At this point, viewers surely know where they stand in relation to Peter Jackson’s new trilogy—this reviewer is a fan of almost every big, bloated, bombastic moment. So it’s guaranteed if you weren’t enamored of the first Hobbit—adapted from J.R.R. Tolkien’s slim children’s novel, along with several of his Lord of the Rings appendices—it’s unlikely you’ll warm to the second, even though the pace has sped up considerably. (This time, the producers are also downplaying the surreally glossy high-frame-rate format.) There’s a brief flashback to the initial meeting of the gray wizard Gandalf (Ian McKellen) and the exiled dwarf king Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage). Mostly, though, the movie sticks to the company of Thorin, his fellow dwarves and the resourceful hobbit Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman)—still carrying the invisibility-cloaking Ring of Power in his pocket—as they continue on their quest to reclaim the kingdom of Erebor from the vicious dragon Smaug (a motion-captured Benedict Cumberbatch). Even in his scrappy early horror movies like Meet the Feebles and Dead Alive, Jackson tended toward excess, and The Desolation of Smaug shows him in a particularly overabundant mood, orchestrating all manner of chaos like a master conductor unleashing his fanboy id. Putting our heroes through their paces are a shape-shifting bear, the massive spiders of Mirkwood and an army of orcs under the control of a notable Rings antagonist. Returning archer elf Legolas (Orlando Bloom) and h
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"I’ve been doing interviews for years," says 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, hadn’t gone bounding off-script. Ostensibly, the 42-year-old, who originally made his name more than a decade ago as the put-upon Tim in Ricky Gervais’s The Office, is here to promote his starring role in The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug. It’s the second film in director Peter Lord of the Rings’ Jackson’s three-part return to Middle Earth, following last year’s billion-dollar grossing The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. Plus, Freeman’s on TV in Sherlock, back for a third series this Christmas.
But we hardly touch on dwarves and detectives: there isn’t much to add to the topic of Sherlock, when every conceivable explanation behind Holmes’s death-defying leap at the end of the last series has already been speculated, counter-speculated, and counter-counter-speculated upon at least twice. And, for all Jackson’s cutting-edge effects, The Hobbit remains a well-worn and familiar 76-year-old story. So, we move on to other topics including working with his partner Amanda Abbington (with whom he has two children), Morgan Freeman and fantasy porn...
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey was a box office record breaker—has its success changed you?
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 in the idea that life changes as much as you want it to. If you invite in all the madness, life will change. If you don’t, if you kind of let the world quietly know, “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 to blame 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.
Do you find that playing Tim in The Office has left you stuck with the "everyman" label?
Tim cast a very long shadow. I mean, I’m very proud of The Office: it was one of the best things I’ll ever do. But you do become a slight victim of your own success in the sense that people think that that’s you, that’s what you are and that’s what you’ll play for ever. Before The Office I was playing quite diverse roles—not famously, but quite diverse—and because of the success of that show, there’s a feeling that you’re the “everyman bloke."
Bilbo Baggins is a kind of every-hobbit: he developed quite a bit in the first film—what can we expect this time around?
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 needed. He finds more character, more backbone, than he knew he had. I love Bilbo’s “plucky” side, but I’m also interested in the times when he has to get serious. In war, manners and politeness don’t mean too much.
He does a lot more fighting in The Desolation of Smaug. Was that fun to film?
I do enjoy fighting, actually. Fighting wargs [giant wolves kept by orcs] is good fun. But usually it’s the stunt team dressed in green-screen ninja outfits carrying a big fucking head that you’ve got to stick with a sword. At least if I get started on by a warg now, or if any elves step to me, I’ll be fine.
Speaking of violence, you’ve just signed on to Fargo, a TV series based on the Coen brothers’ film. What’s it going to be like?
It’s in the same universe as the film—there’s a similar tone—but it’s not based on the film in terms of plot. Billy Bob Thornton’s in it, and his character comes along and teaches mine to take control in ways that aren’t always saintly.
Have you started to work on the accent?
I’m having lessons via Skype and, well, pride comes before a fall, but I think I’m doing okay. It’s daunting: I don’t want to rip off Bill Macy’s accent, or rip off an accent that’s already passed into comedy, so I’ve been on YouTube to see how real Minnesotans sound. Trouble is, some accents lend themselves to comedy. They just fucking do.
"If people want to imagine Holmes and Watson fucking, they're more than welcome to."
At least Sherlock is in neither Minnesota nor Middle Earth. There’s been intense speculation around the way the last series ended, when the detective faked his own death. Are you worried that the big reveal might be anticlimactic?
Sherlock writer Mark Gatiss said that himself. There’s something slightly mundane in knowing the truth of a thing. It’s like asking 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 gone to fucking town on how they think it happened—and some of the theories have been quite close. We have some fun with that in the show.’
The BBC have kept mum about a fourth series. Is it on the cards?
I think we can safely assume that before the century is over there will be more Sherlock.
Your longtime partner Amanda Abbington plays Watson’s love interest in the upcoming series. Some fans were so distraught they tweeted her death threats. Does that level of fandom trouble you?
It’s ridiculous. To me, they’re not fans of the show, they’re fans of a show going on in 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 Holmes and Watson fucking, they’re more than welcome to, but it will have no bearing on what we do in the show.
There’s an entire online community of Sherlock fans dedicated to depicting erotic scenarios for Watson and Sherlock. Isn’t that disturbing?
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 [co-star] Benedict Cumberbatch 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 favorite erotic portrayals of yourself?
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—let’s put it that way—like genuinely good graphic-novel art. But some of it is a bit, you know, not to my taste...