Sean Patrick Flanery Looks Back on his Adventures Playing Young Indiana Jones
With the series now available on Disney+, the starring actor shares his favorite memories and why the show can still be enjoyed today.
More than three decades since he won the role of a teenaged Indiana Jones, an exuberant and gracious Sean Patrick Flanery remembers it all like it was yesterday. Having grown up in Texas where he studied acting at the University of St. Thomas, by 1991 Flanery was living in Los Angeles and trying to break into film and television. When the auditions for The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles (as the series was originally known) came along, he’d admittedly done very few professional jobs.
“I’d done a ‘Milk does the body good commercial,’” Flanery recalls. “I’d done a Kellogg’s Corn Pops commercial and a Burger King commercial. I’d also done two little serials for the Mickey Mouse Club on the Disney Channel. To go from being a bit player to a stage that big was crazy. By the time it got serious, and I was auditioning for George Lucas, it became real. It was so odd and surreal just to meet him and do a screen test.”
A decade earlier, Flanery was among the young viewers to see Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark in 1981. “The opening was like nothing I had ever seen before,” he remembers. “I’m sure a lot of people say that because they’re attached to it, but I’d never seen anything that made me physically anxious. When that boulder was chasing him, it was the first time in my life that I’d ever been in a movie theater and felt that way. It kind of restructured what a movie could be to me.”
The prospect of stepping into a role defined by Harrison Ford was daunting. “He is one of the last iconic movie stars,” as Flanery puts it. “He’s like Montgomery Clift, James Dean, or Steve McQueen. When the time came for me to audition for a younger version of his character, it seemed so unlikely. The probability of me getting Young Indiana Jones was so far in left field that I had zero nerves. It was actually to my benefit. I didn’t care. There was no way they were going to cast some dude from Texas who’s never done anything. Every movie since then, I’ve been nervous! [Laughs.]”
Even after he won the part of an adolescent Indy (the younger Corey Carrier would also play him as a boy), the 26-year-old Flanery remained skeptical. “I was waiting tables at TGI Friday’s, and when they called and said, ‘You got the part,’ I didn’t quit my job because I was 99% positive that they were going to realize I’d never done anything before and replace me,” he says. “For about nine days, I kept working and waiting for the phone call. But then I finally quit my job two days before I got on the flight to London. I didn’t pack or anything. I just didn’t want to jinx it or act like it was mine for certain.”
Having never traveled further than Mexico, the experience of making the series would take Flanery to more than a dozen countries on multiple continents. A passion project for executive producer George Lucas, Young Indy was an ambitious undertaking, all in the service of inspiring viewers to learn about history and culture. The lead actor became a student himself throughout the production.
“George wanted to use this fictional character Indiana Jones to tell the story,” Flanery explains. “He would be the only piece of fiction in every episode. I went from junior high to high school to college, but man, every episode of Young Indy sat my academic history down. I learned more about the world. They’d ask me if I wanted any background information. ‘Absolutely, whatever you have!’ I was just curious, like the Suffragette movement or Lenin and the Bolshevik uprising. I was a history nut. A lot of my spare time was spent looking over that material. I read Franz Kafka’s The Trial because I wanted to see what it was about. I had 20 years of education crammed into the years that we shot Young Indiana Jones. For that alone, I’m grateful.”
Arriving in London two months ahead of the start of shooting, Flanery attended costume fittings, took language instruction (he can still recite his German dialogue word-for-word), and stunt training. “Vic Armstrong — who also directed an episode — had been Harrison Ford’s stunt double in the movies,” the actor explains. “He taught me how to ride a horse. Simon Crane was one of his assistants when we started. Now he’s one of the great stunt coordinators of all time.”
Shooting on Young Indy commenced in the spring of 1991 at Shepperton Studios and on location in England. As the teenaged Indy, Flanery acted in the episode “London, 1916” (now part of “Love Sweet’s Song”) in which the young hero falls in love with a Suffragette played by the up-and-coming star Elizabeth Hurley. He also played scenes with the celebrated actress Vanessa Redgrave and series regular Margaret Tyzack (whom the actor knew as “Miss Maggie”). Soon, Flanery and crew left England for the rugged landscape of Almeria, Spain, which would stand in as Mexico for Indy’s adventure with the revolutionary Pancho Villa.
For the Mexico story, Flanery’s horse training took center stage, and the experience was not without its surprises. “For the very first episode [as originally broadcast] with Pancho Villa, I’m riding a horse chasing after someone trying to get these dresses back. I’m right behind a vehicle with a camera on the back, and I’m riding Hurricane, who was Harrison Ford and Vic Armstrong’s horse. His hoof hit the back bumper, and I flew over the horse’s head and landed on my feet,” he says. “Hurricane took a header, but was totally fine.” Over the course of making the series, an eager and athletic Flanery remained committed to performing his own stunts.
