Although Martin Freeman did not grow up a “Tolkien head,” he did read the first book in J.R.R. Tolkien's series to ready for the role of Bilbo Baggins in The Hobbit trilogy and was clearly an appreciator of the majesty of The Lord of the Rings trilogy.
“The Lord of the Rings movies were fantastic. My experience of Middle Earth was by the films which I think are still great pieces of work,” Freeman said.
For him, it was all about getting to be in a Peter Jackson saga. “From my point of view of turning up and being involved in this world, it was a pleasure to be with Pete. It was a pleasure to be with a crew that committed, to get to know the actors who I knew a little bit from home, who subsequently became friends.”
As Jackson told us in our The Hobbit interview, there was never anyone he wanted more for the role of Bilbo than Freeman. Yet, when he first witnessed himself as Bilbo, complete with the extended ears and furry feet, the actor admitted that it was an ever-evolving process. The character goes through so much -- Bilbo can look much different with each shooting day.
“It was sort of gradual because, you know, Bilbo went through a few phases. There were a couple of noses for Bilbo. There was an almost snub nose or just a Cyrano De Bergerac-shaped nose and it was decided my nose was weird enough,” Freeman said and laughed.
“The wigs slightly changed and the color changed and so it went from a more sort of a middle-aged rocker to being what Bilbo looks like now which is... a middle aged rocker [laughs]. It wasn’t just like one minute you are you and then the next minute you look like your character. It’s an incremental process.”
When it comes to favorite moments in The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, Freeman doesn’t hesitate. It is a scene with Ian McKellen as Gandalf where Bilbo learns his fate is perilous if he goes on this journey to rid the dwarves' home of the dragon Smaug and return it to its rightful inhabitants.
“I think that scene is a pivotal thing for Bilbo, and for the audience, to realize that he still chooses to go on that journey having had that very honest appraisal by the man who is going to take him,” Freeman said. Gandalf tells him he might not survive the journey, and even if he does return to the Shire... he may not be the same. “That is a very scary prospect for most people -- and certainly most Hobbits. But he still chooses to go. I think that’s quite touching.”
When it comes to a story written decades ago, Freeman has a definite opinion now that the non-“Tolkien head” has experienced Middle Earth, on why the story has resonated for decades. “It seems like the classic tale of a small guy who ends up being a hero against his will. And I think that what is always said is true -- heroism is when deeds of bravery, or whatever, are done when you’re scared. If you’re not scared then you’re not being brave. You know, then you’re just being normal,” Freeman said.
"But if you are scared and you do something anyway, that’s real bravery. I think that’s the case here and it’s hard because when I read it, I read it more looking at Bilbo. I can’t read it as a civilian. But certainly, for that main character that’s a big thing for me. He’s literally a small guy thrust into a huge world who manages to do the right thing most of the time, which I think it’s not a lesson, it’s not a lecture to us, but it’s got very interesting things to be drawn from that as a reader, and hopefully as a viewer.”
As discussed in our The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey review, Bilbo has not only taken a physical journey across new lands, but also an internal one as well. Freeman too has been on an adventure, one that we might add is still continuing with the second two Hobbit films being completed in New Zealand. But he cannot yet distill what the experience has meant to him.
“I’m not quite sure yet what I’ve learned about myself. I don’t think that’s all fallen into place," Freeman said. "I learned that I can be away from home that long. You can survive that.”