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Peter Jackson on Martin Freeman: ‘He's literally the perfect Bilbo’
Warner Bros Inc
Martin Freeman is 'the perfect Bilbo' says Peter Jackson
"Frankly, I think I've been cast well." Martin Freeman does not appear to lack confidence in his appointment as the hero of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. A year and a half into his stint on Peter Jackson's trilogy, he's out of costume and looking relaxed on an enormous set in a non-descript hangar outside Wellington, New Zealand. He's also feeling talkative about a role that very nearly passed him by.
"I didn't want to miss that boat. So when I had to turn it down, it was awful. I was ready, frankly, to make the sacrifice of being away from home and family for this long. I was ready for it and I was up for it."
Through the fog of jet lag, MSN Movies is able to recall our encounter with Peter Jackson earlier that day in which the director confessed his disappointment at losing Freeman in 2011. "Martin was the only person we ever wanted to cast as Bilbo. We offered him the role and he said no because he was committed to the second series of Sherlock, and he couldn't do it. For two or three weeks, we wracked our brains, we looked at hundreds of casting tapes and we literally couldn't find anyone else."
"When it came back, it was unbelievable," says Freeman with a grin. "I was quite pleased to say the least!"
Ricky Gervais' The Office co-star is unique, then, and his qualities were enough to change the shooting schedule of The Hobbit: an adjustment akin to stopping the titanic and going round in circles for a few weeks. But better that than the sizeable iceberg of a miscast Bilbo. Rather like Gandalf marking out the hobbit to accompany him on his 'adventure', Jackson had zeroed in on the star of The Office and Sherlock.
Warner Bros Inc
Jackson: “We built a great hole in the middle of our shoot to accommodate his TV series because we wanted him that badly."
"We built a great hole in the middle of our shoot to accommodate his TV series because we wanted him that badly. We couldn't imagine doing the film without him," says Jackson, accepting a cup of herbal tea from one of his many assistants. "He's literally the perfect Bilbo."
Just like Bilbo, Freeman has a natural reluctance about him that undeniably fits the part. Just sitting opposite him in a movie set that closer resembles an Ikea warehouse to Middle Earth, we can see that his reserve and thoughtful demeanour make him ideal. Baggins, after all, don't usually get tied up in this sort of thing.
"I think at other points in my life I have been quite... reticent, like Bilbo Baggins, just to embrace something, just to embrace things that are outside of my comfort zone because my comfort zone is very home-focused," says Freeman. "It's a big thing to take on."
That could be Bilbo talking. And Freeman continues to reveal qualities that make Peter Jackson's single-minded pursuit of the Hitchhiker's Guide star all the more understandable. "I like uncertainty in roles. I'm not a massive fan of certainty. Without sounding overly pompous about it, I don't really trust certainty in anything, actually. I think everything is uncertain. And so I like playing people who reflect that, 'cause I think it's honest."
Certainly, Bilbo Baggins reflects that - a sensible Hobbit who requires the heavy persuasion of Gandalf and the company of 13 dwarves to be shifted from his Hobbit hole. Does Freeman realise that this all helps make him the man for the part that no-one else could play? What does he think Peter Jackson saw in him?
"I think he saw a funny-looking face. Quite a small, round face, and someone who would fit the ears!"
Peter Jackson has a much higher demands of his star that he reels off with half an eye on some unfortunate dwarves he's subjecting to their 34th attempt at a soggy action sequence. "Bilbo Baggins is, in my mind, a great kind of hero because he is us. He's the character who doesn't really want to be shot at with arrows and have to deal with trolls and goblins. He just finds himself in the thick of it."
With the majority of The Hobbit shoot behind him and a quiet ('uncertain') confidence that things have gone rather well. Freeman is incredulous that he nearly missed out. "It's frankly playing The Hobbit in The Hobbit. I'm not blind and deaf. If someone says, 'Do you want to play the hobbit in the biggest films of the decade?' That's something to think about," he says with his usual degree of understatement.
"It is worth it. And it'll be a lovely thing to show my grandchildren," he says, mirroring Bilbo's desire to write down his experiences for Frodo's generation. Undoubtedly, Jackson has found his perfect reluctant hero. We can be certain of that.
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is released on 14 December 2012.
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