Karen Allen has played integral roles in some of the most popular and cherished films of the last 40 years, including National Lampoon’s Animal House, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Starman and The Sandlot, which has become something of a touchstone film for Millennials. Scrooged, which is celebrating its 30th anniversary, is a film that like The Sandlot, wasn’t fully appreciated upon its release, but has over the decades garnered a cult following thanks to home video. Written by Mitch Glazer and Michael O’Donoghue (best known as the teller of “Mr. Mike’s Least-Loved Bedtime Stories” during Saturday Night Live’s early years), Scrooged stars Bill Murray as Frank Cross, a ruthless TV network executive who gets the Christmas Carol treatment when three ghosts show him his past, present and future in a bid to save his soul. Allen costars as Claire, the girl he left behind, but whom he desperately needs. Allen spoke with Redbox about working with the unpredictable Murray, Scrooged’s cult status and which of her films scared her young son the most (it wasn’t Raiders!)
Redbox: How did Scrooged come to you?
Karen Allen: I was living in New York. I got a phone call from my agent saying Bill Murray and (director) Richard Donner wanted to meet me. I had met Bill not that long before; he had been interested in doing work with the Shakespeare company I was working with. So I had a couple of dinners with him and the company’s artistic director. I found him fun and charming; we had this connection. I read the (Scrooged) script and I thought it was smart and fun. I went in and Bill and I did some improvisations. I left there hoping they would ask me to do it.
Redbox: Was there a lot of improv in the film?
Karen Allen: There was. Bill and I certainly had different ways of working. Coming from the theater, I’m not allowed to change a word; the playwright’s words are golden. With Bill, he uses the written word as a jumping off point. He’s not all that keen on memorizing or feeling he has to stick to things as they are on the page. I found we would start by improvising and playing around with (the script), and sometimes we would come back to what was on the page. Michael O’Donoghue and Mitch Glazer are wonderful writers, so we were starting out with pretty terrific material.
Redbox Do you have a favorite story about working with Bill?
Karen Allen: We started shooting the film in New York City. I don’t remember if we were in Union Square of Central Park, but it was a raw, cold December morning, snow on the ground. Bill and I had to be in the make up trailer at 5:30 a.m. Bill is talking about this upcoming scene. I don’t think it ending up being in the film. I think it was a version of us meeting each other or going on our first date. He wasn’t happy with what was written and he was asking me how could we make this better. Somehow the word reverberated out from the makeup trailer—someone told someone that Bill wasn’t happy— and all of a sudden the door swings open and there is Michael O’Donoghue in his bedroom slippers, cotton pajamas, a big sort of puffy coat and this little hat a fourth grade boy would wear. He wanted to get in on the action of trying to figure out what we were going to do. That’s a tableau that sits in my mind very fondly.
Redbox: Of the beloved films you’ve done, which fan base is the most rabid? The Indiana Jones people? The Animal House people? The Sandlot people?
Karen Allen: (Laughs) The Indiana Jones people. particularly since I’ve been in two of the films. That seems to be a film that is passed from father to son or one generation to another.
Redbox: Which of your films is your son’s favorite? How old was he when you let him watch Raiders?
Karen Allen: He really likes Starman with Jeff Bridges. He was born in 1990. He was three or four when The Sandlot came out and it scared him to pieces. I had to leave the theater with him when we went to the premiere because of the (giant) dog at the beginning of the film. I didn’t let him see Raiders because of the exploding heads. He was probably eight when he finally saw it. He truly, truly loved it. But he’s a huge Star Wars fan. I watched those first three films a hundred times (because of him).
Redbox: Besides Scrooged, of course, what is your favorite Christmas movie?
Karen Allen: I’m a real It’s a Wonderful Life girl. I love Jimmy Stewart. I don’t know what year it became such a Christmas classic; it wasn’t when I was growing up, but it was a film we watched and loved. I grew up on films like White Christmas; they’re pretty hard not to adore. And A Christmas Story is a cool film I’ve watched with my son.
Redbox: Funny you mention A Christmas Story. Like Scrooged, it received mixed reviews, but it found its audience on home video. When did you discover that Scrooged had become a cult favorite?
Karen Allen: It crept up on me. Ten years went by and suddenly it was being talked about as being this Christmas classic. I didn’t see it coming. I didn’t know it would be embraced in that way. But there wasn’t a Christmas that went by that it wasn’t being shown on television and people weren’t coming up to me and saying, “I saw Scrooged again and I loved it again.”