The Hobbit's Martin Freeman On Why Iconic Characters Don't Intimidate Him

By Eric Eisenberg 2012-10-29 15:36:49discussion comments
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Can you talk a little bit about being on set the first day, and what it meant to you, the experience of being there and working with everyone?

Well, the first week or two even, maybe, was the Gollum's cave scene for me. That was the first day on set, so I was working with Andy [Serkis] as Gollum, which in itself is interesting. Fascinating as a baptism of fire. But friendly fire, because he's so good, that character is so beloved, and he knows that character, obviously, as well as anybody knows anything. So you feel safe, and you feel like it's an interesting way of-- In a way, I preferred a scene that was more like a ten-minute theater scene than if it had been this scene, or just a running scene, or exploding cars-- There isn't that in the film, though. We haven't gone that far-- Then it would have been not in itself fascinating to play every minute of. But a ten-twelve minute, maybe, in a little chamber theatrical piece is really interesting to play. So the first days on set for me were about finding out everything-- You find out so much in those first few days. You just come along, in a way, and be open and ready and receptive. And bring whatever you've got to bring, but don't bring too much because it's not a done deal yet. And it grew as the weeks and months went on, really. I was doing ADR the other day on that scene, and because it was the first thing I shot, I really was thinking-- And I don't normally think this, not because I'm too conceited about my work, but I don't normally think, "I wish I had a chance to do that again." But jobs aren't normally this long, so this is a job where you can really look back and go, "If I had a chance to do that again, I would really do something different." But I can't, and it's all right. You're looking at Gollum anyway, so it's okay.

Just bridging off that idea, the greatest character evolution in The Hobbit is Bilbo learning how to become a hero. And over the amount of time that this movie has been in production, is that a challenge to hold on to, that full arc?

Yeah, it can be. In the doing of it, it's ultimately my responsibility, but then obviously the greater responsibility, of course, is Peter's, because he has his eye on the ball-- Well, on various different balls all the time. And also, he's got a picture in his head of how it's going to be edited, and what it's going to look like. And I could be doing a scene where I think it's scene ninety-four, it might end up being scene two-hundred and thirteen. So with the best will in the world, you have to commit, but also be open. That's the hard thing. Because if you think, "I'm going to do this scene, this scene means this, it's all these characters, and it's this moment...", it might not even be there, clearly, 'cause that's the nature of film-making, or it might be somewhere else. And he's pretty open about that. There's an acknowledgement that the edit will be rather important, shall we say. So it's for me to hold onto that, of course, but I'm not in ultimate charge of it, but I can only do what the actor's job is, which is to hold onto that stuff and be diligent about when it is scene 93, where was I in scene 92. Page one, one-oh-one stuff, but over the course of sixteen years filming, it will be, that's harder to maintain than two months.

Would it be fair to say that between taking on Bilbo, and Hitchhiker's Guide, and Sherlock, you're not really daunted by these big, iconic legacy pieces? A lot of actors would be scared to take on any one of those, but you've been three, pretty big...

Yes, I guess. The honest truth is, no, I'm not. And again, that's not because I think I'm great, it's just because I think it would just be...as you know the answer to it, it wouldn't be helpful. And that's not to say that-- 'Cause clearly we don't normally, we're not really moved by our heads, we're moved by this. So even if I was intellectually saying, "This wouldn't do me any good", I could still be really scared. But no, I'm not. And I think it's this simple thing about, I came to this job, this profession, out of joy and out of play, and I know no-one's going to die, however shit I am, do you know what I mean? It's okay. I'd rather not be shit, obviously, I'd rather be good. Genuinely, it's crushing if people don't like me, but as with everything, I'm the ultimate judge of my work. I can only say, "Well, I liked it", or, "I didn't like it", and there are sometimes when I didn't like it.

But no, I'm honestly not, I'm really not. I'm daunted by so many other things in life, work is not one of them. I'm daunted about almost everything else, is a constant cause of fucking concern to me. But work is just not one of them at all, yeah. I don't worry about work. And that's partly 'cause I've been lucky and I've always worked. I left drama school early to work, and I've never really stopped working. It's easy for me to say, in a way, but I enjoy work, and even when it's driving me mad, I'd still rather be doing that than anything else. Of course there are times when I get insecure about it. Every actor is riddled with insecurity, of course. But weirdly, I don't really find that I'd be daunted with taking on roles or anything. And I think it's partly because I wasn't steeped in Hitchhiker's, or Sherlock, or Conan Doyle, or Tolkien. I think if I was-- If you'd say, "You're joining The Beatles now", then I'd be like, "Jesus!" But it's not my Beatles.
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