It’s seven months before the first “Hobbit” film is hitting theaters, but fan favorite Martin Freeman seems to be handling the pressure of leading this band of misfits toward Lonely Mountain just fine. Of course, Bilbo Baggins already appeared in the “LOTR” saga, as a much older hobbit, played by Sir Ian Holm. Taking a few minutes before the beginning of his workday, Freeman warms up with a cup of hot tea and, as you’d expect from a man of his comic talents, proceeds to charm the pants off the traveling press corps.
Middle Earth fans actively campaigned for Freeman (BBC’s “Sherlock,” “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy”) to play the younger Bilbo in “The Hobbit” films, and the 40-year-old Brit (now a grand old 41) is intent on making the iconic character his own.
“There were points where it was relevant for me to look very closely at Ian's performance. But generally, no,” Freeman responds when asked how closely he’s following Holm’s work. “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…if there's even part of me thinking, ‘How would Ian have done this?, then I'm [expletive]. 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.”
(And yes, admit it. You never thought Jeff Goldblum would be referenced in a “Hobbit” story. It appears his reach is far and wide.)
Jackson ended up paying him a huge compliment, although he might not have understood it at the time, by arguably shooting some of Bilbo’s most difficult moments during the actor’s first day on set. Freeman’s inaugural scenes were in Gollum’s cave with Andy Serkis in motion-captured mode. Scenes far into the film where Freeman would be expected to have locked down his portrayal of Bilbo. Freeman refers to going up against Serkis as a “fascinating baptism of fire, but friendly fire.” Surprisingly, Freeman was more than fine with Jackson’s plan.
“That character is so beloved, and [Serkis] knows that character, obviously, as well as anybody knows anything,” Freeman says. “So you feel safe. 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.”
Freeman continues, “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.”
Of course, moviegoers across the globe will be looking at Freeman just as much as WETA and Serkis’ iconic Gollum. And, for a moment, he admits that he does feel a tad bit of pressure about the role. What helps alleviate that concern is the faith he has in Jackson to eventually guide the ship to port safe and sound.
“[Jackson] said to me about other things he's done, where he's taken maybe too much notice of what was going on on the internet, and actually been given a bum steer. And I think he's learned from that,” Freeman says. “We can all look on the Internet and go, ‘He hates me! Oh, but she loves me. Oh, but he hates me...’, you know. And that way, madness lies. So I think yeah, it's very nice, it's gratifying that people wanted me to be in it. But they didn't get me the job.”
True, but the fan campaign certainly didn’t hurt.