Interview with Paul Freeman
At the 2003 Collectormania 3 convention, TIE.c was given the opportunity to interview various actors from the Indiana Jones Trilogy, one of our favorites being Paul Freeman, who played the part of Belloq in Raiders of the Lost Ark. His character was a villain that was a true match for Indiana Jones, and he presented a character that people could relate to, but hate at the same time. We now present to you the exclusive interview with Paul Freeman, conducted by Peter W. Lally.
Indiana Jones was the invention by George Lucas and Steven Spielberg. It was going to be a low budget film. But after a few months, the Lucasfilm casting department cast the very first actors of the Indiana Jones trilogy. Could you tell us something about those auditions?
I was finishing the second movie I did which was Dogs of War in Belize, and I got this call from my agent in London to come meet Spielberg. Uh, no I must have been in New Orleans. I finished Dogs of War, and I was in New Orleans on holiday with my girlfriend, now my wife, who I met in Dogs of War. Got the call to go to California and neither of us had ever been to the States before, so I didn’t know how far away it was. So we hired a car to be in California the next day. And when we were filling in the forms, the guy said “Wait, so you so you want to return to Los Angeles?” and he said, “Sure when?” And I said, “Tomorrow.” And he said: “It’ll take you a week to drive to Los Angeles. What are you talking about?” So we cancelled that, and went by plane, and even so I didn’t even realize how far it was because the plane took of from New Orleans, and everyone sort of relaxed, and got into their comfortable clothes and I was thinking, “We’ll be there in a few minutes, because New Orleans is in the same country!” We didn’t even take our jackets off. Until the plane touched down in Fort Worth and that’s as far as we had gone, and it was hours later and I began to get the idea that I wasn’t on the right path. And because I just met my girlfriend I wasn’t very much public. So I went to their office, the interviews were in their office, which at the time was a thing called the Egg Marketing Board, have you heard about the Egg Marketing Board?
It rings a bell.
It was quite a famous part of the Lucas regiment because you show up in this office, and it didn’t show the Egg Marketing Board logo. It was a little one story brick building, red brick building, like a European building, not like an American building at all. Right opposite where Universal was located. I walked in and they were on the floor, Lucas’s people, and those um, tape recorders, cassette players with separate speakers which had just come out on the market, and they were all on the floor, listening to a good quality Philips or Sony; I can’t remember which. And it was the first time that I had heard of these, I’d only heard of the ones in the early Fall. And they said, “Hey listen to this!” So we all got down on the floor and we were listening to the music and I was just amazed at the quality, and then sort of incidentally they said, “Are you interested in doing this?” and I said, “Sure.” And they said, “Go ahead and read the script.” So I went into the front room and read the script. I laughed when the monkey threw his hand up and spoke. Told them I loved it and said they would let me know in a week. I didn’t know then he’d already cast me. I mean he didn’t tell anybody, I don’t think. And then my future wife and I went off and drove to Arizona, Globe City, I think, in Arizona. And we got the phone call saying we got the part.
Just like that?
Just like that. And in fact, the interview had been just like that, because it wasn’t until weeks later Steven realized that he hadn’t asked me to do a French accent, and I was again on holiday with my future wife, on a barge up here in the midlands somewhere and the lock keeper’s cottage and a note saying, “Paul Damian, ring agent.” And Paul Damian was the name of an actor who’s now dead, and I knew the number of actors who had went on the barges, and he wasn’t one of them. And I thought, “I wondered if that’s for me?” (laughs) And that they had gotten the name wrong, because they’re so close. So I rang my agent and he said “Steven’s in England or Austria.” And that we should have a meeting, because he’s not sure about the accent. So I suddenly felt, Oh my God! I thought I’d gotten the part and now it’s slipping away, you know. So we had the meeting and he said, “Can you do a French accent?” and I said, (In his classic French accent) “Well, yeah, sure I can talk like this”, and he said, “Oh sure fine, that’s great.” And that was it. (laughs) So it was hardly an audition in the true sense of the word.
After you got the part, the first Indiana Jones film was a fact, the script was finished and Harrison Ford was being cast as Indiana Jones. When you got the script in the mail, well that’s absolutely rubbish; we’ll have to leave that out. (laughs) What were your first reactions to the character development, and what were your favorite aspects of the character.
I can’t remember much about my reaction to Belloq. I think I recognized it as a very good part and I really enjoyed the script most of all. The story and all, it just really made me laugh aloud, it’s just that much better when you read stuff.
