This is the first in a special “Meet The Cast Of The Hobbit” series by Middle-earth News Contributor NomadicWriter.
Who would have imagined that Martin Freeman, who had previously played Tim in the BBC’s Golden Globe winning The Office, would be cast in the starring role of Bilbo Baggins in The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey? Against his better judgments, Bilbo leaves the safety and security of the beloved home to go on an epic adventure, which will ultimately see him, along with thirteen dwarves, led by Thorin Oakenshield with the beguiling assistance of Gandalf the Grey, to fight with orcs, stone giants, and play psychological trick or treat with Gollum. The story will culminate with Bilbo coming face to face with the seductive yet murderous dragon, Smaug, where characters’ fates and fortunes will change forever.
Clearly, director Peter Jackson did. What’s more, he’s gone on record as saying that he couldn’t envisage anyone else in that role. For a while, it looked as if Jackson wasn’t going to get his Bilbo Baggins, despite having scoured sixty audition tapes, with Freeman committed to BBC’s Sherlock. The outlook was looking decidedly grim. There was no way he could film The Hobbit movies. Or was there?
Unable to sleep one night, Jackson downloaded the first series of Sherlock, which he openly admits to being a great fan of, and metaphorically stuck needles in his eyes as he watched his Bilbo on his iPad. “I was enjoying Sherlock,” he said in 2011, “but feeling miserable. I just kept thinking, ‘God, he’s perfect as Bilbo.’” Later the same night, he called Freeman’s agent in London asking if he would still be interested in doing The Hobbit, provided he could move the filming schedule around to accommodate his commitments with Sherlock. Freeman agreed, and the rest is all part of Middle-earth history. He echoed this sentiment again recently when he was asked about casting Freeman at the world premiere of the movie in Wellington, New Zealand in November.
But who is Martin Freeman? He may be better known to audiences around the world in recent years for his role as the affable and warm hearted John Watson, alongside Benedict Cumberbatch (Smaug), who plays the title role of the consulting detective with cool detachment as he deduces who’s responsible for the murderous crimes in the hit BBC drama, Sherlock. Freeman’s character is the earth to Cumberbatch’s air; Watson is the catalyst to Sherlock learning a little more empathy with a humanity he generally treats with disdain and suspicion. Sherlock takes a fresh look at Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories and gives them a twenty-first century twist, but without losing what made Conan Doyle’s novels and subsequent movie and television adaptations such a success with audiences.
Born in Hampshire, England in 1971, Freeman became interested in youth theatre in his mid-teens, but it wasn’t until he turned 17 years of age that he decided to pursue a career in acting. He attended The Central School of Speech and Drama in London. He’s undertaken a number of theatre roles over the years, most notably Bill Kenwright’s production of the comedy The Last Laugh in 2007, in which he played a playwright who had to deal with government censors who wanted to alter his play for their own political ends.
Following some smaller roles in movies, he appeared in Richard Curtis’ comedy Love Actually (2003), playing John, who falls for Judy whilst playing body doubles for sex scenes in a movie. Whilst they both seem perfectly comfortable with their own nudity, they’re rather less forthcoming about their feelings towards one another. Freeman also played Arthur Dent in the movie adaptation of Douglas Adams’ The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (2005).
Whilst he’s created a track record for comedic roles, including The Office, of course, it’s worth pointing out that Freeman has also moved into more serious roles in recent years. He played Lord Shaftesbury in the BBC production of historical drama, Charles II: The Power and the Passion, and in the past couple of years he’s been involved in the critically acclaimed Sherlock, a show which has sold worldwide and for which he won Best Supporting Actor in the 2011 BAFTA awards.
Freeman is also a committed vegetarian and doesn’t drive – very appropriate given that Bilbo spend most of his unexpected journey walking on his hairy hobbit feet as he helps the dwarves embark on their quest to retrieve their lost gold from Smaug in the Lonely Mountain. As someone who loves both music and clothes, Cumberbatch describes in the Sherlock DVD commentary how Freeman advised him on clothes. It seems that there’s a little bit of the hobbit in Freeman; he once described how he would rather watch The Antiques Roadshow than go out on a stag do. “If I could get bands to come and play in my house, I’d like that. I’ve never been to a festival. I’m a creature of habit, mashed-potato comfort, I like rugs. Our sofa’s squishy. Maybe too squishy – it’s hard to get up sometimes.” Sounds rather like something Bilbo Baggins himself would say if he were transported into in the twenty-first century, doesn’t it? Clearly, Peter Jackson seems to believe so. Amazing what happens when you move heaven and Middle-earth around to secure your Bilbo Baggins.
It seems that Martin Freeman’s life may never be quite the same again following the release of these movies, proving once again as Tolkien himself wrote in The Fellowship of the Ring, “Even the smallest person can alter the course of their future.” 75 years on from the publication of The Hobbit, it appears that promise may indeed be coming true.