Things are going reasonably well for Martin Freeman.
That’s the official ShortList entry for Understatement Of The Year. The truth is things really couldn’t be going much better for Martin Freeman. In fact, if success actually rubbed off, physically, the poor guy would need to carry a sharp stick to poke away all the people looking for some Freeman Friction.
At home, he’s part of one of this country’s biggest TV phenomena in Sherlock, a show so huge that Freeman is no longer known as ‘Tim from The Office’, while on an international scale, he’s landed star billing in what is as close to being a nailed-on box-office sensation as you can get: The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, the first part of Peter Jackson’s hairy-footed new JRR Tolkien trilogy. The 41-year-old is also, as we learn, spearheading the mod revival alongside Bradley Wiggins. So, life is good. That said, from erotic drawings to schedule clashes, it seems there is such a thing as being too popular...
Bilbo Baggins is one of the biggest roles around. How close were you to not getting it?
It was very close. I mean, not me not getting the part, but the part not getting me, because of Sherlock. It was a real thing. People were commiserating me. But then, when it came back on, it was amazing. Peter [Jackson, director] effectively re-arranged the schedule so I could do Sherlock and The Hobbit.
Was there a point where you thought it had gone?
Absolutely – and it had gone.
How did that feel?
Quite gutting. After months of talking to first Guillermo [del Toro – the original director] and then Peter, all looked well. So it was disappointing. The thought I would miss out… I knew there was never going to be a bigger ship and I had to watch it sail away.
Would you have had to make a horrible choice between the two? Or were you already signed up with the BBC?
I was already signed up. And also, I love Sherlock. Well, I love both...
It’s like choosing between two children.
Yeah, choosing my screen children.
When did it hit home that you were Bilbo Baggins? Was it when you got your feet and pointy ears?
I think it was when people were congratulating me in the street in London. It was the first time I was being congratulated for a job that I hadn’t done yet. All the other stuff is incremental. Getting sized up for my feet, going to get a plaster castfor my head and my ears, all of that is part of the process, but it takes months.
Was it peculiar when you arrived on set with all the other hobbits walking around?
No, because by then the peculiar becomes normal. Nothing seemed weird any more at the end of 18 months. Watching orcs have lunch in their dressing gowns and dwarfs taking their beards off while they ate their soup – nothing was weird.
Are you ready for full-on mega stardom – eyeing up a house in the Hollywood hills and all the rest?
I don’t know. That is always such a loaded question, because, of course, we don’t know if it will happen. I don’t know if I wish for it or not. It’s not like I want to spend the rest of my life poor, starving in a one-bedroom flat. It’s like if someone asks, “Would you like to be a Hollywood star?” I’d go, “Well, yeah, I suppose so.”
It will result in increased attention…
Yeah. But that’s going to be most noticeable when I’m abroad. It’s already up here [puts hand on forehead like a marker] and I’ve been getting that in the UK for 10 years. But I haven’t been getting that in Italy for 10 years and that is where the difference will be. I don’t think there’s going to be anywhere in the world where people won’t have seen The Hobbit, which is great because God knows I’ve made enough films where 200 people have seen them. But I know that when it comes out it’s going to be another part of my privacy compromised.
Did you get homesick during filming in New Zealand?
I suppose there were bits where I yearned to go to see my tailor, definitely. Where I yearned for different record shops and yearned for my city, for my sitting room and garden, like anyone would. The house I was in, it really did feel like a second home. It was cosy, it was stylish, it was a lovely house. And going to sleep with the sound of the sea in your ear was really lovely but, of course, I’m very glad to be home.
You, very casually, mentioned having a tailor, and Benedict Cumberbatch recently told us you were too cool to go sky-diving with him in New Zealand. Are you quite image-conscious?
Yeah, I am I suppose, but I’m not too cool to go sky-diving; I just don’t fancy it. It would ruin my hair, though. But, yeah, I like clothes.
Do you class yourself as a mod?
I suppose so. But it’s a dangerous thing in this environment now, because even the Daily Star has gone modtastic because of Wiggo. He’s the real deal, he’s not a plastic, he’s always been into it. But the trouble is, from a media point of view, as soon as you say that word, everyone starts getting out pork-pie hats and parkas and doing the Lambeth walk. I’ve been into what I’ve been into since I was about nine years old. I started buying 2 Tone records, and from there went that rude boy sort of skin/mod/soul boy route all my life. And I’ve always loved clothes. Even before I had money, I went charity shopping. So I’ve always had an eye for clothes.
