Paul Freeman is best known for his roles as rival archaeologist René Belloq in Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981), evil wine baron Gustav Riebmann on season 4 of Falcon Crest (1984–85), supervillain Ivan Ooze in Mighty Morphin Power Rangers: The Movie (1995), and Reverend Shooter in Hot Fuzz (2007).
Referring to Freeman’s extensive theatre work, in 1995 the Los Angeles Times described him as “one of Britain’s best-regarded actors, classically trained, with stints at the Royal Shakespeare Company and the National Theatre”.
Freeman was born in Barnet, Hertfordshire, on 18 January 1943. He is married to Maggie Scott, who was his co-star in the 1980 film The Dogs of War. They have a daughter. Freeman was previously married to actress Judy Matheson.
He is co-founder of the charity UK Friends of Healing Focus (UKHF), which works in partnership with Uganda NGO, Healing Focus Orphanage Centre.
He began his career in advertising and teaching, and landed small roles in the theatre, appearing in productions of A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Hamlet. He then went on to play starring roles in the National Theatre and the Royal Shakespeare Company, and later co-founded the Joint Stock Theatre Company in 1974, along with director Max Stafford-Clark.
Freeman made his television debut in 1978, in the acclaimed serial Will Shakespeare (1978). He also acted in the ATV docudrama Death of a Princess, a controversial film about the execution of Misha’al bint Fahd al Saud of Saudi Arabia. Freeman began his feature film career in 1980, when he appeared in The Long Good Friday and The Dogs of War. In 1981, he starred in the TV show Winston Churchill: The Wilderness Years.
In the same year, Steven Spielberg and George Lucas chose Freeman to play French archaeologist René Belloq, the rakish archrival to Dr. Indiana Jones, in the hugely successful adventure film Raiders of the Lost Ark. The film led to Freeman becoming typecast in villainous roles, especially Nazis. Armed with another accent, this time German, he played the conniving wine baron Gustav Riebmann in the fourth season of Falcon Crest, airing in 1984/85.
In 1988, he played Professor Moriarty in Without a Clue, which starred Michael Caine as Sherlock Holmes and Ben Kingsley as Watson, and in 1995 was Ivan Ooze in Mighty Morphin Power Rangers: The Movie.
Freeman guest-starred in hit shows such as Monarch of the Glen, ER, Falcon Crest, and The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles. He also played in several mini-series, including Murderers Among Us: The Simon Wiesenthal Story (1989) and The Final Cut (1995). In 2004, Freeman played Angus, Bobby Jones’ caddie, in Bobby Jones: A Stroke of Genius. During 2006 and 2007, he starred in the BBC TV legal drama New Street Law as the main protagonist, alongside John Hannah. Also in 2007, he played Rev. Philip Shooter of Sandford in Hot Fuzz, alongside Simon Pegg and Nick Frost. He is also featured in several 2007–09 Travelers Insurance television commercials.
Among his television work, Freeman has appeared in an episode of Midsomer Murders entitled “Down Among the Dead Men”. He also appeared in the television crime drama Waking The Dead, in the episode “Straw Dog”, and played Adam Kingsley in the BBC TV adaptation of Minette Walters’ The Dark Room. He was also seen in Agatha Christie’s Poirot in the episode “Appointment with Death” as Colonel Carbury.
He received acclaim as George Aaranow in the 2008 London revival of David Mamet’s Glengarry Glen Ross.
In 2012, he played Thomas Erpingham in the BBC adaption of William Shakespeare’s Henry V from The Hollow Crown series.