'Don't turn on the people that I love': A stern Martin Freeman reveals he is more Bilbo Baggins than Tim from The Office

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

He has made a career playing amiable characters, most recently Bilbo Baggins and Dr Watson. But Emma Jones finds a more serious side, especially when it comes to reports of his partner's bankruptcy

Martin Freeman is, hobbit-style, in the middle of his dinner. But unlike Bilbo Baggins, his friendliness is more than grudging hospitality at the interruption, although he says gravely: “I love eating. I mean, I really, really love eating.”

Who could blame Freeman for taking on some Baggins characteristics when he has spent so long putting on those hairy feet? Nearly three years in total, and now the final scenes are under way for Peter Jackson's two sequels, The Desolation of Smaug and There and Back Again. It is, he says, “an intense period; it's that definite feeling of, ' it's business time, we can't mess around now'.”

His words speak of million-dollar pressure, furrowing that brow into one of Freeman's trademark pained expressions; but the actor actually sounds as relaxed as if he was reciting his dinner menu. Bilbo Baggins's baggage isn't an item he's carrying, even if The Hobbit, and his role of John Watson in the BBC series Sherlock, has made “Tim from The Office” a global star at the age of 41.

“I get more 12-year-olds coming up to me than I used to,” he says of his path on fame's superhighway. “But, I promise, I still have a lot of conversations with people that have no idea who I am. Which is great for me as I usually just want to eat a bowl of pasta in peace.”

Life for Freeman is not so much the Emmy red carpet (he was nominated for one last year for the part of Watson) but High Wycombe railway station, where he recently spent time filming The World's End, a sci-fi comedy from Simon Pegg , Nick Frost and Hot Fuzz director Edgar Wright. Letchworth and Welwyn Garden City also featured – but that suited him, as he and his family live in Hertfordshire, near his birthplace in Aldershot.

“It was part of the sugar pill to do the movie – 'please sign up and we promise you'll never have to travel more than half an hour to work'. That and the fact Simon and Edgar begged me to do it.”

He and Simon have been “mates” for more than a decade, their stars rising in tandem. Freeman had small parts in Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz. In The World's End, Freeman is upgraded to a supporting role as an odious estate agent with a Bluetooth headset glued to his ear.

“Obviously they wanted me for my acting ability, ”he deadpans, “because I am playing a complete prick.” Freeman joins Pegg, Nick Frost, Eddie Marsan and Paddy Considine as friends reuniting to complete a crawl of 12 pubs they failed to finish as teenagers. During that time, they realise they're not just facing the start of middle age, but the end of humanity.

If the actors were playing themselves, it could have been the British riposte to Seth Rogen's This is the End. As Freeman notes, “for 20 years we've all been in and out of each other's lives so we all know each other, and I guess if I was looking in from the outside at that line up I'd think, 'that's pretty cool.' I'm really grateful they wanted me though, as it's not the kind of part I normally get offered.”

He's right – there's something in him that makes for the ideal straight man; a hobbit out of his depth with his colourful companions; a patient sidekick to a half-mad detective genius, a long-suffering office worker with a ridiculous boss. But his own life hasn't been so predictable – the youngest of five children, he was brought up as a Roman Catholic, yet his parents separated when he was a child, and though he lives devotedly with his partner of 13 years, Amanda Abbington, and their two children Joe and Grace, they're not married.

Perhaps his straight-man appeal comes from Freeman's extreme normality, even in the midst of an extraordinary life. He winces at the very idea of completing a World's End style pub crawl. “Maybe I'd be able to do it if I didn't have more than one drink in each one. Mojitos, gin and tonic, red wine, that kind of thing. I have never done 12 pints. Ever. No, not even when I was a student. There's no pleasure in it at all.

Rock'n'roll's not his thing. He's said before: “That live fast, die young thing? I want to live with Amanda until I'm 70.” Instead he describes his pleasures as a meal with friends, a music quiz, a game of Three-in-10 on High Wycombe station with his co-stars. “You name three Spandau Ballet or Madonna hits in 10 seconds. Hey, it's harder than it sounds.”

Clearly, middle age suits him. Like buses, his biggest roles turned up together in the last two years. He started acting at the age of 15, before drama school, and then took roles in The Bill and Casualty. And there he might have been stuck were it not for The Office in 2001. Instead he became a British household name as Tim Canterbury, following up with parts in Love Actually and The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. Being in Sherlock and The Hobbit has, however, put him on a different level –even if he says his fortune isn't quite the “10 million” the Daily Mail has estimated.

“Without sounding too luvvie about it, I have never been happier professionally. I'd have been quite happy being known as 'Tim from The Office' and now Bilbo Baggins and John Watson have come along. Sherlock is one of the biggest things I will do, ever – we could never have predicted that level of insanity around the series. I think that gets me more fan mail than Bilbo. Not that I think I am the biggest deal in the universe,” he adds hastily. Self-effacement clings to him like one of Tim Canterbury's nylon office suits, although he claims: “If someone had a pint with me, they'd find out pretty quickly I'm not so nice, I'm not Tim from The Office, although a lot of people still think I am. I have absolutely no problem telling someone to fuck off.”

