Martin Freeman has stealthily racked up an incredible portfolio of work; taking in The Office, Sherlock, The Hobbit and now Fargo: a 10-part TV series based on the classic movie of the same name where he stars, alongside Billy Bob Thornton, in a series with brand new characters, based in the world created by the Coen Brothers in 1996. No wonder he seems very happy with things.
We spoke to Martin - bedecked in an extremely dapper blue jacket - about the new show, iconic characters past and future, those rumours about The Office returning and whether he'd play Darth Vader...
Did you have any reservations about getting involved with such an iconic title as Fargo?
Yes I did - for about 20 minutes and then I read the script. And then I thought well, whatever this was called, whether it was connected to a hugely-loved movie or not, this is just a really good script. It's a really good character and the character gets to say - and play - lots of interesting stuff. So that's what won me over, it was purely the strength of this first script that I read, and subsequently each of the next nine scripts got better and stronger and more intriguing and more page-turnish. So any reservations I had didn't last long.
Are you worried at all - as the film was so loved - are you worried about any negative reaction?
No...no, not once they've seen it. 'Cause then if they don't like it - and some people just won't like it, which is fair enough, 'cause it's all opinion, they're allowed not to like it - but then if they don't like it still sticking...because it's interfered in their love of the film in some way, then I won't care about that anyway, 'cause I don't care about that! I don't care about someone else's love for a film that I'm not in.
I read that a lot of Fargo was filmed at extremely cold temperatures - up to minus 40 degrees - was that hard work? How did that compare to having to wear prosthetics? Which would you rather do?
Well, I got off quite lightly in prosthetics...I've worn prosthetics but never heavy, heavy prosthetics...so I think I might rather be cold actually, because at least when you're really freezing you can do stuff to warm up, whereas when you're boiling hot and sweating like a workhouse donkey and you can't take that stuff off ... I know some of the guys on The Hobbit found that extremely hard, even the ones that were in good shape. You feel sick and claustrophic...so, no, I'll go for the cold!
You've now played a series of iconic roles in series with big fanbases - but whose fans are the craziest?
Well of course I wouldn't say crazy - I'd say enthusiastic! You say crazy and they'll come after you! I would say the most vociferous are probably Sherlock fans. In the evidence of my life...obviously people love The Hobbit, people go crazy for The Hobbit, but they seem to just be able to love The Hobbit without the attendant kind of complexity of also hating it and hating you for doing it...Sherlock is a much finer line between love and hate [laughs]. Because they love it so much that they have to hate it as well and they have to sort of hate you, or hate aspects of what you do, or hate Stephen Moffat if he's said something that is half a degree off menu for what they want him to say. With The Hobbit, people just seemed to be able to love it and with The Office, people just loved it - there's was never any sense of 'Christ, we'd better watch our back here with what we do' with The Office, where there kind of is with Sherlock a little bit with some fans - not with the vast majority of fans...we're talking about online...which is a whole new world over the last 10 years that we've had to listen to and take notice of...I would say the Sherlock fans online are the ones that are the most rigorous, shall we say!
We saw something brilliant this week - Hobbit-branded bath and shire gel. Are you aware of this, and what do you think when you see these weird bits of merchandise popping up?
Well I haven't seen that...I occasionally get sent things, I occasionally get sent a new batch of..whatever...I think the majority of the stuff that happens in The Hobbit merchandise wise I honestly never see and I'm not really aware of that's the truth. I hear about stuff...I know the figures and I know books...
So you won't be using the shire gel?
I might do if it's good! What does it smell like? It's probably for your feet isn't it - for a pedicure!
Moving on to Sherlock - what stage is the next series at?
No stage as far as I'm aware. There is no stage of the next series...
But you're obviously keen to carry on?
Yeah, I absolutely want to do it but no, I don't even know if there's a script...we were hoping to do it before Christmas but I think that's gone away now.
Ricky Gervais said this week that BBC and Netflix are interested in either bringing The Office back, or a spin off, would you ever consider reprising your role?
I've always thought that - in a way - I would trust the taste of Ricky and Stephen if they wanted to bring it back, but I hope they don't want to bring it back. I hope I'll never be asked, put it that way! I hope to never be asked to do Tim again.
Is that because you'd rather do other things or because you think it was left perfect the way it was?
Both of those things yeah. I've got enough distance on The Office now so that I'm not defensive about it. There were a few years where I thought "why do people keep talking about The Office, I wish they'd stop talking about The Office!" I don't feel that now because they have stopped talking about The Office. I'm able to be more generous about it now and I'm able to be more gracious about it...I never stopped being a fan of it and I'll never stop loving it, or being very, very proud of it, because I am and I always was, but I don't mind people talking about it now because it seems there's some distance on it. But I hope, I hope they never ask me because then I'll have to umm and ahh about it, then I'll have to think about it, and I always thought one of the top 3 best things about The Office was that it was so short.
