From playing a lowly office salesman to travelling across Middle Earth with a pack of dwarves, British actor Martin Freeman has carved out a career of eclectic roles that showcase his deadpan comedy style.
Freeman, 42, rose to recognition as lovesick salesman Tim Canterbury on the British mockumentary The Office. He is notable for playing literary characters on screen — Arthur Dent in the 2005 film adaptation of Douglas Adams’ The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and war veteran sidekick John Watson in the BBC’s contemporary re-imagining of Sherlock. Most recently, Freeman was Bilbo Baggins in Peter Jackson’s epic cinematic adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit. He returns to the role in Warner Bros’ The Hobbit: Desolation of Smaug, the second installment of the cinematic trilogy.
Freeman talked to Reuters about reprising the role, the challenges of maintaining character and avoiding being typecast in Hollywood.
Q: Where do audiences find Bilbo physically and mentally in the Desolation of Smaug?
A: They find him very much on the road. When you first see him, he’s scouting around for danger and reporting back to the dwarves and the wizard about what he’s seeing, so we join him definitely as part of the band of brothers.
And in not too long, we see him not just part of it, but as an absolutely invaluable part of this group because he saves their lives on more than one occasion, gets them out of prison and finds the secret door to Erebor, so he’s vital, I would say.
Q: What’s the biggest change in Bilbo’s character?
A: He’s more confident I suppose. He’s still essentially the same person that he was, but the experiences that he’s had have given him confidence because he knows his worth to the group now, he’s not having to prove it. That inevitably is going to give him a different standing in the group, although he’s still not quite one of the dwarves, and he’s aware that not all of the dwarves have taken him to their heart.
Q: What was your biggest challenge with taking on Bilbo?
A: To have a job over that period of time and what is now three films. It was going to be two, and when I first took it on, I thought I’ve got to sustain this over two films, and now it’s three. It’s just keeping an eye on where you are and what your character is doing, and what he feels or thinks at any given moment on that day in that journey, because we’re obviously shooting very much out of sequence.
Q: You won ‘Best Hero’ for Bilbo at MTV’s Movie Awards this year, and at a screening for the second film, there were big cheers from the audience when Bilbo first popped up on screen. Did you ever think that would happen for your character?
A: No, I guess not. To be absolutely honest, I didn’t think one way or the other. I’m certainly glad people think that rather than booing him. If they were booing him, I’ve definitely done something wrong.
Q: Season 3 of Sherlock will be kicking off in January. What will we see of John Watson’s arc in this season?
A: He’s moved on from what he thinks is Sherlock’s death two years ago. He’s moved on and he’s fallen in love. And that is obviously the biggest change in his life. Sherlock is no longer around, he hasn’t got his friend anymore. He hasn’t got those adventures or that life, so he’s back practising medicine, and with a very serious girlfriend.
That’s where we pick him up and not at Baker Street, not living that life anymore. And he’s content with where he is.
Q: What’s been your biggest challenge in navigating Hollywood?
A: My only navigation on those waters is artistic, and that might sound very precious, but I try and make it true. Some people have asked me for advice about the film business. I know nothing about the film industry, I know absolutely nothing ... I suppose you try not to get too typecast, you try that with varying degrees of success.