Who are your style heroes?
First it would have been Jerry Dammers of The Specials, and then it would be Pete Tosh from The Wailers or Paul Weller. McQueen – Steve, not Alexander. Small Faces. I’ve always liked a certain look. When you say the ‘M’ word, I would say of course I am, but only me and about another 10 other people I know, know what we mean by that. Which is everything from modern jazz from 1957, to 1970 suedeheads. It’s all that and beyond, from football casuals into acid jazz and now through to hip-hop. The truth is, the absolute truth, is that most people have no idea about it. It’s like a cult. It’s like being a Roman Catholic in the 17th century or something. You don’t really know what it is. You’ve heard of it. You think, “Oh, that’s The Jam isn’t it?” Well yeah, it’s The Jam partly, but it’s also 500 other things. It’s a much broader church than most people give it credit for. See, I’m much more animated now talking about this.
So do you worry about a mod bandwagon, where everyone starts buying jackets with targets on from the high street?
If it means a 16-year-old likes a pair of shoes with laces instead of just a pair of trainers, then I’ve got nothing against that. I just get wary of it for my own sake, because I’ve stuck my neck out before on that mod thing. People see me walking around town and I look a certain way. I don’t expect other people to be into it. If everyone became a mod, I would probably become a rocker. Because that’s the mod thing to do. It’s about being an individual. It shouldn’t be about a uniform. There are common denominators, but it should always be the highest, not the lowest. It shouldn’t be lazy f*cking uniform. I can spot it in people a mile off, and it doesn’t have to be telegraphed. It’s the cut of people’s jeans, the shoes, something about the f*cking hair. Things that the editor of The Sun certainly wouldn’t spot.
Talking of a way of life, is there a difference between fans of The Hobbit and Sherlock? People get quite passionate about both.
They do. I’ve found myself in two things that are both quite genre-based; a cultish thing where a lot of the people that love it identify themselves as outsiders. Even though there are f*cking loads of them, so I don’t know how outsider they can be. There are people who dress up as me and Benedict in their free time and it’s lovely, it’s great. It’s really gratifying that our show has touched people in that way. And then there are the people that don’t do that, but just think it’s good TV.
Is it gratifying that something that doesn’t spoon-feed the viewer has become popular?
Yeah I love it. I’m really proud of that. I was proud of that with The Office, because that treated the audience as intelligent human beings. It didn’t hammer home catchphrases, and it didn’t go ‘this is the bit where you’re supposed to laugh’. It’s similar to Sherlock. Actors bang on about this a lot, but it’s true: sometimes there is proof that audiences aren’t stupid, however much they’re treated as such [laughs]. Sometimes there are occasions where you go, “I get that, I totally get that.” There are bits of Sherlock I have to catch up with. I have to work hard. “Hang on, what’s this? How does this f*cking work?”
Would creators Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss respond with, “Just say the words, Martin...”?
Yeah, just say the words, go back to sleep. But it does challenge you as a viewer, and it challenges you as an actor, mentally, to join the dots.
What did you think of the storm that hit after the finale of the last series?
It was amazing.
People went mad for it…
Yeah, trying to figure out how it worked. I said to a few people, “God, if the Met concentrated this hard on the Stephen Lawrence murder, that would have been done long ago.” People spent hours thinking, “How did he survive? Who was on the pavement?”
But you know, right?
I don’t know 100 per cent, but I know enough. I think they’re waiting to show it to us and for us to read [when filming starts on Series 3 next year]. It’s going to be exciting when we start shooting, and when we get that first script, as it always is on Sherlock. You just devour it and are really glad and grateful you’re in it.
Are you sworn to secrecy over what you know?
I’m not sworn to secrecy, but I know it would be silly to give too much away. People wouldn’t want you to. However much people go, “Please tell me,” they don’t really want you to because they want to find out in the first episode. That’s where I’m expecting to find out.
Finally, have you seen the filthy fan fiction that’s online?
Yes. I’ve seen some of it, and a lot of pictures. Very good paintings and cartoons. I showed them to Ben. I was like, “Have you seen all this?” The quality of the work is quite high. It’s like they’ve been spying.
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (3D) is at cinemas nationwide now
(Image: All Star)