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“The Trouble With Her Is the Noise”: Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom’s Kate Capshaw Problem

Posted on the 24 May 2015 by Weminoredinfilm.com @WeMinoredInFilm

To honor Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom‘s 31st anniversary, I wrote this:

In the video game Lego Indiana Jones, you get to play through shortened versions of the first three films in the franchise. Most of the playable characters have a unique special ability. If you need someone good at fighting, Indiana can crack that whip. If you need to crack some kind of code, Indiana’s dad has a book he can use for that. If you need to get into a locked room, Short Round can usually find a small hole in a wall to crawl through and unlock the door from the inside. If you need to break glass (which does come up a couple of times), Kate Capshaw’s Willie can shriek so loud the glass will literally shatter. To anyone who hasn’t played the Lego games before but remembers Temple of Doom that might sound hilarious or cruel, i.e., the one playable female character from Temple of Doom does nothing but yell. However, the Lego games are built around their tongue-in-cheek humor, and by jokingly turning Willie’s constant shrieking into an asset they arguably made her more useful than she is for the majority of the actual Temple of Doom film.


They also made Willie a heck of a jumper

I used to play this game with my nephew, who was going through an Indiana Jones phase at the time.  He even dressed up as Indy for Halloween that year, but whenever his dad would ask him to do his impression of Willie from Temple of Doom he’d let out a high-pitched shriek to everyone’s apparent amusement.  That’s the cultural legacy of Kate Capshaw’s annoyed line readings and shrieking throughout Temple of DoomFamily Guy even had a memorable bit recreating Indy, Willie and Short Round’s escape from a crashing plane via an emergency raft, with Stewie Griffin doing a spot-on impersonation of Willie’s classic line, “A raft?  We’re not sinking.  We’re crashing!”

This is not the fate Kate Capshaw had in mind when she first read the Temple of Doom script, a prequel to Raiders of the Lost Ark in which Indy is tasked with finding a mystical stone in India and stumbles upon a secret cult utilizing child labor and practicing human sacrific.  A Texas-born University of Missouri graduate with a master’s degree in learning disabilities, Capshaw was relatively new to acting in 1983. After graduating, she spent two unhappy years teaching school, and gave birth to her daughter Jessica. She switched careers and found work as a model, climbing the ladder from TV commercials to soap operas (like Edge of Night) to feature films (making her debut in 1982’s comedy A Little Sex). She may never have made it up to Temple of Doom if her agent hadn’t happened to be jogging partners with the film’s casting director, although that connection simply got her foot in the door of a very large room since she competed against more than 1000 other actresses for the part of Willie Scott. Capshaw and a then-unknown Sharon Stone were among the three finalists for the role, with Stone eventually taking a similar role in King Solomon’s Mine opposite Richard Chamberlain.


Sharon Stone in King Solomon’s Mine, one of several Indy clones

Landing the role of the love interest in an Indiana Jones movie was a dream come true for Capshaw. As she explained in an interview at the time:

“I was living in Hollywood, and one night, my boyfriend and his friend wanted to take my girlfriend and me to see Raiders of the Lost Ark. I told them that they should go and we would do something together while they were in the theater, but he was very persistent. I went, very petulant and sulky, and stayed that way for about two minutes after the movie started. When I came out, if there had been anyone doing interviews, I would have been a great advertisement for going to see that movie!”

But the part Capshaw was about to play was very different than Karen Allen’s Marion Ravenwood in Raiders. That character is first seen running her own bar in Nepal, more than holding her own as a woman in a man’s world. Willie, on the other hand, is introduced to us singing and dancing through a Busby Berkeley-inspired musical number. Of course, the difference is intentional.  As Spielberg said at the time, “The danger in making a sequel is that you can never satisfy everyone. If you give people the same movie with different scenes, they say ‘Why weren’t you more original?’ But if you give them the same character in another fantastic adventure, but with a different tone, you risk disappointing the other half of the audience who just wanted a carbon copy of the first film with a different girl and a different bad guy. So you win and you lose both ways.”


Indy’s three love interests, Marion, Willie and Elsa from Last Crusade

So, out went the tough-as-nails brunette Marion Ravenwood and in came spoiled, whiny bubbly blonde Willie Scott, a character actually named after Spielberg’s pet Cocker Spaniel.

