Interviews

Martin Freeman's unexpected journey as 'The Hobbit'

By Zaki Jufri in New ZealandMovies - 14 November 2013 12:00 AM | Updated 15 November 2013

Martin Freeman's unexpected journey as 'The Hobbit'

For an actor who is playing, perhaps the most iconic literary-turned-film character in what could be the biggest movie franchise this decade, Martin Freeman admits that he is not a fan of the original source material and the previous films. 

“I wasn’t a fan,” Martin Freeman said in an interview with inSing. 

“I like and admired them (‘Lord of The Rings’ trilogy) very much. I thought that he (Peter Jackson) did them brilliantly. ‘The Lord of The Rings’ and ‘The Hobbit’ were not part of my growing up (years). It wasn't really in my world,” the 42-year-old explained. 

Freeman returns to the big screen as Bilbo Baggins in Peter Jackson’s follow-up to his 2012 box-office smash, ‘The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey’. 

'The Hobbit: The Battle of Five Armies' opens in cinemas 18 December in Singapore. 

Freeman
Freeman with partner actress Amanda Abbington at a 'The Unexpected Journey' premiere in 2012. Photo: Agencies

The British actor-comedian, the youngest of five children, started acting at the age of 15, went to drama school, and then took roles in television, films and theatre.  

But it was playing Tim Canterbury from the British sitcom series ‘The Office’ with Ricky Gervais that Freeman made a name for himself – a role that garnered him British Academy of Film and Television Arts nominations.

Read also: Interview with Sir Ian McKellen

His portrayal as Dr John Watson in British TV drama ‘Sherlock’, as the irrepressibly pragmatic sidekick to Benedict Cumberbatch’s Sherlock Holmes, also made him a veritable cult figure.

And now, he is the titular “Hobbit” in the Tolkien movie. 

Like his onscreen persona, that trademark scowl he is known for is clearly evident as the actor sat down in costume – sans pointy “Hobbit” ears – for the interview on location in New Zealand. 

Read also: Meet the Hobbit (Dwarves and Elves)

He was in autopilot mode, doing what he does best, being the comedian, serving up dry British humour as he joked about variations to his character’s name, “Bobo Baggins. Binobo Baggins”.

His replies were peppered with self-effacing humour and often long pedantic responses. Not to mention, lots of swearing in between.

the hobbit
Bilbo grew some serious balls in 'Desolation of Smaug'. Photo: Warner Bros

A MORE SERIOUS BILBO 

So what can we expect from Bilbo after ‘An Unexpected Journey’?

“He’s not going to come back as Jean-Claude Van Damme,” Freeman said laughing. 

“He's still the same identifiable person, but just with heaps more experience in the world, and a lot of that experience is unpleasant and terrifying.”

We last saw the treasure-seeking hobbit and his Dwarven companions fighting an attack from villain Azog from the Misty Mountains before Gandalf (Ian McKellen) swooped down to rescue them on giant eagles.

The second movie, Freeman said, will see a more serious Bilbo who is more aware of the gravity of his quest and the realities of life outside his native Bag End.

“It's very clear who and what Bilbo is at the beginning of the first film. He's us – those of us who are lucky enough to never have to kill anyone or been in a war, and who like our homes and the comforts they bring. That's who he is. He's the audience.”

“By the time he has killed a few things and been in near-death experiences, he becomes very different. In that way that people who come back from combat are different. The old cliche of, ‘They've seen things’,” Freeman said.

BEDTIME STORIES

Still, despite the sombre tone, Freeman reassures that ‘Desolation of Smaug’ is still a “family story”.

He recalled director Jackson telling him not to hang on too much to Frodo the hobbit, played by Elijah Wood in the “Rings’ trilogy. 

Read also: Interview with Luke Evans

“I think I was subconsciously channelling Frodo,” Freeman recounted. “He is the nearest thing to Bilbo in the earlier films and he carries the humanity or ‘hobbitity’ of it through the story.

“Peter then said a good thing to me. He told me this movie is different and something that my children will want to watch. Internally, I was able to get a clearer picture of the tone – it’s like the bedtime stories that I read to my family and not the deep, quasi-religious, heavy, symbolic tone of ‘Lord of the Rings’.”

JACKSON’S FIRST CHOICE?

Martin Freeman and Peter Jackson on the set of 'The Hobbit: Desolation of Smaug'. Here we see them in front of the gates of Erebor. Photo: Warner Bros

If there is one thing Freeman wants to clear up, it is the talk that he is Peter Jackson’s first choice for the role. 

“All I had heard before this film started was that I was the only person who could ever play Bilbo. I know that's not true because no actor is the only person who can do anything,” he said. 

Actors such as James McAvoy, David Tennant and even Daniel Radcliffe were rumoured to be potential candidates for the role, but as it turned out, Freeman was Jackson’s only choice.

“I think I'm quite good, but so are many other people.”

The Hobbit
Freeman with 'Sherlock' and 'Desolation of Smaug' co-star Benedict Cumberbatch. The movie was filmed in batches to accommodate both actors' schedules.

‘THEY LOVE ME’

Freeman initially turned down the role because of scheduling conflicts with the second season of BBC's ‘Sherlock’. But Jackson did not give up.

“They love me,” he said, beaming, referring to Jackson’s solution of shooting scenes out of order so that he could zip back and forth between hemispheres to work on the TV series in London and the movie in New Zealand.

“I thought my agent was playing a joke on me when he said that they're going to put the film into different sections so I can do ‘Sherlock’. It’s very weird, but that enabled me to do two jobs I absolutely adore,” he said.

The actor had just wrapped up filming the third season of ‘Sherlock’ and the show will air in the US in January 2014.

‘The Hobbit’ is not the first time that Freeman is playing the protagonist from a popular book. His turn as Arthur Dent in the 2005 movie adaptation of ‘The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy’ earned him a huge following in England.

FOLLOWERS OLD AND NEW

“I've had things shouted at me for the last 10 years in Britain, which have been defining things for that time of my life. When you're younger, you can see that kind of thing as a trap, because it's almost like a backhanded compliment,” he said. 

“But the older you get, the more you think you should be so lucky that you do a role where people identify with you because most actors don't get one.”

“I’ve had a few and this is another one. I’m very lucky with that.”

What comes to mind when “Oscar”, a word synonymous to Hollywood’s most prestigious film awards, pops up? It is worth noting that the first trilogy won 17 out of the 30 Academy Awards it was nominated for in 2002.

“It's inevitable and it's only a matter of time," Freeman said. "And about as far-fetched as Middle-Earth, some would say.”

'The Hobbit: The Battle of Five Armies' opens 18 December 

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The Hobbit: The Battle Of The Five Armies
  • The Hobbit: The Battle Of The Five Armies

    (2014)
  • Rated
    PG13 /
    Genre
    Adventure, Fantasy
  • Language
    Eng
  • (6 Reviews)