Did he want to when his partner made headlines recently? Amanda Abbington declared bankruptcy after not paying her tax bill of more than £100,000. It prompted opinion pieces on whether Freeman should have paid it for her, although Abbington told the Radio Times: “I'm going to pay it back myself, it was my fault.”

He sighs. “I know she copped it and it hurt. It's been said before so it's a cliché, but it happens to be true: you can stand anything for yourself, but when they turn on the people you love, it's excruciating and it's invasive, no question about it. I do think we have a right to privacy. My job as an actor is for you, so why should my private life be for you too? That's not fair. Fortunately, apart from this, I am not that fascinating for the tabloids. I don't need their approval. There are about 20 people in my life that I want to love me, and none of them are the Daily Mail.”

Anonymity, he adds, can be a wonderful thing for a person, “but at the same time, I had to do The Hobbit, even if it was going to change the game for me. It was my one chance to do something that nearly everybody, at one point or another, was going to see. I've made other films that maybe I've loved more, but they haven't made a billion dollars.”

With that, he returns to the remains of his meal. No wonder Peter Jackson spotted the potential in this British actor to take his lead. With his love of creature comforts, his desire to go home to his hobbit-hole, Martin Freeman is far more Bilbo Baggins than Tim from The Office. And yet, he's doing very well on his great adventure.

'The World's End' is released in the UK on 19 July

*This article appears in tomorrow's print edition of Radar Magazine

 

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Christopher Eccleston (centre) plays an ex-policeman in this cliché-riddled thriller

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey looks very serious as Cersei Lannister in Game of Thrones

TV This TV review contains spoilers
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Wiz Khalifa performs on stage during day one of the Wireless Festival at Perry Park in Birmingham

music
Arts and Entertainment
Festival-goers soak up the atmosphere at Glastonbury

music

Arts and Entertainment
Star Wars creator George Lucas

film

Arts and Entertainment

music

Arts and Entertainment
A shot from the forthcoming Fast and Furious 7

film

Arts and Entertainment
The new-look Top of the Pops could see Fearne Cotton returns as a host alongside Dermot O'Leary

TV

Arts and Entertainment
The leader of the Church of Scientology David Miscavige

TV

Arts and Entertainment
No half measures: ‘The Secret Life of the Pub’

Grace Dent on TV The Secret Life of the Pub is sexist, ageist and a breath of fresh air

Arts and Entertainment
Art on their sleeves: before downloads and streaming, enthusiasts used to flick through racks of albums in their local record shops
musicFor Lois Pryce, working in a record shop was a dream job - until the bean counters ruined it
Arts and Entertainment
Serial suspect: the property heir charged with first-degree murder, Robert Durst
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Igarashi in her

Art Megumi Igarashi criticises Japan's 'backwards' attitude to women's sexual expression

Arts and Entertainment
Could Ed Sheeran conquer the Seven Kingdoms? He could easily pass for a Greyjoy like Alfie Allen's character (right)

tv Singer could become the most unlikely star of Westeros

Arts and Entertainment
Beyonce, Boris Johnson, Putin, Nigel Farage, Russell Brand and Andy Murray all get the Spitting Image treatment from Newzoids
tvReview: The sketches need to be very short and very sharp as puppets are not intrinsically funny
Arts and Entertainment
Despite the controversy it caused, Mile Cyrus' 'Wrecking Ball' video won multiple awards
musicPoll reveals over 70% of the British public believe sexually explicit music videos should get ratings
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister and Ian Beattie as Meryn Trant in the fifth season of Game of Thrones

TV
Arts and Entertainment

book review
Arts and Entertainment
It's all in the genes: John Simm working in tandem with David Threlfall in 'Code of a Killer'

TV review
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

    Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

    The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
    Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

    Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

    Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
    Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

    Marginal Streets project documents voters

    Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
    Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

    The real-life kingdom of Westeros

    Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
    How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

    How to survive a Twitter mauling

    Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
    Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

    At dawn, the young remember the young

    A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
    Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

    Follow the money as never before

    Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

    Samuel West interview

    The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
    General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

    Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

    Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
    Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

    Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

    The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence
    Public relations as 'art'? Surely not

    Confessions of a former PR man

    The 'art' of public relations is being celebrated by the V&A museum, triggering some happy memories for DJ Taylor
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef succumbs to his sugar cravings with super-luxurious sweet treats

    Bill Granger's luxurious sweet treats

    Our chef loves to stop for 30 minutes to catch up on the day's gossip, while nibbling on something sweet
    London Marathon 2015: Paula Radcliffe and the mother of all goodbyes

    The mother of all goodbyes

    Paula Radcliffe's farewell to the London Marathon will be a family affair
    Everton vs Manchester United: Steven Naismith demands 'better' if Toffees are to upset the odds against United

    Steven Naismith: 'We know we must do better'

    The Everton forward explains the reasons behind club's decline this season
    Arsenal vs Chelsea: Praise to Arsene Wenger for having the courage of his convictions

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Praise to Wenger for having the courage of his convictions