Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom might be the most divisive film in the Indiana Jones series. A drastic stylistic departure from Raiders of the Lost Ark, the movie incorporates a far darker tone than any other entry in Steven Spielberg and George Lucas’s action series, verging more closely on horror than anything that came before or after it.
While some might view its unsettling subject matter and prevalent violence as a strange direction for the Indiana Jones series, others have admired Temple of Doom’s darker nature, likening it to The Empire Strikes Back edgier approach to Star Wars. For as many people that have seen the movie over the years, though, there remain plenty of facts most viewers don’t know about Temple of Doom, including specific tidbits about the movie’s cast and characters and other interesting production notes related to the film.
Ke Huy Quan “Accidentally” Auditioned For the Film
Nowadays, Temple of Doom is famous for containing Ke Huy Quan’s film debut. After an extended break from acting, Quan recently returned to the film industry for 2022’s Everything Everywhere All At Once, winning the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor. For all his success in his career, it’s interesting to note that Quan won the first role of his career almost entirely by accident.
As Spielberg’s crew worked on casting parts for Temple of Doom, the 12-year-old Quan accompanied his younger brother to an audition for the role of Short Round. Witnessing Quan coaching his brother off-camera, the movie’s producers were instantly taken by Quan’s presence, asking him to audition for the part as well. The results immediately won over Steven Spielberg, who cast the future Oscar winner as Indy’s plucky sidekick in the film.
George Lucas's Divorce influenced the Movie’s Dark Tone
Temple of Doom is unique among the Indiana Jones franchise in that it possesses a notably darker tone than any other entry in the series. Incorporating hellish settings, human sacrifices, and devil-worshiping cults, it was initially criticized for its gothic atmosphere and high levels of violence. However, some fans contend its horror-centric approach is the movie’s greatest strength.
When discussing the movie’s often disturbing subject matter, George Lucas attributed the movie’s darker presentation to his own emotional frustrations at the time. In 1983, Lucas divorced his wife of 14 years, something he admitted heavily influenced Temple of Doom’s creative direction. Although far from being disappointed in the finished product, Lucas has defended Temple of Doom, saying, “I love the movie; it's just slightly darker in tone and not as fun as the first.”
A Subtle Star Wars Reference is Hidden in the Prologue
Most of The Temple of Doom’s opening sequence occurs at a Shanghai nightclub owned and operated by the infamous Chinese gangster Lao Che (Roy Chiao). As with most of the Indiana Jones films, Lucas and Spielberg manage to sneak in a small, easy-to-miss reference to Lucas’s previous work on Star Wars in this specific scene. As Indy and Willie fall from the club’s window and crash into Short Round’s car, you might notice that the bar’s official name is Club Obi-Wan – a humorous nod to Luke Skywalker’s Jedi mentor in the Original Trilogy.
Certain sound effects were also taken directly from Star Wars and used in Temple of Doom. This includes the sound of the airplane engines running out of fuel (which is the same sound as the Millennium Falcon malfunctioning in The Empire Strikes Back) and the Thuggees’ lava pit being cranked open (which sounds strikingly similar to Vader’s lightsaber being ignited).
Harrison Ford Severely Injured Himself On-Screen
Around the film’s halfway point, shortly after Indiana and his companions have been welcomed to Pankot Palace, Indy is ambushed by a mysterious assassin in his palace quarters. During the shooting of this particular scene, Harrison Ford suffered a severe back injury, putting him out of commission for several weeks of filming. According to the cast and crew, the injury came when Ford was meant to flip his would-be assassin over his back, with Ford suffering a spinal disc herniation as he performed the move.
Despite being in constant pain, Ford continued filming in a limited capacity, resting in between takes. As George Lucas remembered, “He could barely stand up, yet he was there every day, so shooting would not stop. He was in incomprehensible pain, but he was still trying to make it happen.” Eventually, Ford’s injuries proved too burdensome to handle, requiring Ford to check into a hospital and recover under special medical attention. Instead of shooting down production, Spielberg shot many of Ford’s scenes with stunt double Vic Armstrong subbing in as the globe-trotting archeologist.
Harrison Ford played an Elaborate Prank During the Film
While the settings and situations of Temple of Doom were often grim, it’s safe to say that the cast and crew had an overall fun time shooting the movie – despite occasional issues like Harrison Ford’s injury. For proof of this fact, you don’t need to look any further than a hilarious prank the crew pulled on Ford while they were filming his torture sequence in the film.
After being captured by the Thuggees and brought before Mola Ram, Indy is subjected to a painful beating courtesy of a Thuggee guard, who lashes Indy several times with his own whip. As they were filming this sequence, Barbara Streisand emerged instead of the Thuggee guard, whipping Harrison Ford for some of his past films like Force 10 from Navarrone and “all the money you’re going to make on Return of the Jedi.”
