- Nov 15, 2001
- Real Name
- Neil Middlemiss
As I noted in my review of Scrooged, the film remains a delightfully manic and funny holiday treat – a take on Dickens’ A Christmas Carol that updates and twists it just enough to be fresh without a hollow facsimile of the originating tale. The brilliant production design and playful makeup and practical effect augment the ridiculously good performances and energetic and spirited script. Scrooged easily belongs as a staple of holiday viewing!
This week, Home Theater Forum was delighted to speak with accomplished actress Karen Allen, who plays Claire in the film, in celebration of Paramount’s re-release of the classic holiday tale for its 30th anniversary. (You can check out my full review here). Allen’s Claire is a sweet, grounded, caring soul and provides a poignant counterpoint to Bill Murray’s mean and selfish Cross. Critical reaction to Scrooged at the time was lukewarm, but time and audiences have rightfully placed the film among frequent holiday home viewing rotation.
Scrooged is available now on Blu-ray, DVD, and Digital HD from Paramount Home Entertainment.
HTF: I've been very much looking forward to talking to you today because not only am I a fan of your work, but I have always absolutely loved your character Claire in Scrooged. It's a movie I may not watch every holiday season, but enough of them for people to be worried about me [laughter]. Scrooged is a very funny film and an unusual film, and I have always felt that your character in the film was the actual heart of the story. While we may follow Frank Cross's journey (played by Bill Murray), and even though he's visiting his past and seeing his family and his brother's affection toward him [which starts to soften him], if it wasn't for Claire, there would be no sing-along at the end. Claire is the magnet. So how did you find your Claire? How did you find how to play her? Was it clear in the script, or did it come alive for you on the set and working with Bill and working with Richard Donner?
“I think that Claire was kind of beautifully articulated in the script, but then I think it did [also] come out of a relationship that developed between Bill [Murray] and I.”
Karen Allen: I think a little bit of both. It was wonderfully written by Michael O'Donoghue and Mitch Glazer. I think that Claire was kind of beautifully articulated in the script, but then I think it did [also] come out of a relationship that developed between Bill [Murray] and I. That part of Claire that was still very much in love with Frank Cross came out of this sweetness-a kind of relationship that I developed with Bill where we got along really well. I found him very funny and charming. So, I could use those actual qualities that existed between us as we got to know each other [and] build all of that into Claire's history. In a sense, [I could] sort of feel that she had fallen in love with him when they were both young and that, in spite of everything that he had become, she was seeing [beneath] that. She was seeing who he had been and who he potentially could be again if he could just let go of all of his craziness [laughter].
HTF: At the time it was released, critics weren't all that kind to Scrooged and I've always been surprised by that. I've always loved the darkness and the dark humor that segues into an unadulterated, big, warm, and fuzzy expression of love and joy at the end. But know that some films aren't critically recognized at the time they're released. Blade Runner's perhaps my favorite example, but even the holiday classic It's a Wonderful Life was chewed up by critics at the time.
“t sort of surprised me when it started to appear on everybody's favorite Christmas film list. Before I knew it, people were saying this was a Christmas classic.”
Karen Allen: That's right. I have read that. Of course, we weren't around when that happened, but it's kind of hard to believe. That, to me, is such an irresistibly sweet film with such a profound message in it. And Jimmy Stewart, it's such a great performance of his. And you just think, "How could it not have been an instant classic?" But you're right. It wasn't. Scrooged wasn't either. I mean, I don't really remember the reviews when they came out, how many were good and how many weren't. I just don't have a memory of it. I do have a sense that [Scrooged] wasn't heralded as an instant classic and that it maybe took 10 or 15 years, and it sort of surprised me when it started to appear on everybody's favorite Christmas film list. Before I knew it, people were saying this was a Christmas classic. I didn't really quite see it coming. Of course, it's delightful to be in a film that people want to watch every year at Christmas because so many films - even films that are very well received a few years later - often people don't remember them and will never see them again, so.
HTF: Right. Time is the true test, isn't it?
Karen Allen: Time is the true test! That's true. I mean, Animal House was not very well received when it came out. It was successful, but critically I don't think it did well. But boy that film has stood the test of time [laughter].