I agree, although weirdly with the American Office - that has actually justified being longer?
I know what you mean. I'm always very glad when other things that I love go on and I can keep loving them, it's great. The Office and Sherlock and Fargo are all very finite...when I was leading a sitcom in the early 00s on ITV called Hardware, y'know I stopped doing it after two series - I didn't want to do it any more. You're either hardwired to think in that Fawlty Towers way or you're not...and I think you can think, 'Oh let's keep going until we get into syndication and make pots of money or whatever - and of course I like money - but I prefer leaving something behind that people go: 'That was the right length'. And I think The Office was the right length. A huge reason it's so beloved is that we left it. And I think on the one hand people say 'I wish you'd done more', and I think 'well you might wish that now, but in five years you might not be thinking that when you're saying, 'Oh it's not as good as it used to be'' and I always admired Ricky and Steve for calling it a day.
You're into your music - you've presented on BBC 6Music a couple of times - who's cooler out of you and ShortList cover star Guy Garvey?
[laughs] He's pretty cool! Well, I don't know him personally...I am quite cool but I like him, so I don't want to judge. I think he's a good guy and I think they're good and I like him - I think he's a good egg.
There's a few musical biopics in the works - would you ever be up for doing a music biopic? Maybe Paul Weller's?
It depends...I mean I'm too old...
You don't look it!
[laughs] You can stay - you can come again! Given that most of the people we know and love in our record collections made it when they were 22, maximum, I think that's a young man's game really. Also you can be too close to the subject matter - I was always quite relieved that I wasn't a Hobbit fanatic growing up, because then you'd think, 'Well this is like playing my brother or something'. I'd like to play Paul in a video - I've never asked him outright, but he's asked me to be in videos and I think I want to do a jokey version of him in a video, I'd like to do that. I'd like to mime as him and play Paul, I could do a sketch version of Paul. But not...I'm too old! I love the fact that you think I'm not, but I am - I couldn't play 19...I'd have to play [Rolling Stones manager Brian] Epstein or George Martin now - it'd have to be that end of it. Unless it was going to be The Wings Years - I can't be McCartney...those days are gone unfortunately. And also that stuff's got to be so good. I think one of the best ones was Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll that Andy [Serkis] played Ian Dury in; and what was good about that, it wasn't just beginning, middle and end...the narrative was all over the place, which sort of befitted Ian Dury - I think something's got to befit the subject matter.
I was a big fan of 24 Hour Party People...
Oh it was great, yeah really good; it was fantastic. It was one of the only films I've ever seen where the club scenes were like being at a club or the gig scenes were like being at a gig. Usually people get that very wrong, I thought 24 Hour Party People was fantastic. But usually it's just: 'Why, who's that? Oh hi - I'm Ray Charles. Hello, I'm Dizzy Gillespie!' It's just so awful...I just think it can be a bit more artful than that - a bit more subversive than that.
You've obviously played a succession of iconic characters - and you spoke just now that you didn't want to play stuff that you were too close to - but are there any iconic roles out there that you actually would love to do? Perhaps the new Star Wars? They're talking about Indiana Jones?
Well I'm about to play Richard III on stage and that's a pretty iconic role and that's one I'm very happy about. I wasn't expecting that and I didn't see it coming, so when that came, director Jamie Lloyd asked me to do that - I was very pleasantly surprised to be asked to do that, and one that I grabbed with both hands...and I'm gonna do that next. But...no, I mean I loved the Star Wars films, I love them but....no I don't think so.
Is that because you're too close?
Maybe...because they were my first cinematic experiences, so maybe I'm too close - and also because those parts - as a viewer those parts are fantastic, the film is fantastic - as an actor, I don't know anyone that's ever said, 'I would love to play Luke Skywalker'. They're great parts, but they're not meaty, complex...they're fantastic functional roles and you have to be good - and the people who played those parts were really good - it would be easy to underrate what they did, they did it brilliantly, but they're not necessarily the best parts in the world. I think they're some of the best films - there's some fantastic storystelling in it..but, no, I've never really wanted to play Han Solo. I mean Darth Vader's the one, isn't it, but even then you don't get your face seen [laughs]. But that's one of the greatest characters in cinema history - the combination of physicality and voice, it's not even the same f***ing person! It's like an idea...it's not a performance piece, you know what I mean?
They were all really good performances, because as far as I'm concerned, as soon as you believe that anything is happening in a film, that's good performances. But yeah...
That's a very comprehensive answer.
Overtalked like all my answers!
Fargo begins on Channel 4 on Sunday 20th April at 9pm
(Images: Rex/AllStar/Channel 4/Twitter)