Paul Freeman Was Put Through The Wringer Filming Raiders Of The Lost Ark

Actors often have to endure difficult challenges for the sake of their craft, and this couldn't be more true for those who starred in Steven Spielberg's globe-trotting masterpiece "Raiders of the Lost Ark." Production troubles ranged from both cast and crew getting sick while in Tunisia to the script being changed as the film was being shot. Also, many studios were hesitant to fund the film's $20 million budget, and they had all but lost their faith in Spielberg after the crushing failure of his previous film, "1941."

One of the people who was hit hardest by the film's production was actor Paul Freeman, who co-stars in the film as Indy's rival archeologist, René Belloq, who aids the Nazis in their search for the Ark of the Covenant. Like many other actors in the film, he suffered a bout of sickness during production, and experienced one bizarre incident involving Nazis, a bug, and a bazooka.

Now you're getting nasty

Freeman became ill when filming a scene with Harrison Ford set in Cairo. In the scene, Indy meets Belloq for a second time in the film as our hero grieves the supposed death of his partner/love-interest, Marion Ravenwood. The hero finds the evil archeologist sitting in a bar in his signature white suit, smoking a hookah. But the smoking in the scene nearly made Freeman throw up on-camera.

During an interview with Empire, Freeman said: 

"By the time they turned over to do the shot, I'd smoked so much of the stuff I thought I was going to throw up. I kept thinking. 'Oh my God, this is my first major American picture and I'm going to throw up." 

But Freeman obviously hid his sickness very well, as the viewer can't tell he was feeling ill thanks to his engrossing and sinister performance. Maybe if he hadn't had the guts (literally) to act through his stomach troubles, this scene could've turned ugly. Even uglier than when his character's head blew up.

Flying into frame

One of Freeman's best scenes in the film comes late, when Indy threatens to blow up the ark with a rocket launcher. This moment is superb not just because Belloq makes Indy surrender himself, but also because of how the Freeman keeps talking after a fly makes its way into his mouth.

When discussing the scene with Empire, Spielberg said:

"I have inspected those frames the way some people have inspected the Zapruder film. And I am telling you, that fly did not suddenly jump into a fifth dimension. That fly went into Paul Freeman's mouth and Paul was so absorbed that he didn't realize he'd swallowed the bugger."

Despite this unwanted extra getting caught on film, Freeman felt it actually elevated his villainous performance in the movie, proving that not even a fly can steal the show from him. "Ahh, the fly," he said. "I had the best review of my career from Pauline Kael in The New Yorker about the fly. She said, 'There is an actor with remarkable devotion to duty.'"

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Nevertheless, Freeman seems to have enjoyed his time working with Spielberg. "[He] remains the most accomplished director I've worked with," he said. "There are some scenes in the script that were two or three people talking together in a room and you suddenly find that he planned it to be in a quarry with 500 extras going up and down ladders carrying buckets."

In the end, Spielberg proved Freeman correct, as the film made almost $400 million at the box office, won five Oscars, and was hailed one of the greatest films ever made. Freeman was also recognized worldwide for his performance in the film, even though he was typecast in villainous roles for the rest of his career. In the end, it seems that all the bugs that the cast and crew had to swallow while making this film were worth it.