Filming officially kicked off in Sri Lanka on April 18, 1983. Along with Jonathan Ke Quan who played Short Round, she was the definite new kid in the class since pretty much the entire crew and production team behind Raiders returned for Temple of Doom. As Capshaw later recalled, “There I was very far away from any place I had ever known, with people who all knew each other and seemed to really know what they were doing. I really felt they were checking me out that I was on approval and had to prove myself to them. After the second week, Frank Marshal and Steven took me aside and explained everything, made sure I felt like one of the gang. They’re really just very wonderful people.”

She was saying that about her future husband since she eventually married Spielberg in 1991, the pair having three kids together and adopting two others. Spielberg, who has distanced himself from Temple of Doom considerably since its release, has often joked that in the films Indiana always gets the girl, but in real life he’s the one who got the girl, seemingly living happily ever after with Capshaw.

Such marital bliss was a long way down the road on the set of Temple of Doom, where Spielberg and company were almost making a game out of how much they could torture Capshaw. Prior to filming, Capshaw claimed to look forward to bringing the Willie from the script to life:

“Willie has led this pampered life and feels that’s what’s due her – to be cared for and looked after. She meets Indiana Jones, a person unlike anyone she has ever been involved with, and ends up going off with him. In the course of all their adventures, all of her earlier life is stripped away from her, and Willie must fall back on her own resources. She discovers that she is a very strong woman, a gutsy lady.”

However, between her starting as a” pampered singer” and ending as a “gusty lady” Willie had to be repeatedly humiliated and generally assaulted by mother nature. Unlike Raiders, Temple of Doom wanted to give us a supporting character completely out of their element:

Capshaw was usually just as scared as her character was supposed to be. When they filmed the scene with the snake she broke out into a cold sweat and felt like she was going to die just from seeing the snake undulate before the scene. When they tried to place the snake on her shoulder as a dry run for the scene she completely freaked out, leading Spielberg to deadpan, “That’s all right. Ok, if you’re not going to do this, there’s no way you’re not going to do the bugs!”

bugsThat’s because Willie, Indy and Short Round get stuck in a chamber infested with a million of live and crawling insects. Capshaw went through mental exercises every day to withstand the fact that she had to be covered with the insects. “The worst part was having large bugs placed strategically on me where you can literally feel all their legs sort of grip you. The special animal trainer would start at my waist and my arms and work up my shoulders and then he would start placing them in my hair. And I would always be afraid that they would start crawling into inside my hair and I had just keep breathing and I closed my eyes and everybody would be quiet on the set. It was as good as working with bugs could have been.”

It’s almost like Willie is being punished throughout the middle section of the film for all of her complaining in the first half. She’s so useless during the opening chase scene that after she immediately drops Indiana’s gun out the window she refuses to apologize and instead scolds Indy, “I burnt my fingers, and I cracked a nail!” She takes to screaming so often that Indy cracks to an agreeing Short Round, “The trouble with her is the noise.” Willard Huyck, who co-wrote the script with his wife Gloria Katz, told Grantland, “They definitely wanted a ditzy kind of Jean Harlow character. We took a lot of heat for her screaming all the time, but they wanted her to scream constantly.”

In fact, some of that screaming may not have even been in Huyck and Katz’s script. Spielberg stopped shooting multiple times and wrote news lines of his own on the spot, receiving dialog polishes over the phone from friend John Milius. Reportedly, his primary alteration was to drift Willie further away from the script and more into a constant source of comedy. There are still some signs of the version of Willie who was supposed to turn into a strong, gusty woman. She throws rocks at the guy fighting Indy during the rock-crushing sequence, and even punches out a guy who then ricochets and takes out two of his own buddies in the mine car chase sequence. However, in total even Capshaw has concluded Willie was “not much more than a dumb screaming blonde.”

But now because of that she gets to help you break stuff in Lego Indiana Jones.

Sources: All quotes come from the fantastic Indiana Jones fansite TheRaiders.net except for the closing Capshaw quote which comes from Steven Spielberg: A Biography, YouTube’s Defense of Short Round and Willie

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