Once a hobbit, always a hobbit. Such is the life these days of Martin Freeman, who is one-third of the way through his journey in the J.R.R. Tolkien universe, having seen the release of the first film in the Peter Jackson trilogy The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, which comes out on DVD and Blu-Ray March 19. Despite a long career in the British stage, film, and television worlds, the actor has become something of a nerd icon of late as the star of two totemic nerd franchises with The Hobbit and the BBC series Sherlock.
BuzzFeed caught up with Freeman to discuss the upcoming release and look back on the making of the first installment — plus, the films ahead, and life in the center of the geek crosshairs.
BuzzFeed: As a classically trained actor, how do you prepare to play a hobbit?
Martin Freeman: You read it, you get familiar with the source material, you find what is in you that could be hobbit-like and vice versa.
BF: What did you find hobbit-like in yourself?
MF: I think it’s…very, very sexy — kidding. In the world of Tolkien and how Peter Jackson views Tolkien, it’s very English. Now, of course, I am English, so I can’t play English. Peter would sometimes say, “We need to make you more English.” Well how do you do that? But I know what he means. There is a kind of decency and a kind of reticence about that.
BF: While you were shooting, how did you stay in a hobbit mind-set? Did you catch yourself thinking in hobbit?
MF: Never. Never. No. Never. I don’t think it’s like playing Lincoln. Once the cameras hit cut, and once I’m home, I’m not thinking like him.
Martin Freeman as Bilbo Baggins in The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey.
BF: How did you entertain yourself in New Zealand while you were making this for all that time?
MF: It was lovely. They were about as welcoming as it’s possible to be. They are very laid-back but they are also very can-do. Which is not a quality the Brits have much of anymore. We kind of lost our can-do about 30 years ago. They’re up for anything. They want to make everything work. They’ll work round the clock just to make stuff happen.
BF: Knowing what this character means to the geek world, did you feel the weight —
MF: Of a million geeks! It’s probably like feeling the intimidation of the mafia. It was like pissing off the Crips. The geeks are going to get me! But no, I think I tried not to think about it, really. Like with anything I’ve done ever. I’ve had a few parts that are very beloved to people from literature, and I can’t play that. I can’t play their expectations. That’s not the screenplay you’re making. It’s not a democracy in the way that I’ll go and find out what Russell thinks out there in Oregon. I’m afraid he doesn’t have a say. He’s either going to like it or he’s not going to like it, and believe me, we want him to like it. But we have to get on with the job of making a film. But Peter is a geek. He’s an absolute self-confessed Tolkien geek. So you have one at the helm.
BF: You feel you’re protected?
MF: Totally. You’re in safe geek hands.
Martin Freeman as Bilbo Baggins in The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
BF: Are you familiar with the Tumblr movement you’ve inspired?
MF: Yeah, I am. I discovered that in New Zealand. That’s where I really first used a laptop in my life.
MF: Pictures of me and Ben (Cumberbatch) crossed over? Yes, I’ve seen all that. With the little Sherlock scarf on. Very funny.
BF: What can you tell me about the two Hobbit films ahead?
MF: Well, I think the dragon will be good. Really. Good. There’s not much I can say because genuinely, I don’t actually remember everything. It’s the truth — it was about two years ago we were shooting. And we were shooting out of sequence, and it was going to be two films instead of three. So where the first film ended when we were shooting is different from where it does now end, so I don’t really know all that happens in the second film.
BF: You should read the book.
MF: I have! Honest!