The process of making The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey was far, far more complicated than you'd imagine for follow-ups to a massively successful film franchise. There was a lawsuit between Peter Jackson and New Line to be settled and financial restructuring at MGM, the general challenge of adapting a small children's book into two (and eventually three) films, and then director Guillermo del Toro's departure from the project after all those delays, spurring Lord of the Rings director Peter Jackson to replace him. But once Jackson was officially on the project, there was something else that he says kept him awake at night-- a problem around just one very, very crucial person.

As Jackson told it at a press event for The Hobbit in New York last week, Martin Freeman was "the only person we ever wanted" for the role of Bilbo Baggins. But Freeman, famous for his work on the UK version of The Office and currently playing Watson on BBC's Sherlock, was much trickier to get on board than anyone expected, thanks to all those delays and his commitments back at the BBC. Here's how Jackson told the story:

He had qualities that would be perfect for Bilbo, that essential kind of fussy, English, slightly repressed quality. We met him early in pre-production and we really locked into him for the role. And with the delays that happened, mainly due to the MG< situation-- the delays were 18 months worth of us developing the movie but not being able to get a green light. We couldn't offer anything, we couldn't do anything contractually. And by the time we offered Martin the role he had committed to the Sherlock TV series. He shot the first season, but the second season of Sherlock was going to fall right in the middle of our shoot.

We were in trouble. I was really panicking, we all were. We literally couldn't think of anyone else we thought would be as good as Martin. I was having sleepless nights. We were probably six weeks away from the beginning of the shoot and still hadn't settled on anyone else. I was tormenting myself by watching Sherlock on an iPad about 4 o'clock in the morning, the second episode of the first season had just come out on iTunes-- I downloaded it because I loved the show. I was looking at it and looking at Martin and thinking, "There is no one better, we are insane."

When I got up that morning I called Martin's agent in London and I asked. if we could find a way to accommodate Martin's schedule for Sherlock in our shoot, would Martin still be prepared to come down to New Zealand to do Bilbo? We did something very unusual-- we started shooting The Hobbit, we shot for about 4 or 5 months, then Martin had to go do the second series of Sherlock. So we stopped for about 8 weeks. Then Martin came back, we carried on again. Quite a civilized way to make the movie at the end of the day, and we got Martin Freeman.

When you see The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey in theaters this weekend, you'll see exactly what Jackson means about Freeman being completely perfect for the role-- along with about a million other things that he's brought to Middle Earth this time around. We'll have nonstop coverage of The Hobbit coming throughout the week, including conversations with the people behind it, so keep coming back for more where this came from!
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