Margot Kidder, she says.
Allen began her acting career at The Washington Theater Lab and the Washington Project of the Arts. She still gets back to the area six or seven times a year -- including this Thanksgiving -- to be with her family who live near the Maryland shore.
Right now she has a cold and her voice, normally a girlish tenor, sounds like a kitten down with laryngitis. She had to play a scene in a lake, twice, with Armand Assante for "Animal Behavior," in which she teaches a chimp to use sign language.
Karen Allen never met a being she didn't like.