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SBHS Class of 1976 Alumnus Actress: Karen Kahn

Updated: Mar 7, 2023

By Adam Khan ('23)

This is the third article in a series covering SBHS alumnus actress Ms. Karen Kahn.

The previous articles discussed Ms. Kahn’s time in the film industry and her experience moving out West.

In the San Francisco Bay area, Ms. Kahn found a comforting environment that helped her restart her acting career.

Being in the film industry for over 40 years, Ms. Kahn recounted what occurs behind the scenes.

She said, “What's interesting is that it's a team effort. Everybody is needed - the lighting, the makeup, the wardrobe, everything has to work. We all have to come together as a team to make this work. When I worked with high-profile stars, like big names, you know- I get starstruck, I’m like ‘wooo, wow, that's so-and-so,’ but when we’re working a scene together, we’re just actors, we’re just like ‘Okay, how do we get this to work’.”

In the film industry, not everything is bound to be the way the actor wants it to be, and some scenes do not make it into the final production of the movie. For example, when Mrs. Kahn was acting in a scene with actor Will Smith in The Pursuit of Happyness, Ms. Kahn played a businesswoman who was featured in a scene with Smith.

The director interrupted her and Will Smith, asking for a reshoot. Smith suggested that the dialogue would sound better sped up, and the results were satisfying to the cast.

However, the scene was deemed unnecessary and it ended up being cut. Fortunately,

Ms. Kahn did end up being in the end credits and receiving her residuals, compensation paid to actors for use of their performance in a theatrical motion picture (film) or television show.

The most notable film that Ms. Kahn appeared in was John Carpenter’s Village of the Damned.

Ms. Kahn said, “I played [the role of] Christopher Reeve’s wife in it. I originally auditioned as a reporter. I get cast as a reporter a lot. Through all these weird circumstances, the director’s (John Carpenter) wife, Sandy King Carpenter, was there helping to cast it. We were up here in the San Francisco area because they had a house there to shoot.”

Mrs. Carpenter would later help Ms. Kahn receive the co-starring role as Dr. Alan Chaffee’s (played by Christopher Reeve) wife, Barbara Chaffee.

While filming Village of the Damned, Ms. Kahn recalls her exciting time on and off the set.

She said, “Because we were all from Hollywood, everyone was put in these bed and breakfast places to stay, so we were like this family-- all of us. It was just so much fun, and Mark Hamill (most famous for his role as Star Wars’ Luke Skywalker) is in it, Kirstie Alley (best known as Rebecca Howe from Cheers)-- and I’m still in touch with a lot of the people from that film, and that was back in 1994 when we shot it.”

Ms. Kahn is known to play diverse roles in a number of different shows and films, ranging from a doctor to a news reporter, to a saleslady, and so on. Playing the role of Christopher Reeve’s wife was a significant mark in her career.

Ms. Kahn said, “I'm Eurasian, and that's been a big plus for me because people look at me and go, ‘Well what is she? Is she Hispanic, or Asian? What is she? And that depends on how I wear my makeup. So I’m like the token ethnic, which has worked for me. I’d rather be me than all-American because there are so many all-Americans.”

As far as developing the craft, Ms. Kahn’s strategy is simply seeing the role and making it real, putting herself in the shoes of the character.

In the next article, we’ll cover part IV about the recent updates and information on Ms. Kahn’s career.

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James Zinsmeister
James Zinsmeister

Another interesting look at one of South Brunswick High School's most talented graduates.

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