The thing that made Raiders so great was that it had a lot of improvised scenes, for example; the drinking scene between yourself and Karen Allen can you tell us something about the improvised scenes and how everything was put so well into the movie.
Um, Steven and Harrison, neither of them liked to rehearse very much, and I think they felt the scenes weren’t fully written, and needed a bit of rehearsing. They also knew that Karen and I had been theatre actors before and liked rehearsing, so he had wonderful ways of getting us to go away, so he sent us off and then he kept filming, and it came out more or less as we did it, and he came back to see what we’d done, and we showed him what we had come up with and he said “Fine.” So we shot that. And I’m not sure if we even wrote it down at the time. There were lots of elements of improvisation around the snake business too, because those were very long, quite difficult days especially for Harrison. We were suspended in the studio roof when we were leaning over and that was sort of fun, we were away from the action and it was very hot on the floor, so it was a bit of a panic in working with the snakes and that was the day we did the close up of the dangerous cobra.
Do you know that story about the cobra and the python? Do you know that story?
It’s a good story. The one thing that nobody realized is that snakes actually like heat and they go to sleep, so they’re not worried when the flames are around, so they just go to sleep. First of all, Steven realized there weren’t enough snakes, so he sent off for 2,000 more, garter snakes, black snakes, from farmers in Holland. And to mix it up, he put in two other pythons, which were very indicative to the heat, and the one dangerous one was the cobra, which was in a glass box which you can see the camera in. But they all fell asleep, and one of the pythons who was developed a dislike for first assistant, David Thomas, and bit him, well didn’t bite him but went for him, and one time he finally went for him and bit him. And they were all getting very tense because the cobra wouldn’t wake up to do the shot. David Lubsy simply grabbed hold of the cobra and dropped it in the glass box, and the cobra woke up and went bam! Killed the python dead but broke one of it’s fangs on the python and was in agony for the rest of the afternoon, and stood, hooded like that for the rest of the afternoon while we did the shot.
Did you and Ford have a good working relationship, and have you remained in contact there after?
We did have a good relationship; I think we had a lot of fun working together. One thing that impressed me about him almost immediately was on that particular day, which I think must have been, yes, because I don’t think we were very much involved with him in La Rochelle when we started, and La Rochelle where we did the submarine bit, which was the first week and we hadn’t been much involved with Harrison; it was mainly with Karen. So I really didn’t get to work with him until the snake pit. And at one point in there he asked me for more help, for him, which I felt was pretty good. Because, I was way above his head and not really involved with anything, so I would just give him a little line or two. And he said, “I’m really having trouble concentrating here.” You know, so I was yelling the lines so he could really get it, because he was surrounded by these technicians and people trying to get the snakes to move. They laid rubber snakes on the ground under them which they thought would work as dummy snakes but they didn’t work at all, the real snakes just fell asleep on top.
For a couple of years afterwards I kept in touch with Steven and I saw George again, and I worked for George again on the Young Indiana Jones TV series. And Steven and I have a mutual friendship; we passed our regards to each other. And then, finally the same friend was talking to Harrison a couple of years ago, and he said hi, so I rang him and we were going to meet up but he had to go off and pick up a plane. (laughs) Very nice reason, so he can’t be there, he had to pick up a plane. But then the plane didn’t work out because the woodwork wasn’t good enough at all. Imagine, you ordered this plane and you go and look at it and you say, “Sorry, the woodwork’s not good enough.” and walk away from it. A really nice guy, he came to our house in London too, it was great.
There are many rumors, some confirmed and some not confirmed about the many tricks that were played on the cast throughout the making of the trilogy. Did you have any involvement or experiences about these tricks?
Well, I was never sure if this was a trick or not, but at one point George Lucas used one of these German holidaymakers (Something about the execution scene) yeah, that’s right. That whole scene was written because Lucas had said that you can use these guys, they’re very good and I’ve written some scenes featuring these young German holidaymakers, who may have not been holidaymakers, but may have been German actors and there may have been rumors going on at the time. So he got us all on the set and sat us down and said you’re not going to work and these guys are going to work, and as we sat down, he said you’re going to work with these guys and Wolf Kahler (who plays Dietrich) said “See? You don’t need actors.” Whether this was a trick to upset us or not it didn’t work, because Ronny (Ronald) Lacey and me, we turned around and said, “NONE of this will appear on the film.” And of course he was quite right.
This is a bit of a dicey question so don’t get too upset. (Laughs) A movie’s always got bloopers in it, some have a lot, and some only have three or four. And the most remarkable blooper was right before the opening of the Ark scene. In that scene, Belloq had some great dialogue, but because of some animal, the scene became humorous to the people viewing the film. Can you tell us something about that, and working with the most famous fly in the world?