As Streisand prepares to hit him again, Carrie Fisher – disguised as a Thuggee guard – emerges to shield Ford from further harm. As Fisher dramatically kisses her Star Wars co-star, Irvin Kershner – director of The Empire Strikes Back – emerges to chastise Steven Spielberg, calling for the scene to be filmed from the top.
The Language Barrier Presented A Unique Problem
With filming mostly taking place in Sri Lanka, Spielberg and company brought in a large assortment of Sri Lankan actors to appear in Temple of Doom, most of whom are featured in the village that Indiana, Short Round, and Willie visit after their pulse-pounding raft ride. With so many Sri Lankan actors appearing in the film, Spielberg ran into occasional problems when it came time for said actors to deliver their lines. Most notably, the actor who played the village elder, D.R. Nanayakkara, couldn’t speak English, requiring Spielberg to employ a clever strategy to help the Lankanese-speaking actor get through his scenes.
In each scene Nanayakkara appears in, Spielberg personally helped rehearse his lines, quoting the character’s dialogue in full so that Nanayakkara could deliver them word for word as he heard Spielberg say them, to the point of even mimicking Spielberg’s hand gestures off-camera. In certain scenes, the pauses between Nanayakkara’s speech aren’t necessarily for theatrical effect. Instead, he’s waiting for Spielberg to feed him his next line.
All Three Main Characters Were Named After Dogs
If there’s one thing you need to know about George Lucas, it’s that he really, really, really loves dogs. Evidence of this fact can be found most clearly in Star Wars, with Chewbacca’s presence in the film mainly inspired by Lucas’s Alaskan Malamute, who he happened to see sitting in the passenger seat of his car one day. Unsurprisingly, Lucas later used his Malamute’s name – Indiana – as the basis for his fictional archaeologist.
Continuing with tradition, the two other main characters in Temple of Doom are likewise named after dogs owned by the movie’s principal crew members. The name Willie was derived from Steven Spielberg’s Cocker Spaniel. Short Round’s name was taken from screenwriter Willard Huyck’s pet dog, in reference to a character who appears in the 1951 war film The Steel Helmet.
Willie’s Fate Is Revealed In An Unused Script for Indiana Jones 4
Except for a very brief reference in Dial of Destiny (when Indy mentions he’s been “tortured by voodoo” and “tasted the blood of Kali” to his goddaughter, Helena), there are almost no references whatsoever to Temple of Doom from any subsequent Indiana Jones movie. Such a lack of acknowledgment has only left fans pondering the fates of Indy’s two companions in the film, the lovable sidekick Short Round and Indy’s perpetually screaming romantic interest, Willie Scott.
While we don’t exactly know what happens to Short Round after the events of Temple of Doom, Willie is casually mentioned by her former lover in an unused script for Indiana Jones 4. Written by Frank Darabont and titled Indiana Jones and the City of the Gods, Indy discusses what happened to Willie with Marion Ravenwood at one point in the script, saying, “She moved out to Hollywood to be a star. Last I heard, she fell in love and married some big-shot director.” This is, of course, a tongue-in-cheek reference to Kate Capshaw’s real-life romance with Steven Spielberg, who ended up marrying the actress in 1991. While this script ultimately went unused, a signed photo of Willie can be spotted in Indy’s home in Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.
Willie Was Envisioned As The Exact Opposite of Marion Ravenwood
A consistent criticism lobbied against Temple of Doom is the presence and treatment of Willie Scott, Indiana’s easily addled romantic interest. As much as fans (and Kate Capshaw herself) might complain about her, Spielberg and Lucas deliberately designed Willie’s personality to be the spoiled, argumentative prima donna she was in the finished film. This was an intentional decision to help differentiate Willie’s character from the hard-drinking, rough-edged Marion Ravenwood, Indiana’s love interest in Raiders of the Lost Ark, essentially creating the polar opposite of Marion’s character. To further this idea, Kate Capshaw dyed her hair blonde for the role, distinguishing her from the dark-haired Karen Allen.
A Famous SNL Cast Member Has A Blink-And-You’ll-Miss-It Cameo
The Indiana Jones series isn’t altogether well-known for its emphasis on cameos, rarely containing any noticeable supporting or minor roles from prominent actors. However, an exception to this rule exists within The Temple of Doom, with a famous face appearing early in the prologue. After escaping from Club Obi Wan, Indy, Short Round, and Willie arrive at an outdoor airfield, chartering a plane to take them out of the country.
Escorting the trio to their awaiting flight is none other than Saturday Night Live star Dan Aykroyd, credited in the film as the British military officer Art Weber. Before Temple of Doom, Aykroyd and Spielberg had worked together on the 1979 comedy 1941 and the 1983 anthology film Twilight Zone: The Movie (albeit in a different segment than the one directed by Spielberg).
