Q&A: Martin Freeman

Actor, The Hobbit: The Battle Of The Five Armies

In December of 2012, Martin Freeman was on the cover of NOW discussing his career and his work on The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, Peter Jackson’s long-heralded return to the world of The Lord Of The Rings – and a three-part epic that finally reaches its conclusion with The Battle Of The Five Armies, opening this week.

In 2012, Freeman was tired he’d spent more than a year shooting The Hobbit – with time off in between for the second season of Sherlock – and was wrapping up Edgar Wright’s The World’s End. His voice on the phone is brighter and chattier – the bounce of a man who’s had a few decent nights’ sleep.

Does it seem weird to still be talking about this project? I mean, we first talked about it two years ago almost to the day.

Right, yes. Yeah, we had a reasonable amount to do after that, but the bulk of it was done.

Has there been any last-minute stuff? Andy Serkis once said he did some last-minute motion-capture for Gollum maybe six weeks before The Return Of The King was released.

Yeah. Pete does like to perfect and perfect and perfect, but that didn’t really affect us this time. We were done in the middle of 2013. You know, it feels like I haven’t been doing The Hobbit for a long time, but obviously it’s never over till the film comes out. I feel happy that it’s out, and that it will [finally] be a complete story.

Having watched all three features, it struck me how, despite all the extra business and additional characters Jackson and his screenwriters added for the movies, the emotional heft always surges when Bilbo comes back to the centre of the tale.

I’m glad you felt that. It is his story, allegedly [laughs]. But yeah, I think it’s important for him to hold those moments.

He’s also the only character who reliably gets laughs in every movie.

Yeah! That’s partly his function. While all the other heavy stuff is going on, he has the license to pop any epic-ness or pomposity going on, because he’s very, very straightforward. Not that he’s always light, but he doesn’t pussyfoot around – or he does sometimes. I’m being so articulate. [laughs]

Well, he’s allowed to be conflicted and get fed up with all the ancient rivalries he’s our surrogate, our entry point to the story.

Oh, absolutely. He’s the audience in the film, [much] as he’s the reader in the book. He’s the closest thing we have to us. Most people aren’t these grandstanding heroes. So when Bilbo’s surrounded by people having these lofty conversations in their great airs, he is able to just cut straight through that. And I like that he’s able to do that a little bit more in this film – in a way, he calls people out on their bullshit.

And in a story about great epic heroism, the most courageous thing he does – and he does it more than once – is simply not scurry home when he’s given the chance.

Absolutely! They say bravery is only brave if you’re scared, because if you’re not scared then you’re not really being brave. And yeah, he spends a good portion of this story quite frightened. I suppose there’s a selfish element to it as well: he wanted adventure, that’s why he came on the thing, so it’s partly for his own sake. But when he’s on the road it’s for his comrades, for these new friends he has made, which have become his family. When we see Bilbo in Bag End, he doesn’t really have family – he doesn’t seem to have many close friends, so he really adopts all those [dwarves] on the long march, as it were. That’s really why he does it. He does those things for this new family he’s found.

There’s a weird time-warp thing with these movies – they’re still coming out, and they draw so much attention, and then you turn up on something like the Fargo series and it’s almost surprising to see you.

Yeah, that was nice.

And a different sort of role for you, too.

You try and repeat yourself as little as possible, I guess, and that was a really good opportunity to stretch muscles that hadn’t been stretched either ever or certainly not for a long time. And not since I’ve been kind of well-known. So I loved it every day of doing Fargo was a good day.

And it gave you a chance to do something under the radar, as compared to the fanatical attention paid to projects like The Hobbit and Sherlock.

[laughs] No, it’s not on the same level. People really like Fargo, but I happen to be in two of the things at the moment that are very popular and sort of Comic-Con darlings.

I’d say they have huge cult followings, but they’re pulling bigger audiences than most mainstream projects.

I suppose the real cult things now are independent films made for a million pounds. With superheroes and comics and fantasy and sci-fi being absolutely the popular currency in cinema, it’s like people have said in endless magazines, it’s the revenge of the geeks and all that. There’s some truth in that.

And the geek projects are classy now. The Marvel films are casting serious actors –your Sherlock co-star Benedict Cumberbatch has just been announced as Doctor Strange – and of course The Hobbit has both Guillermo Del Toro and Peter Jackson in its DNA now. It’s genre work that transcends genre.

Well it is for me, yeah. I don’t really [think] about genre, I think about if a script is good and if the director’s good. It all starts with the script, of course. If the script isn’t very good you have no chance of making a good film. If the script is very good, you can still mess it up, but you have a shot. You do have a shot, if you have a good script, and certainly in the case of some of the things I’ve done in the last few years, I’ve been very lucky with that.

And now you’re part of Tina Fey’s Afghanistan comedy, The Taliban Shuffle. That’s about to shoot, right?

It is, yeah. It’s happening early next year and I’m really looking forward to it.

Can you tell me anything about it? Are you even at liberty to discuss it?

I guess. You know what, I’m so used to doing things that are mired in secrecy. I probably can – I mean, no one’s told me I’ll be killed if I do. I play a war reporter. I play someone who is in Afghanistan at the same time as Tina Fey’s character, and they get to know each other. It’s Tina’s film, it’s totally Tina’s film, but I play one of the supporting roles, who, um, gets to sing badly.

That’s not what I would have expected to hear.

[laughs] Me neither.

I don’t want to ask anything about the next series of Sherlock, since I don’t want any spoilers – so can you just confirm that it’s happening? Is there an airdate yet?

I think late next year, because we [shoot] that early next year as well. Yeah, I’m really looking forward to that.

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