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TheRaider.net Films Raiders of the Lost Ark Casting
 
The Making of
 

Chapter 4: Casting, if the hat fits

 

At the first meetings Lucas had described his hero to renown comic artist Jim Steranko and he had come up with four sketches of him, that were real good-looking and, at the same time, captured the spirit of the film. For the role of Indiana Jones Lucas wanted a relatively or totally unknown actor who could be set for three films, since he had created two additional storylines in case the first one was successful.

During the auditions none was given a script. At first Spielberg would meet the actors and talk to them. Most of the auditions were taking place in Lucasfilm's kitchen. To put them at ease, he would have the actors help him make cookies or cake or whatever. All the actors who came in from nine to one helped cook and all the actors who came in from two to seven helped eat. The word spread and so all the actors were calling their agents saying: "I only want to come after two." Everybody wanted to eat; nobody wanted to work. Standing around would be Howard Kazanjian, Frank Marshall or Spielberg's assistant Kathleen Kennedy, and somebody would pick up a camera and take a few shots of the actor. In a second meeting Spielberg would occasionally write up a small scene and have two people play against each other. As the production team got down to their final choices they would film the actors.


Young Lawrence Kasdan

After numerous auditions Mike Fenton, the casting director, felt that Jeff Bridges was the most suitable for the role but George Lucas' wife, Marcia, favored for an unknown TV actor named Tom Selleck. Spielberg and Lucas agreed and contacted Selleck's agent William Morris to offer him the role. Unfortunately, Selleck had recently returned from Hawaii making the pilot episode to a CBS' series, Magnum P.I., that had got great ratings and CBS refused to release him from his contract, or even hold off the production until the following season, so that he would be able to make Raiders. The irony for Selleck is that by the time shooting started on Magnum a Hollywood actors' strike halted filming, while Raiders, based in London, was free to continue. He would have handled both assignments.

With Selleck unavailable to take the part, the production had to find another actor for the role while shooting was scheduled to start in a few weeks. An afternoon, as Spielberg was watching a screening of The Empire Strikes Back he realized that Harrison Ford was the man they were looking for and immediately called Lucas. "He's been right under our noses", he told Lucas. After thinking for a while Lucas answered, "I know who you're going to say". "Who?" asked Spielberg. "Harrison Ford", was Lucas reply. He agreed and the very next day he approached the actor.

Ford had heard that they were going to make an adventure movie and he thought that they had already found a leading actor. He was very surprised when he was offered the part and he wasn't offended by being second choice. Ford recognized "a really good part in what could be a really good movie" but before signing anything he wanted to meet Spielberg to talk with him. So, after reading the script he took Melissa Mathison, his then girlfriend, and his son Willard over to Spielberg's house. There they played pinball and video games and talked about the film. Ford saw Spielberg's enthusiasm and thought that it would be fun to work with and decided to sign for the part putting a closure to a six-month search.

The only worry Ford seemed to have was the fact that Indy and Han Solo, from Star Wars, was written by the same man, Lawrence Kasdan who in the meantime had scripted The Empire Strikes Back. Spielberg, on the other hand, believed that Han Solo was a boyish hero, while Indy was a grown-up and therefore he shouldn't be bothered. Even though, he gave Ford the chance to get more involved in the making of the film. During their flight from Los Angeles to London they went through the script line by line, and by the time they stepped out of the airplane, about 10 hours later, they had worked out the entire story. "Harrison is a very original leading man. There's not been anyone like him for 30 or 40 years, and he does carry the movie wonderfully. Harrison was more than just an actor playing a role, he was a collaborator and really was involved in a lot of decision making about the movie. And this wasn't by contract, it was because I sensed a very good story mind and a real smart person and called on him time and again," was Spielberg's quote.