While Lucas came and went from his base in California, producer Rick McCallum led the cast and crew on an initial shooting schedule that lasted some 50 weeks. “We traveled to so many different countries together, and Rick is a producer who is onset all the time,” Flanery says. “Everybody knows that George Lucas produced Young Indiana Jones, but the guy who was on the ground with his hands touching everything was Rick McCallum. I came to realize how great all of these people were at their craft. Rick put that entire team together. He surrounded me with this all-star squad, and they kept me afloat.”
Apart from just a handful of regulars like Belgian star Ronny Coutteure (who played Indy’s friend Remy), the Young Indy cast remained in constant flux between episodes. “I had the opportunity to make a lot of friends, but then I’d say goodbye to them after a month,” says Flanery. “I was closest to the crew, and we were in countries where I often didn’t speak the language. It was an isolated group, like we were a traveling circus that could only speak to each other. We leaned on each other a lot.”
The episode “Oganga, The Giver and Taker of Life” takes Indy and comrades on a World War I adventure across Africa, and the production team had their own intrepid journey filming in southeastern Kenya. “Every morning, we’d take these canoes down the Tana River to get to set,” Flanery recalls. “You’d see these two little knots — the eyes of hippos — everywhere. Hippos are the most territorial animal known to man. More people die by hippo than by anything else. And you’d also see crocodiles lining up on the shore.”
During one memorable shooting day, a vessel carrying Flanery and other cast members capsized during a take. “Every croc on every bank came into the water,” he says. “They were just scared because the boat had flipped over, but you didn’t know that at the time. You just went, ‘The crocs are diving into the water!’ It was nuts.” Thankfully, everyone safely made it to shore as Flanery helped pull his castmates from the water.
A number of the cast were local Kenyans whom Flanery befriended. The American taught his new colleagues hacky sack, shared home videotapes (a technology they’d never seen before), and swapped Led Zeppelin and Jimi Hendrix CDs for locally-crafted items. “It really introduced me not just to a different culture, but to completely different worldviews, views of life,” he says.
Flanery’s most terrifying stunt actually took place inside a building in Prague, Czechoslovakia (a home base during much of the Young Indy production). “We were shooting at the top of a spiral staircase,” he explains. “I was hanging from a harness 13 floors up. The cable was about three millimeters thick, and I’m hanging by my fingertips over the edge. They said, ‘You got to let go now, it’ll carry your weight.’ I know they tested, but as I looked at it, it was a tiny thread of a cable. Sure enough it was fine. They were very good at their jobs!” (This stunt was for a scene in “Adventures in the Secret Service.”)
During another stint in Prague, Lucas returned to make one of his many visits to the production team. Throughout the years of making the show, Flanery recalls the executive producer as “a wonderful father-figure,” as he puts it. “I think everyone wants to know what George Lucas is like. He could not have been a nicer man. He was enjoying Young Indy just like I was. He was excited to see his creation blossom.”
Flanery’s ultimate experience on Young Indiana Jones lasted some five years, and ever since has been instrumental in shaping his career. “It has opened every door that’s open to me today,” he explains. “People would say, ‘Well if George Lucas worked with him, maybe we’ll give him an audition.’ Everybody has a different entry into the industry, and mine is Young Indiana Jones. To have ever been able to carry the mantle of that character in any incarnation is an honor and privilege if only because I’m a fan. I stepped into it knowing that Raiders was arguably the best movie I’d ever seen in my life. And here were the reigns — in the case of Hurricane the horse, literally!
“It was a wonderful introduction for me to the inner-workings of film,” Flanery continues. “It blew away film school. I learned how to load a 16mm magazine blind-folded, all the different iterations of the Arri camera, what prime lenses are, what a key light is, what diffusion is, how you bounce polystyrene, what a lavalier mic is…pretty much everything came from Young Indy.” On his most recent film, Nefarious (2023), he even worked again with actor Robert Peters, whom he first met on the episode “Hollywood Follies.”
As Young Indy makes its storied return on Disney+, Flanery looks forward to showing it to his own children. “They haven’t seen it yet, but they will now,” he concludes. “This will be the first time we can run all the way through and see them all. Even for myself, I haven’t seen a Young Indy episode in years. I never saw one on TV because I was out of the country filming the entire time. It will be interesting to rewatch it, and I do think it will hold up, because the stories are old school, character-driven, historically-accurate stories. I’m excited for a new generation of young kids to watch it.”
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