LIT­TLE BIG MAN

Martin Free­man ex­plains what sets his Black Pan­ther char­ac­ter apart

Winnipeg Sun - - SHOWBIZ - MARK DANIELL Post­media Net­work Black Pan­ther opens in the­atres Fri­day. mdaniell@post­media.com

LOS AN­GE­LES — Sure Martin Free­man has been the lead­ing man — most no­tably as Bilbo Bag­gins in Peter Jack­son’s Hob­bit film tril­ogy — but he’s quite happy play­ing sec­ond fid­dle. Es­pe­cially if it’s in the Mar­vel Cin­e­matic Uni­verse. “Well, you need those sec­ondary char­ac­ters,” Free­man says slid­ing onto a couch in a Bev­erly Hills ho­tel. “Some­one’s got to do them.”

In this week’s Black Pan­ther, Free­man reprises his role as Everett K. Ross, who first ap­peared in Cap­tain Amer­ica: Civil War.

Ross is a CIA agent who has to nav­i­gate a world with both su­per­heroes and su­pervil­lains, al­ways keep­ing Amer­ica’s in­ter­ests para­mount. “He op­er­ates in this sort of grey area and that ap­peals to me all the time,” Free­man, 46, says.

Ross en­ters the fray when he comes be­tween T’challa (aka the Black Pan­ther) and Ulysses Klaw (Free­man’s Hob­bit co-star Andy Serkis) dur­ing a con­fronta­tion over the Wakan­dan pre­cious metal vi­bra­nium in a South Korean casino.

“Those are the char­ac­ters that are the most real. I don’t be­lieve in black and white. Most of the time, it’s peo­ple try­ing to do their best. And I think he’s try­ing to do his best for Amer­ica.”

In the Black Pan­ther comics, which were cre­ated in the 1960s by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, the Ross char­ac­ter pro­vides some of the comic re­lief. But for the film, which stars Chad­wick Bose­man and is co-writ­ten and di­rected by Ryan Coogler, Free­man wanted a piece of the ac­tion.

“I spoke to Kevin Feige in the fall of 2014 about the idea of be­ing in a few films, one of which would be

Civil War and a cou­ple of which would in­volve Black Pan­ther,” Free­man says.

Fol­low­ing the world pre­miere, Free­man spoke about Ross’ im­por­tance to the Black Pan­ther uni­verse, not be­ing the “goofy white guy” and what it was like to fi­nally get his big

“Han Solo” mo­ment.

Ross was in­tro­duced in Civil War, but here he has a big­ger role to play with Black Pan­ther and the world of Wakanda. How does your char­ac­ter fit into this story?

He likes T’challa. He re­spects him. He just has no idea what he’s deal­ing with. Ge­o­graph­i­cally, cul­tur­ally, his­tor­i­cally, he has no clue what the ram­i­fi­ca­tions are of vi­bra­nium or what that means. He thinks it’s some­thing Klaw has got a hold of and it’s this con­tain­able weapon and lit­tle does he know that an en­tire coun­try runs on it.

I like him be­cause he goes through — to use an overused phrase — a jour­ney of dis­cov­ery of think­ing one thing and then hav­ing his eyes opened. By the end he’s on­board and he’s on the bench there to help if the Pan­ther needs him.

As we see, Ross is a guy who will deal with both he­roes and vil­lains. That’s an in­ter­est­ing take, par­tic­u­larly in the Mar­vel Uni­verse. That is real life.

You have com­pro­mises ev­ery­where and a lot of times it’s com­pletely nec­es­sary. Un­less you plan to kill ev­ery­one you dis­agree with, which is A, wrong, and B, a tough job, you have to find a way to deal with peo­ple you might loathe. Klaw is a de­plorable per­son, but they have to ne­go­ti­ate.

Ross is rel­a­tively new to the comics (he was cre­ated in 1998). How did you go about cre­at­ing your own ver­sion of this char­ac­ter?

I was adamant that I didn’t want to play the goofy white guy among a load of black peo­ple be­cause that’s a thing we’ve seen a lot. That no­tion of, ‘I can’t dance or sing, but you guys can,’ that kind of thing. Ryan was com­pletely in agree­ment with that. He didn’t want Ross to be comic re­lief. And I thought that was more in­ter­est­ing. Char­ac­ters are more in­ter­est­ing when they’re not re­ally good or re­ally bad, be­cause the truth of the world is way more com­pli­cated than that.

What did play­ing the char­ac­ter make you think about the real peo­ple in power?

What­ever we think of the peo­ple that rule us and how­ever much we might be tempted to say, ‘He’s a mo­ron,’ well he’s in the White House and I’m not. So he’s done some­thing right. There has to be some­thing more than ei­ther be­ing a ge­nius or a mo­ron, or be­ing a ter­ri­ble per­son or a saint. That’s where Everett Ross op­er­ates. Rather than con­spir­acy the­o­ries I sub­scribe to the idea of the cock up. I think peo­ple are try­ing their best and things go wrong. I re­ally be­lieve that.

Did you al­ways know

Ross had a big­ger part to play in the MCU?

Peo­ple said to me, ‘Oh, you had a small role in Civil War,’ but I knew there was go­ing to be some­thing more.

So are you in Avengers: In­fin­ity War?

Not that I know of. I think Ross may be seen in some­thing else, but I don’t know.

Ross has a cou­ple of big ac­tion mo­ments in Black Pan­ther, one of which you called your “Han Solo” mo­ment. What was that like?

They needed me and I stepped in. It was nice. I was play­ing a white, Amer­i­can out­sider, but it’s an old piece of sto­ry­telling. Peo­ple who you think aren’t go­ing to get on, they start un­der­stand­ing each other a lit­tle bit more and they make baby steps to­wards one an­other and there’s friend­ship by the end. Do you get an ac­tion fig­ure?

I don’t know. That’s above my pay grade.

You’ve now had an op­por­tu­nity to ap­pear in two fan­tas­ti­cal realms — Wakanda and Peter Jack­son’s Mid­dleearth. How did they com­pare? They’re both very, very im­pres­sive. But when you’re film­ing these types of movies, you’re us­ing your imag­i­na­tion a lot. When the au­di­ence watches The Hob­bit, they’re never go­ing to think, ‘Oh, I bet they filmed some of this in a car park,’ but we did.

STE­FA­NIA D’ALESSAN­DRO/GETTY IM­AGES

Ulysses Klaw (Andy Serkis) and Everett K. Ross (Martin Free­man) in Black Pan­ther.

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