'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

 

Arts and Entertainment
Emo rockers Fall Out Boy

music

Arts and Entertainment
Jamie Dornan as Christian Grey in Fifty Shades of Grey

film Sex scene trailer sees a shirtless Jamie Dornan turn up the heat

Arts and Entertainment

film

Arts and Entertainment
A sketch of Van Gogh has been discovered in the archives of Kunsthalle Bremen in Germany
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Eleanor Catton has hit back after being accused of 'treachery' for criticising the government.
books
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift is heading to Norwich for Radio 1's Big Weekend

music
Arts and Entertainment
Beer as folk: Vincent Franklin and Cyril Nri (centre) in ‘Cucumber’
tvReview: This slice of gay life in Manchester has universal appeal
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
‘A Day at the Races’ still stands up well today
film
Arts and Entertainment
‘The Royals’ – a ‘twisted, soapy take on England’s first family’
tvAnd its producers have already announced a second season...
Arts and Entertainment
Kraftwerk performing at the Neue Nationalgalerie (New National Gallery) museum in Berlin earlier this month
musicWhy a bunch of academics consider German electropoppers Kraftwerk worthy of their own symposium
Arts and Entertainment
Icelandic singer Bjork has been forced to release her album early after an online leak

music
Arts and Entertainment
Colin Firth as Harry Hart in Kingsman: The Secret Service

film
Arts and Entertainment
Brian Blessed as King Lear in the Guildford Shakespeare Company's performance of the play

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
In the picture: Anthony LaPaglia and Martin Freeman in 'The Eichmann Show'

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Anne Kirkbride and Bill Roache as Deirdre and Ken Barlow in Coronation Street

tvThe actress has died aged 60
Arts and Entertainment
Marianne Jean-Baptiste defends Joe Miller in Broadchurch series two

tv
Arts and Entertainment
The frill of it all: Hattie Morahan in 'The Changeling'

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Gillian Anderson and David Duchovny may reunite for The X Files

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Jeremy Clarkson, left, and Richard Hammond upset the locals in South America
TV
News
A young woman punched a police officer after attending a gig by US rapper Snoop Dogg
people
Arts and Entertainment
Reese Witherspoon starring in 'Wild'

It's hard not to warm to Reese Witherspoon's heroismfilm
Arts and Entertainment
Word up: Robbie Coltrane as dictionary guru Doctor Johnson in the classic sitcom Blackadder the Third
books

Arts and Entertainment
The Oscar nominations are due to be announced today

Oscars 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Hacked off: Maisie Williams in ‘Cyberbully’

Maisie Williams single-handedly rises to the challenge

TV
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.

    As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

    As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

    Mussolini tried to warn his ally of the danger of bringing the country to its knees. So should we, says Patrick Cockburn
    Britain's widening poverty gap should be causing outrage at the start of the election campaign

    The short stroll that should be our walk of shame

    Courting the global elite has failed to benefit Britain, as the vast disparity in wealth on display in the capital shows
    Homeless Veterans appeal: The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty
    Prince Charles the saviour of the nation? A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king

    Prince Charles the saviour of the nation?

    A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king
    How books can defeat Isis: Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad

    How books can defeat Isis

    Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad
    Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

    Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

    She may be in charge of minimising our risks of injury, but the chair of the Health and Safety Executive still wants children to be able to hurt themselves
    The open loathing between Barack Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu just got worse

    The open loathing between Obama and Netanyahu just got worse

    The Israeli PM's relationship with the Obama has always been chilly, but going over the President's head on Iran will do him no favours, says Rupert Cornwell
    French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

    French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

    Fury at British best restaurants survey sees French magazine produce a rival list
    Star choreographer Matthew Bourne gives young carers a chance to perform at Sadler's Wells

    Young carers to make dance debut

    What happened when superstar choreographer Matthew Bourne encouraged 27 teenage carers to think about themselves for once?
    Design Council's 70th anniversary: Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch

    Design Council's 70th anniversary

    Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch
    Dame Harriet Walter: The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment

    Dame Harriet Walter interview

    The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment
    Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

    Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

    Critics of Tom Stoppard's new play seem to agree that cerebral can never trump character, says DJ Taylor
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's winter salads will make you feel energised through February

    Bill Granger's winter salads

    Salads aren't just a bit on the side, says our chef - their crunch, colour and natural goodness are perfect for a midwinter pick-me-up
    England vs Wales: Cool head George Ford ready to put out dragon fire

    George Ford: Cool head ready to put out dragon fire

    No 10’s calmness under pressure will be key for England in Cardiff
    Michael Calvin: Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links