Ah, yes. I don’t think anybody noticed it during the shoot, there wasn’t any hilarity at that point in the film, and I think if you look at it carefully, if you freeze the frame around that point, you’ll see that actually some frames are missing.
Yeah, I think I noticed that, just a little too jerky.
Yeah, I think they just took out a couple of frames when the fly flew off, just to make the joke. I got a very nice review from Pauline Kayland who noted what a devoted actor I was to go through it, with eating the fly and all.
Yeah, we were thinking that, how professional, he just stood there and ate it. (Laughs)
So that was their trick.
Over the years you’ve been featured in many productions, perhaps the most recognizable for is Raiders. Do you find it hard to avoid that stereotype, or do you have any regrets as coming to be known as Belloq?
It didn’t quite work out like that; I became known for playing Nazis which is not actually what Belloq was, and for many years afterwards I had a sort of steady career playing Nazis, which eventually became very boring. I found myself in the same year playing two Commandants of concentration camps, so I asked myself, “Y’know, is this why I became an actor?” and I decided it wasn’t that field I wanted to play, but I was getting all the parts at the same time anyway so it was fun. You know so I’m very grateful for it because it did a lot for my career. Um, and there was a slight problem with the Nazis in that I had to make a decision to get out of.
We got a real good question from Jason, who says: “Just to kick the bucket, I have a question. I found a photograph found on the internet and the rumors go on that it’s a deleted scene. Can you tell us something about this scene?”
Well I would say from the background, we’re probably rehearsing the scene. There was a scene that was after, this is very typical of Spielberg, a scene that had quite intimate dialogue, I think that was probably Anthony Higgins there. Wait, no, no, no, hold it, no. This is reminding me of something else now. Perhaps this scene doesn’t appear… (pauses) Yes there is a scene where the Ark, where Harrison grabs the Ark from the camp. Can’t remember how that happened. Suddenly he’s in the middle of the camp and he’s grabbed the Ark, hasn’t he? Or has he just grabbed the horse? No, he’s just grabbed the horse, and then the chase begins, yes. I think this is a scene shortly before, they’re establishing the camp and I think there is still an establishing shot if my memory serves me.
I think there is, yes.
But it doesn’t go into a whole scene where we’re sitting around the table. I think it was an establishing shot, which is still in the movie, where we went and sat around the table and then the horse ran off with Harrison and this little scene broke up. But you’re right about that there is something missing and it’s never ever occurred to me before.
I had never seen this picture before.
So the tent, yes there were a couple of tables here and I think the tent was here. Hrm, that’s funny. The scene I mistook it for first of all was the scene where I’m walking along the railway track in the middle of this building site with those two, and it was a scene that was just looked as if it had been set in a small room; it was that sort of conversational scene. And we got there and it was on the entire set, walking along with hundreds of extras in the background, and at one point we gave them all a stick the assistant, and told them at lunch time, put the stick in the ground and come back to where your stick is, and when they called lunch they all forgot walked off with their sticks. (laughs) But that was very typical of Spielberg how he would open out a scene that was written as a small intimate scene and set it instead, walking along the railway track with hundreds of extras carrying axes and carrying sand, and props up and down.
Our final question is from Steve who says, “What’s your favorite scene from Raiders and why is it so special?
Let’s see. This may take some time. I don’t much like the submarine sequence because that was the first thing we did and I’m aware looking at it now I’m not really into the part. The one that makes me laugh a lot which will have to do is the one where Harrison and I become reconciled after the first sequence it’s in the cafe where there’s a tracking shot which pulls back from my shoulder I think Harrison walks forward and the camera comes back from me and then he sees it’s me sitting down there and I’m smoking a hookah and I thought I’d never get accustom, I’m not a smoker, I’d better get accustom to smoking this hookah which had Egyptian Tobacco which is really harsh, it’s a very concentrated hit. By the time they finished rehearsing this tracking shot this thing going past my shoulder, I didn’t know whether I was moving or the track was moving. I felt, “Oh my God, I’m coming up to my first big dialogue scene in this movie and I’m going to throw up”. (laughs) I still don’t know, when I look at it, how I got through it all. I’m on automatic pilot or I’m sort of doing through this whole scene praying that I’m not going to vomit.
Doesn’t come off like that at all. Alright, Paul Freeman, thank you very much.
You’re very welcome.
A special thanks to Paul Freeman, Peter, Canyon, and the people at Showmasters for giving us the chance to conduct our interview!