How good is Martin Freeman as Bilbo Baggins? Oscar-winning filmmaker Peter Jackson says there is “simply nobody else” who could star in ”The Hobbit” epic that will be told over two films, the first reaching theaters in December 2012 and the second in December 2013.
“He is fantastic and there is simply nobody else for the job,” Jackson said during a recent break from the production in New Zealand and a whirlwind trip to Southern California. “We couldn’t find anyone who was better than him. He is simply fantastic.”
The 39-year-old Freeman, known to moviegoers for roles in “Love Actually” and “The Hitchiker’s Guide to the Galaxy,” was one of several actors who auditioned for the chance to portray Baggins, the beloved character whose odyssey gives Jackson a chance to return to Middle-earth after his massive “Lord of the Rings” success. (In that trilogy, the older Bilbo was played by Ian Holm, who will appear in some scenes in the new films.) There was considerable fan debate about the best Hobbit for the job, but Jackson said to his mind there was, in the final analysis, very little competition.
I spoke to Jackson during a quick, shared car ride to the San Diego Convention Center in July during Comic-Con, where I interviewed him on stage with Steven Spielberg about their collaboration on the upcoming film “Tintin.” However, in the black SUV I wanted to hear about ”The Hobbit.” Jackson said the hiring of Freeman came with a somewhat nettlesome scheduling conflict; the actor had already committed to spending part of July and August at work on his BBC series “Sherlock,” but in the end that made the San Diego trip possible.
“We’ve been shooting a bit of the second ‘Hobbit’ movie because Martin, who is our Bilbo, is in England doing the next series of ‘Sherlock,’ which was always part of it. He had comitted to that show before he signed up for ‘The Hobbit.’ And that’s one of the reasons we took a little break. We haven’t got much we can do without Martin because he is in so much of the film. So we took a hiatus, which let me come over here to do Comic-Con. So he’s been shooting ‘Sherlock’ and he’s got a few weeks to go, so there’s some stuff we can do for the second movie until he gets back. And when he gets back after two or three weeks we can carry on with the first one.”
Jackson added: “I can’t imagine anyone else doing Bilbo, which is one of the reasons, really, we signed him up even with having the ‘Sherlock’ break — normally on a movie you wouldn’t want to do that with the schedule,” Jackson said. “But we literally couldn’t figure out any other actor and we auditioned, you know. There is no other actor.”
Asked to elaborate on Freeman’s affinity for the role, Jackson chuckled.
“He’s Bilbo-esque,” the filmmaker said. “You might not always want to say that about you, right? But seriously he has the essential features of this little English gent, this country gent who is slightly old-fashioned and has to go around in the world and try to cope with it. That’s not exactly who Martin is as a person, but as an actor he does that so well. The fish out of water with a sense of courage but also a wonderful sense of humor. The things that happen to him and the way he reacts to them — things he’s never seen in his life before as a stuffy little Hobbit — his response to it all is part of the charm. And he does have a great openness in his face.”
– Geoff Boucher