Hobbit director Peter Jackson shut down his entire project to secure the services of the Sherlock star, writes Vicky Roach
BILBO Baggins, The Hobbit’s reluctant hero, isn’t exactly a classic action lead. ‘‘ He’s not James Bond, if you know what I mean,’’ says Martin Freeman, the actor charged with bringing JRR Tolkien’s hairyfooted creation to the big screen.
‘‘ I don’t even know if Bilbo has ever had sex,’’ he said.
‘‘ He’s not the sort of uber- masculine guy that is going to make women cry . . . unless they want to pet him!’’
And yet the diminutive homebody from Bag End is expected to outperform Daniel Craig’s muscle- bound 007 at the box office.
‘‘ There is no guarantee,’’ says Freeman, during a break from filming in the outer Wellington suburb of Trentham.
‘‘ And that’s why these decisions have to be carefully made, because if it’s the last job I ever do, which is always a possibility, then it has to have been worth it on its own merit.’’
Peter Jackson, however, was so sure Freeman’s Bilbo Baggins could carry his epic film adaptation of The Hobbit on those slight shoulders that he decided to shut down the two- year shoot to accommodate the actor’s BBC TV Sherlock commitments.
‘‘ It’s a pretty radical thing to do,’’ the director acknowledges.
‘‘ But we never had anyone else in mind. He is a fantastic dramatic actor with a very good sense of irony and the absurd need to cope with this crazy adventure that Bilbo goes on.’’
‘‘ I think he saw a funny- looking face. Quite a small, round face and someone who would fit the ears,’’ jokes Freeman, who isn’t much interested in the contributing to the mythology that surrounds his performance.
‘‘ I am an actor. This is my job. Honest to God, I never thought this role was too big for me. Hopefully I don’t say that with any conceit, but that’s a completely man- made construct of the media and fanboyisms.’’
For Freeman ( pictured), the challenge of bringing Bilbo to life in An Unexpected
Journey, the first film in Jackson’s hotlyanticipated trilogy, was staying true to his character’s physical limitations without straying too far into cute, cuddly territory.
‘‘ He’s not a fight character. Bilbo is about four feet tall and an Orc is about 10 feet tall so that’s not going to happen – so he has got to be a flight character.’’
However, the life- long bachelor leads 13 dwarves on a perilous mission to reclaim their kingdom from the dragon Smaug.
‘‘ He goes on, not quite a Michael Corleone kind of arc, but his own kind of Michael Corleone arc,’’ Freeman says.
‘‘ True heroics, obviously, is not the absence of fear but having that fear and doing something anyway.’’
Freeman and his co- stars, including Richard Armitage and James Nesbitt, spent three months doing gym and stunt work and sword and fight training.
For the dwarves, weighed down by silicone prosthetics, fat suits and yak hair wigs, a large part of the focus was the ability to carry their costumes.
Despite all the excitement and anticipation surrounding the film, the 41- year- old star of The Office admits to having reservations about stepping into Bilbo’s shoes.
‘‘ It’s a big thing to take on . . . No one else is playing it. I’m playing it. And Tolkein never tried to make the film.
‘‘ I just mean literally putting aside two years of your life to do a job. That’s a big deal. Particularly if you are restless and have a low boredom threshold like I have, like most actors have. You want to get on to the next thing.
‘‘ And being away from people you love for this long is difficult.’’
THE HOBBIT: AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEY