Interview: Martin Freeman

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Nick Aveling talks to Martin Freeman, the star of Sherlock and The Hobbit

 “I’ve been doing interviews for years,” said Martin Freeman, “and in all that time I’ve virtually never read one and gone, ‘Yep, factually and tonally that’s exactly what happened.’ Pretty much never.” Well, this is awkward. Or at least it would be if today’s interview – conducted across an oceanic glass coffee table in Claridge’s Hotel in London – hadn’t gone bounding off script. Ostensibly, the 42-year-old was there to promote his starring role in The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, the middle film in director Peter Jackson’s three-part return to Middle Earth, following last year’s billion-dollar grossing The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. And of course there’s Sherlock, back for a third series just as soon as the BBC finishes its promotional Amish-style striptease.

Between the projects, for a couple of weeks, anyway, Freeman will be the biggest star on Earth. But neither bears much in the way of news: The Hobbit, for all Jackson’s intervention, remains a 76-year-old story; and every conceivable explanation behind Sherlock’s death-defying leap at the end of the last series has already been speculated, counter-speculated, and counter-counter-speculated at least twice. So instead of dwelling on dwarves and detectives, we move on to other subjects. Naturally, Morgan Freeman, gay porn and the trouble with interviews are among them.

Your character, Bilbo, developed quite a bit during The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. What can we expect in The Desolation of Smaug?

This is the film where Bilbo becomes totally invaluable to the group – he’s not a mascot or someone to be patronised. In fact, he saves their arses on numerous occasions, so he’s really, really needed. He finds more character, more backbone, than he knew he had.

The last time you spoke with Time Out was just before the release of An Unexpected Journey. Our interviewer suggested your life was bound to change. Have you yourself had to develop more backbone?

I remember having those conversations before The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy came out [in 2005] and thinking, fuck, is everything going to change? And it didn’t, really. I’m a big believer that life changes as much as you want it to. If you invite in all the madness, it will. If you don’t, if you kind of let the world quietly know that, “No thanks, I still want to get on the train and live my own life”, then somehow it doesn’t have to.

So celebrities are at fault for their own lack of privacy.

That’s a cruel attitude – if someone’s unhappy, you should leave them alone, even if they wanted attention five minutes ago. But I do think – in a very real, common sense way – that if you want to be famous, you can be. It’s not a great talent; if you put yourself forward, it will happen to you.

Has there ever been a hilarious mix-up involving you and Morgan Freeman?

No, not a real one.

Given the amount of speculation around the last episode of Sherlock [in which the detective fakes his own death], are you at all worried the big reveal might be anti-climactic?

[Sherlock writer] Mark Gatiss actually said that himself. There’s something slightly mundane in knowing the truth of a thing. It’s like asking [illusionist] Derren Brown to explain one of the amazing things he does. When he tells you, you’re likely to go, “Oh, right, erm...” I still think it’s going to be satisfying, though. Loads of people have fucking gone to town on how they think it happened and some have been quite close. We have some fun with that in the show.

Does the reveal come early on?

I’m going to try to tell the truth here. Oh Christ, I can’t remember which episode it is. We just finished [filming] the third one a couple of weeks ago and… I think it’s revealed relatively early.

You and co-star Benedict Cumberbatch – coincidentally the voice of Smaug, the titular dragon in the upcoming Hobbit film – have both said you’d like to do a fourth series of Sherlock, but so far the BBC have kept mum. Have there been any formal discussions?

I think we can safely assume that before the century is over there will be more Sherlock.

Both The Hobbit and Sherlock breed cult-grade, Kool-Aid slurping devotion. Are there any obvious differences between each group of fans?

In this country, anyway, Sherlock is watched by millions and millions of people: your uncle, my cousin, that teacher, that fuck­ing librarian, that plumber. Normal folks. But the ones who really make themselves known are almost all women between 16 and 21. It’s a very clear demographic. As for Hobbit fans, there are clearly shitloads of them given how well the film did, but they’ve been a bit more reticent, actually. They’re very polite.

Another, less apparent difference is each group’s approach to x-rated fan art. In fact, there’s an entire online community of Sherlock fans dedicated to drawing pictures of Watson and Sherlock, you and Cumberbatch, in various states of… entanglement. Does any of that stuff bother you?

I’ve always seen it as a point of principle not to be offended if people imply you’re gay – so no, I’ve never given a shit. If I was [offended], I’d kind of think, well what does that make me? I wouldn’t want a 15-year-old kid thinking I’m ashamed of it. I’m not. If anything, it’s kind of funny to see pictures of me and Ben doing whatever we’re doing to each other – even if they’re far from the truth. The only time I’m sort of bothered is when people get proprietary about it or think there should be a certain kind of reaction, like it needs to be in the National Gallery.

Do you have any favourite pieces?

Ian McKellen [Gandalf in The Hobbit] was emailing me pictures like, “Have you seen this dear?” and I’m thinking, yeah, I’ve seen stuff much more fucking extreme than that. Some of it’s very well drawn – put it that way – like genuinely good graphic-novel art. But some of it’s a bit, you know, not to my taste.

There’s also a sinister side to that level of fandom. Your longtime partner Amanda Abbington plays Watson’s love interest, Mary Morstan, in the upcoming series of Sherlock – which, of course, doesn’t bode well for the perceived romance between Watson and Sherlock. Some fans were so distraught they tweeted her death threats.

It’s ridiculous. To me, they’re not fans of the show – they’re fans of a show going on their heads. Obviously I love Amanda and I want everyone to react positively to her; she plays a fantastic character and brings a hell of a lot to the third series. If people want to imagine John and Sherlock fucking they’re more than welcome to, but it will have no bearing on what we do in the show.

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug opens on Fri Dec 13.

By Nick Aveling on December 06 2013 11.19am

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