From the start Lucas had imagined Indy with a 10-feet bullwhip in hand, a weapon that since Zorro very few action heroes used. Ford, who in his early days in Hollywood worked as a carpenter, had busted his right wrist when he fell off a ladder at Valerie Harper's house. His wrist had never quite recovered when he started bullwhipping so he begun working his wrist out. The film's stunt coordinator Glenn Randall who had used a whip before was offered to train Ford. Randall visited Ford in his home for some times to give him instructions and from that point the actor practiced on his own. And he did it so well that by the time filming commenced he had become so proficient with the whip that it was incorporated into several scenes. "I lashed myself about the head and shoulders for at least a couple of weeks before I really figured the thing out". Such dedication won the admiration not only of Randall, but many of the other stuntmen too, because the 10-foot bullwhip he was using could prove quite lethal in the hands of the uninitiated.

click to enlarge
Steven with Karen Allen.

For the role of Marion Ravenwood, Indy's girlfriend, Spielberg wanted Amy Irving, with whom he had an affair at the time. Irving wasn't available so Spielberg turned to Debra Winger, but she wasn't interested. Finally, he gave the part to New York stage actress Karen Allen who had impressed him during the auditions with her professionalism. According to the script Marion Ravenwood was raised by her father, an archaeology professor who spend most of his time on expeditions around the world taking his daughter with him. After her father's death Marion was living in Nepal running a bar on her own. Having not spent much with women and always trying to survive, she had adopt a more masculine attitude. So, when Spielberg went to New York with Frank Marshall to meet Allen one of the first things he asked was: "How well can you spit?" At first, when Allen read the script there seemed to be some inconsistencies in the character that she needed to get clear. So Spielberg and she sat down and went through it piece by piece just as he did with Ford.

As far as Rene Belloq is concerned, Indy's rival French archaeologist, Spielberg wanted a "champagne" villain to oppose to his beer-drinking hero. He thought that as much as Indy used his strength, brawn and wit to defeat the bad guy, this character was more cunning, controlled and a lot cooler. Among the candidates for the role was the Italian Giancarlo Giannini, who almost signed for the part. Before anything was on paper, Spielberg decided to give the part to British actor Paul Freeman after he saw him in a BBC film called Death of a Princess. Freeman passing through Hollywood on his way back from Belize, where he'd been playing in a film called The Dogs of War, dropped in to Lucasfilm to meet Spielberg and Lucas, and was cast on the spot.

click to enlarge
Nepal costume sketch.

The rest of the cast was composed mostly by British actors. Ronald Lacey was given the role of Toht, an always black-dressed Nazi agent who giggles every times he is about to torture someone. Indy's friend Marcus Brody was to be played by Denholm Elliott, while the part of Sallah, the best digger in Egypt, was given to John Rhys-Davies. Spielberg had offered the role to Danny DeVito, but his agent wanted more than the production was willing to pay so the 6 feet 20 inches Davies ended up with a role written for a man 5 feet and 22 inches tall. The Welsh actor went up to his director and said: "What do you expect me to do - have surgery at the knees?" But Spielberg reassured him telling him that he wanted to play this character as a combination between Falstaff, a William Shakespeare character from Henry the Fourth, and Rodriguez the character Davies had played in a TV series called Shogun.

Ever since the script had been completed it had become one of Hollywood's best-guarded secrets. This was an established policy followed by Lucasfilm in every project ever since the filming of The Empire Strikes Back. Nobody at Elstree knew much about Lost Ark Productions, Lucasfilm's cover up name, or it's film. Even when casting was completed most of the actors didn't know the film's plot. Freeman, since he would appear in the first scenes shot, knew the plot, though most didn't, not even Karen Allen. Bill Hootkins hadn't been shown more than his own lines either, but since he played Major Eaton of US Military Intelligence, who briefs Indy and Brody, contained the entire story. On the night of his casting he rang a friend to announce, "I'm in the new Spielberg film".
"What's it about?" asked his friend. "It's the Bible", Hootkins replied, "with Nazis!"

Next: A Cliffhanger on a grand scale >>

 

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