HTF: Scrooged is a wonderful holiday story. I know it's built off of A Christmas Carol, but it becomes its own thing. And it's remarkable for its dark sense of humor, but it also has a biting satire of the entertainment industry. Do you think it was ahead of its time?
“I can't think of a more perfect portrait of Scrooge at that particular time than to make him a television executive in New York. I don't know what we would make him today. Maybe he'd work for one of those big financial firms.”
Karen Allen: Well, I mean, that's possible. I think it was sort of genius on Michael O'Donoghue's part to make Scrooge's character a television executive and to make Claire a social worker who works with the homeless. I mean, it's a kind of beautiful dichotomy there that it sets up in the story from the very beginning, these two different worlds that were once together. That they were once very much in love and very much a part of each other's world and then, in his case, a kind of ambition drives him off in another direction, and caring for other people, which he kind of scoffs at, drives her off in a different direction. So, I don't know if it was ahead of its time. I mean, I can't think of a more perfect portrait of Scrooge at that particular time than to make him a television executive in New York. I don't know what we would make him today. Maybe he'd work for one of those big financial firms. He'd be one of those people who is constantly insider trading and screwing everybody out of their retirement funds.
HTF: Right. I've been reading about something recently called the Easterlin Paradox, which, in short, really says that once your basic human needs are met, the amount of true happiness that you get from material goods, from wealth and from power, is sort of limited. It's really that the experiences we have, the connections we form, the memories we create, that give us that greatest sense of satisfaction and happiness. And I know in Scrooged points out the cold cruelty of only thinking about yourself and being all about power and success in that way. As you said, it shows the dichotomy between the ruthless exec and the very giving social worker. Do you think that the film also understood that effect? It may not have called it out (the Easterlin Paradox), but it did understand that you can't fill the hole in your heart with things. It has to be connections. It has to be experiences.
Karen Allen: Yeah. I couldn't agree with you more. I think that Dickens understood that when he wrote A Christmas Carol. In this film Claire is a little bit more mirrored there, [whereas] in the original it's really Bob Cratchit and Tiny Tim and his family; they're the ones who have very little, but they have love, they have each other, and they have a caring and a concern for their son and the Tiny Tim character. I think it sets up a very similar-- what you're talking about, it sets forth that treatise. I'm trying to think exactly when A Christmas Carol was written, [the 19th Century], and I think it is an age-old story. It goes back to the very beginnings when that sort of separation started to exist in humanity, which probably goes back to the beginning of time.
HTF: You worked with Richard Donner on Scrooged, and with other great directors, like John Carpenter on Starman, which was a delightful film, and your heartfelt performance of loss and discovery is still one of my favorite performances in any of John Carpenter's films, and you worked with Spike Lee on Malcolm X, and of course, Steven Spielberg on Raiders of the Lost Ark [and the last Indiana Jones film). What do you think makes a great director and what is a great director for you as a performer, as an artist?
“…I have gotten opportunities to work with some amazing ones, Paul Newman being one, Arthur Penn being another, just some outstanding people.”
Karen Allen: Oh, that's a good question. What do I think makes a good director? It's a very complex set of things that makes a great director. They're, first of all, I think great storytellers. Somebody [who can] really can appreciate the power of the telling of a great story no matter what the source is, whether it comes from a screenplay or a novel or a newspaper headline. In film, you have two hours, give or take, to tell a story and to bring your audience into that story and make them engaged and care about it. And of course, in a film, you have sometimes between 70 and 125 people that you've got to become the captain of the ship, really, and it means you have to instill confidence. And it's hard work. Long hours. Hard work. To sustain and support and bring the best out in a large group of people who are collaborating under very difficult circumstances, that makes a really great director. It [also] has to do with the energy that people bring to the set every day. If your director is not on top of what [they’re] doing, you can also feel that. I have been very, very lucky in a lot of the directors I've worked with. And I have gotten opportunities to work with some amazing ones, Paul Newman being one, Arthur Penn being another, just some outstanding people.
HTF: Thank you so much for speaking with me today. I can't wait to watch Scrooged again this holiday season! Much success to you!
Karen Allen: Oh, thank you so much! And have a lovely holiday!