The Hob­bit

Hob­bit di­rec­tor Peter Jack­son shut down his en­tire project to se­cure the ser­vices of the Sher­lock star, writes Vicky Roach

Sunday Tasmanian - Tassie Living - - FRONT PAGE -

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.’’

Opens at Vil­lage and State cinemas Box­ing Day


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