Tolkien: the new class
In director Peter Jackson’s eyes, Martin Freeman was always Bilbo Baggins. While Ian Holm does reprise his role as the older, wiser Bilbo in “The Hobbit,” there was something about the veteran of “The Office” and the BBC’s “Sherlock” series that made Freeman an irresistible choice for this younger, more anxious version of Tolkien’s famous character.
“Martin is the only person that we ever wanted for that role, and that was really before we met Martin,” says Jackson. “We just felt he had qualities that would be perfect for Bilbo — that essential kind of fussy English, slightly repressed quality. We thought he’d be very good at playing that. He’s a dramatic actor. He’s not a comedian. But he’s a dramatic actor who has a very rare comedic skill.”
While not originally a fan of the books himself, Freeman was eager to join an already bonded cast and crew.
“My experience of Middle-earth was through the films, which I think are still great pieces of work,” Freeman says. “From my point of view of turning up and being involved with it, it was a pleasure to be with Pete. It was a pleasure to be with a crew that committed, to get to know actors I knew a little bit from home, but not very well, who subsequently became friends. … It was great. It had a way of not being intimidating.”
Also joining the cast was British actor Richard Armitage, who takes on the character of Thorin, a would-be dwarf king out to avenge the deaths of his father and grandfather. Despite the fact that so many of the cast and crew from “The Lord of the Rings” series had returned for these three films, Armitage felt the loving embrace of a committed group of artists.
“In terms of coming into an existing franchise, we were just always made to feel very welcome, like we were coming into a family,” he says. “So many people returned that were working on the ‘Rings’ trilogy. It was just very easy.”
Easy in one sense, but quite daunting in another. With the cast committed to a year and a half of shooting, the actual filming process was no casual stroll through Rivendell.
“Working with Peter, the thing that I’ve realized is that when you think you’ve given him everything you’ve got, he asks you for more and somehow you find it,” says Armitage. “My own limitations of myself, I’ve had to let those drop because there’s always more to give.”