Martin Freeman

PUBLISHED: 10:52 12 December 2012 | UPDATED: 22:34 20 February 2013

Martin Freeman

Martin Freeman

Martin Freeman talks fame, second chances and the peaceful Hampshire countryside

Martin Freeman

Martin Freeman talks fame, second chances and the peaceful Hampshire countryside

Words: Frank grice

As a personality of prominence, Martin Freemans had it pretty easy for the past few years. Invariable success maintaining a constant momentum thanks to his breakthrough in The Office as the mild-mannered, indescribably lovable Tim Canterbury led to supporting comedic turns in Love Actually and Ali G In Da House, which ultimately led to The Hitchhikers Guide to The Galaxy and further success as Watson to Benedict Cumberbatchs Sherlock in the BBC smash hit.

And yet the Hampshire native, for all intents and purposes, has relatively escaped the glare of the public gaze, enjoying the fortune without the fame. Until now, that is, because JRR Tolkien will inherently be the game changer, even if the actor remains somewhat in denial.

To be fair, I had to move to the countryside while The Office was airing because people kept ringing my doorbell in north London looking for Tim, so I havent completely escaped, he muses, defiantly. But I think Im somehow going to maintain my innocuous celebrity standing, despite being involved in a film of this proportion. Or maybe I am kidding myself? Maybe I will become the next Robert Pattinson and make my peace with the fact that my personal life and underpants size will suddenly be up for grabs!

Expectedly, The Hobbit: An Unfinished Journey has enjoyed phenomenal box office takings and critical acclaim since its international release, and while praise has inherently been heaped on the keen eye and direction of Peter Jackson, Freeman ultimately carried the medieval fantasy epic and will continue to do so in further instalments of the franchise, The Desolation of Smaug and There and Back Again.

Freeman, whos currently bouncing from one side of the globe to the other to maintain film schedules on The Hobbit and Sherlock, is still somewhat at odds as to why Peter Jackson cast him in the central role in the first instance.

I think he saw a strange looking bloke with an odd face, Martin smirks. Quite a small, round face and someone who would fit the ears. Honestly, I genuinely dont know. Im not being cute with that answer; I dont know what he saw. Hopefully, he thinks Im quite good, and so could do it, I hope.

In fact, says Freeman, he hasnt discussed with Jackson precisely why the filmmaker cast him. I think, sometimes, you got to be careful what you wish for. Of course we all want to be told were brilliant in various ways. And then, if someone thinks were brilliant for a reason we find unflattering, then wed rather not hear it.

While some of The Hobbit cast, including James Nesbitt, Richard Armitage and Sir Ian McKellen - reprising his role as Gandalf - had read JRR Tolkiens novel and The Lord of the Rings before becoming involved in the project, Freeman is one of a small number who came to it with fresh eyes. It was as a result of getting this. I hadnt grown up with The Hobbit, I hadnt grown up with Lord of The Rings or anything like that. So yes, first time I read Tolkien was when I was cast as Bilbo.

Shooting down under in Wellington also meant juggling his filming commitments for Sherlock. Fortunately his schedule for The Hobbit was arranged in a way that he could return to Britain to resume working on the Baker Street-based drama series. Freeman says this was a relief because at first he had to turn down being in The Hobbit given that it conflicted so badly with his commitments to Sherlock.

I felt very upset, sad and really frustrated because ships like this dont call for you very often in your life, and I was ready for it. I was ready, frankly, to make the sacrifice of being away from my home and family for this long, which is a sacrifice. I was up for it, and I didnt want to miss that boat. So when I had to turn it down, it was awful.

When it came back, it was unbelievable. I was rehearsing a play
and got a call from my agent saying we were back on, and I was pleased to say the least.

Currently living outside Potters Bar with his wife and two children - Joe, six, and four-year-old Grace - the Freemans have found themselves separated during the shoot for the Hobbit; a major disadvantage of taking on the role. That was a major concern for us, and a reason to refuse the movie altogether, but Amanda was the one, she knew how big an opportunity this was and just said Well work it out. So the family have been coming out to me on school holidays and Ive been back whilst filming Sherlock obviously, so it hasnt worked out too bad in the end.

Born in Aldershot into a naval family, Freeman moved to London while still a teen to study at the Central School of Speech and Drama, and admits he doesnt get back to his homeland as often as
hed like.

Between working on two hemispheres and zipping between London, Cardiff and Hertfordshire, I dont make it back to Hampshire an awful lot. Id rather have my family come to me if at all possible.

But I love the times when I am back in the county. The peace and pace of the countryside - its incredibly nurturing and therapeutic for me. Thats really not one of those things you can search out and find. It has to be special to you.

While his Office cohorts have since gone on to moderate, relative success at least, we think that Gervais fellow has amounted to something, will they ever come back together for a special, or dare we mention, a movie version?

Who knows?! Over the years, Ive been hearing such fabrication about Steven Spielberg having a word with Ricky about making it into film. I mean, what kind of film would it be? Youd have to weld some sort of plot onto it, and just make it very contrived or something which would be a shame. There are no plans for a film. Its much better to leave things while theyre good.

If it ever did happen, who would play Tim?

Probably Tom Cruise. Theyd probably miss the point of everybody being normal. Julianne Moore would be Dawn, or something. It would be tragic.

You get the impression Martin Freeman is happy to look forward, rather than backwards...

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