Martin Freeman is not a stranger to playing iconic characters. In 2005 he starred as the great Arthur Dent in director Garth Jennings’ adaptation of Douglas Adams’ The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy, and recently he’s been teaming up with Benedict Cumberbatch as the legendary Dr. John Watson in the Mark Gatiss-Steven Moffat television series Sherlock. He’s been a major figure in the science-fiction genre and in mysteries, but this December he’s making his way into the history books for fantasy as well, starring as Bilbo Baggins in Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit.
Earlier this year I was part of a small group of journalists who had the chance to fly down to New Zealand and visit the set of the highly anticipated blockbuster, and during our time there the titular star was kind enough to take time out of his schedule and talk with us about his new character. Check out our interview below in which Freeman talks about not being affected by the pop culture impact of the character, building a major character arc over the span of a huge production, and acting with people who aren’t actually there.
The hair looks a lot more rock star in person.
I know, it's normally a little bit more producted. This is a bit more wavy than normal. If they put product in it, it will just all run in my eyes. So they've left it Daryl Hall style.
One thing I am curious about, just in terms of keeping fidelity with the original Lord of The Rings trilogy and talking about the book itself-- In the book, whenever Bilbo tries on the Ring, it doesn't really have any negative effect on him. But I'm curious if that's something that's going to change with the film. Is the Ring going to have an effect on Bilbo?
I think it definitely has an effect on him. Maybe I shouldn't say how much of it is negative of positive, but it's clear that it has a pull on him, that, I guess would be recognizable from The Lord of The Rings.But it takes a different turn, I guess. I suppose, 'cause The Hobbit anyway, is slightly lighter and it's more of a family affair, so it's not quite as dark. But it doesn't mean the stakes aren't there. It definitely still has to matter that he is in possession of this thing. And I think a lot of the time, even he doesn't realize why he wants to hold onto it so much, but there is an unspoken hold that it has on him, an unconscious hold.
Do you, going into this, look at Ian Holm’s performance and base your own performance off that at all?
I'd say not really. I knew it, and I've watched the films again, obviously, in more detail before I came to this. I looked at Ian's more when I needed to-- Again, I don't really know how much I should say, but there were points where it was relevant for me to look very closely at Ian's performance. But generally, no. Because I think we're quite a good-- I know why I'm cast, do you know what I mean? 'Cause I think we're not that dissimilar, physically, or whatever else. I think if I was, I don't know, Jeff Goldblum or someone, then I might be thinking, "Right, hang on, if he's the older me, I'd better attend more to something else maybe. Well, grow, for a start. But no, 'cause I think I was always trusted with it. All I was told, which I think was flattery, and probably bollocks, was, "You are the only person to play it." So I thought, "Well, if they think that, then I've to trust that." And there's only so much you can run with someone else's thing. It's very helpful, in the way that it's brilliant as he is always brilliant, and it's a beautiful establisher of that character, and a very loved one, for obvious reasons. But it can also hamper you if you're thinking, like in the barrels, if there's even part of me thinking, "How would Ian have done this?", then I'm fucked. So I've got to let that go. I've always been mindful of it, 'cause I'm familiar with it. But I think the work for that connection was done in the casting of me, rather than what I'm then going to do on top of it.