Actor Martin Freeman has played a doctor, pirate, artist and even a space traveler, but nothing could prepare him for the role of Bilbo Baggins in “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey.” We spoke with Freeman about the first installment of the epic trilogy and what you can expect from the cinematic return to Middle Earth, journeying into theaters Dec. 14.
BL: Given that the original novel, “The Hobbit” by J.R.R. Tolkien, is such a classic, what was your familiarity with the book before getting the role?
M.F.: I wasn’t really familiar, honestly. I read it in preparing for the role, when it looked like I was going to be cast. It immediately seemed light and funny. And I suppose it’s the precursor to modern fantasy; it’s great. I was familiar with the “The Lord of the Rings,” so there was familiarity within that world.
BL: Were you drawn to the role of Bilbo Baggins immediately?
M.F.: Certainly. He is somebody who is up against it, going through trials. He is, to a certain extent, the audience. He is in this extremely strange world. Like us, he doesn’t hang around with orcs and elves. So he is the audience’s window into the story.
BL: What can young people identify with in the character of Bilbo?
M.F.: His journey is about courage. He had never left his home, and he suddenly goes off on an almost-certain death mission. He could have turned a blind eye. Instead, he chose the dangerous path but also the noble one.
BL: It was a long, tough shoot in New Zealand. What did the actual schedule look like?
M.F.: We arrived in New Zealand in January 2011, and we finished in June 2012. And we have several more months in 2013. It’s not brutal, but it’s always very busy. Fortunately, we have a tight band of brothers between me and Gandalf and the dwarfs. It’s made it a lot easier.
BL: With “The Lord of the Rings” director Peter Jackson directing again, how similar will “The Hobbit” be to “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy?
M.F.: I think it will be similar thematically, in having some of the same characters. But it’s lighter in tone, and it’s more overtly family-themed.
BL: Was there a particular scene that was your favorite to shoot?
M.F.: When Bilbo first meets Gandalf. That reads brilliantly in the script, and it’s the first thing we filmed: me and Andy (actor Andy Serkis, playing Gollum) doing take after take of delightful dialogue. We are on this wonderful set, this sort of dark and gloomy cave. It’s appealing to me because the writing is so great.
BL: Are there any big surprises that can be expected in the first film?
M.F.: You’re trying to get me in trouble here. I better not say. I’ve been sworn to secrecy.
As a bonus, we’ve got a brand new clip from ‘The Hobbit,’ Bilbo receiving his sword from Gandalf.