'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
The Doctor finds himself in a forest version of London in Doctor Who episode 'In the Forest of the Night'
TVReview: Is the Doctor ever going stop frowning? Apparently not.
Arts and Entertainment
Jay James
TVReview: Performances were stale and cheesier than a chunk of Blue Stilton left out for a month
Arts and Entertainment
On The Apprentice, “serious” left the room many moons ago and yet still we watch

TV
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from David Ayer's 'Fury'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift performs at the 2014 iHeart Radio Music Festival
music review
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Boy George performing with Culture Club at Heaven

musicReview: Culture Club performs live for first time in 12 years

Arts and Entertainment
Laura Wood, winner of the Montegrappa Scholastic Prize for New Children’s Writing
books

Children's bookseller wins The Independent's new author search

Arts and Entertainment
Pulling the strings: Spira Mirabilis

music
Arts and Entertainment
Neville's Island at Duke of York's theatre
musicReview: The production has been cleverly cast with a quartet of comic performers best known for the work on television
Arts and Entertainment
Banksy's 'The Girl with the Pierced Eardrum' in Bristol

art
Arts and Entertainment
Lynda Bellingham stars in her last Oxo advert with on-screen husband Michael Redfern

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Hunger Games actress Jena Malone has been rumoured to be playing a female Robin in Batman v Superman

film
Arts and Entertainment
Tim Minchin portrait
For a no-holds-barred performer who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, Tim Minchin is surprisingly gentle
Arts and Entertainment
Clara takes the lead in 'Flatline' while the Doctor remains in the Tardis
tvReview: The 'Impossible Girl' earns some companion stripes... but she’s still annoying in 'Dr Who, Flatline'
Arts and Entertainment
Joy Division photographed around Waterloo Road, Stockport, near Strawberry Studios. The band are Bernard Sumner (guitar and keyboards), Stephen Morris (drums and percussion), Ian Curtis (vocals and occasional guitar), Peter Hook (bass guitar and backing vocals).
books
Arts and Entertainment
Sean Harris in 'The Goob' film photocall, at the Venice International Film Festival 2014
filmThe Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Streisand is his true inspiration
Arts and Entertainment
X Factor contestant Fleur East
tvReview: Some lacklustre performances - but the usual frontrunners continue to excel
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Tuttle's installation in the Turbine Hall at the Tate Modern
artAs two major London galleries put textiles in the spotlight, the poor relation of the creative world is getting recognition it deserves
Arts and Entertainment
Hunger Games actress Jena Malone has been rumoured to be playing a female Robin in Batman v Superman
film
Arts and Entertainment
On top of the world: Actress Cate Blanchett and author Richard Flanagan
artsRichard Flanagan's Man Booker win has put paid to the myth that antipodean artists lack culture
Arts and Entertainment
The Everyman, revamped by Haworth Tompkins
architectureIt beats strong shortlist that included the Shard, the Library of Birmingham, and the London Aquatics Centre
Arts and Entertainment
Justice is served: Robert Downey Jr, Vincent D’Onofrio, Jeremy Strong and Robert Duvall in ‘The Judge’

Film

Arts and Entertainment
Clive Owen (centre) in 'The Knick'

TV

Arts and Entertainment
J.K. Simmons , left, and Miles Teller in a scene from

Film

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.

    Wilko Johnson, now the bad news: musician splits with manager after police investigate assault claims

    Wilko Johnson, now the bad news

    Former Dr Feelgood splits with manager after police investigate assault claims
    Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands ahead of the US midterm elections

    Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands

    The Senator for Colorado is for gay rights, for abortion rights – and in the Republicans’ sights as they threaten to take control of the Senate next month
    New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

    New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

    Evidence found of contact between Easter Islanders and South America
    Cerys Matthews reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of Dylan Thomas

    Cerys Matthews on Dylan Thomas

    The singer reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of the famous Welsh poet
    DIY is not fun and we've finally realised this as a nation

    Homebase closures: 'DIY is not fun'

    Homebase has announced the closure of one in four of its stores. Nick Harding, who never did know his awl from his elbow, is glad to see the back of DIY
    The Battle of the Five Armies: Air New Zealand releases new Hobbit-inspired in-flight video

    Air New Zealand's wizard in-flight video

    The airline has released a new Hobbit-inspired clip dubbed "The most epic safety video ever made"
    Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month - but can you stomach the sweetness?

    Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month

    The combination of cinnamon, clove, nutmeg (and no actual pumpkin), now flavours everything from lattes to cream cheese in the US
    11 best sonic skincare brushes

    11 best sonic skincare brushes

    Forget the flannel - take skincare to the next level by using your favourite cleanser with a sonic facial brush
    Paul Scholes column: I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo

    Paul Scholes column

    I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Jones and Rojo
    Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

    Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

    While other sports are stalked by corruption, we are an easy target for the critics
    Jamie Roberts exclusive interview: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

    Jamie Roberts: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

    Wales centre says he’s not coming home but is looking to establish himself at Racing Métro
    How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

    A crime that reveals London's dark heart

    How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?