The Film’s Violence Contributed To The Creation of the PG-13 Rating
From 1972 to 1984, the M.P.A.A. used four ratings when determining how suitable a film was for audiences’ viewership. These ratings were G, PG, R, and X. When it came time for the release of Temple of Doom, however, the M.P.A.A. was unsure of where exactly the film fell, containing far too much gruesome subject matter for a PG rating, but not to the extent of warranting a more restrictive R-rating.
Ultimately, the film would earn a PG rating, but its violence and darker nature prompted the M.P.A.A. to add a new rating into their system: PG-13. The new rating’s introduction was personally urged by Steven Spielberg, who recommended the M.P.A.A. implement a separate rating between the PG and R designations.
Most Of The Film’s Cast and Crew Disliked The Movie
Though the critical opinion of Temple of Doom has significantly warmed over the years, most of the cast and crew have expressed varying opinions over the film’s macabre atmosphere. Kate Capshaw, in particular, was incredibly disdainful towards her role as Willie Scott, commenting that the character was “not much more than a dumb screaming blonde.” When offered the chance to write the script for Temple of Doom, Raiders of the Lost Ark screenwriter Lawrence Kasdan refused, owing to the movie’s violence and tone, calling the film “very ugly and mean-spirited,” and saying, “I just thought it was horrible. It's so mean. There's nothing pleasant about it.”
When looking back on the film, Spielberg seemingly echoed the sentiments of Capshaw and Kasdan, deeming Temple of the Doom his least favorite of the initial three films. However, because of his relationship with star Kate Capshaw, he nevertheless felt the movie was well worth making. “I look back, and I say, ‘Well, the greatest thing that I got out of that was I met Kate Capshaw.' We married years later, and that to me was the reason I was fated to make Temple of Doom,” Spielberg observed.
In contrast, Harrison Ford and George Lucas have noted their appreciation for the movie’s ability to take risks and its vastly different approach from Raiders of the Lost Ark. Ford later said, “I felt it was funny and explored interesting, dark places. That scene where he takes the heart out, that was a new thing, a dark thing. But I enjoyed that about it.”
The Bridge Scene Was More Intricate Than You Might Think
There’s no question that The Temple of Doom builds towards an incredibly exciting conclusion. After freeing the enslaved children and escaping from the underground mines, Indiana, Willie, and Short Round are pursued by the Thughees to a precarious rope bridge perched over a crocodile-infested river. This scene proved one of the more complex sequences for Spielberg and his crew to organize.
Most of the film’s shots showing the bridge suspended over the river were filmed on location in Sri Lanka, as was the scene where Indiana severs the bridge in two. The movie’s production coincided with a British engineering project involving a dam’s construction, allowing Spielberg to hire the group to design and build the wooden suspension bridge used in the film. The sequences of characters climbing up the fallen bridge were all filmed in England’s Elstree Studios. For the shots showing the crocodiles in the river below, producer Frank Marshall led a second unit team to Florida, collecting footage of alligators to pose as the movie’s ravenous crocs.
An Elephant Off-Camera Accidentally Ate Willie’s Iconic Dress
One of the most breathtaking sequences in the film takes place moments into The Temple of Doom’s introduction, with Willie delivering the musical number “Anything Goes.” Among the standout aspects of this opening scene is Willie’s gorgeously-designed red-beaded dress. Many of the beads stitched into the dress’ fabric originated from the 1920s and ‘30s, making it a priceless and one-of-a-kind costume.
As valuable as this dress was, the costume designer ran into a tragic – albeit humorous – accident while filming in Sri Lanka. As Indy, Short Round, and Willie were filming, resting by a campfire on their way to Pankot Palace, one of their elephant mounts started to eat the dress as it hung to dry out in the scene's background. Fortunately, the crew managed to stop the animal, although the curious elephant had consumed the entire back of the costume. While the designer was able to repair the dress, leading costume designer Anthony Powell was forced to put “dress eaten by elephant” on all the legal insurance forms.
The Actor Who Plays The Thuggee Guard Indy Fights Appears In The First Three Indiana Jones Films
The physically imposing Thuggee guard who serves as the right-hand man to Mola Ram is played by Pat Roach. Previously, Roach appeared in Raiders of the Lost Ark in two separate roles, portraying a sherpa bodyguard to Toht in Nepal and the bald German mechanic Indy brawls with during the iconic plane sequence.
Roach is unique in Indiana Jones's context in that he appears in all three of Spielberg and Lucas’s original films. A professional wrestler by trade, Roach’s impressive physique and towering height allowed him to be a challenging opponent for Indy to face in the first two Indiana Jones movies.
While the actor does appear in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, his role was significantly trimmed down in the movie's theatrical release. However, you can still spot him with Colonel Vogel on the airfield moments before the “no ticket” scene on the German Zeppelin. (He’s the suited Gestapo agent accompanying Vogel at 0:25.) Sadly, Roach passed away in 2004, eliminating any possibility of him appearing in Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.