Bilbo Baggins and others cast in 'The Hobbit'

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After much speculation, the lead role of Bilbo Baggins in director Peter Jackson's The Hobbit goes to Martin Freeman, it was announced Thursday, along with several other actors in the ensemble cast playing the Company of Dwarves.

Freeman, who portrays Dr. Watson in Sherlock Holmes, the UK TV series, is known for his role in the UK's The Office, and appeared in Love Actually and Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy.

The announcement came from Jackson and the heads of the studios - New Line Cinema, Warner Bros. and MGM. The director said, "There are a few times in your career when you come across an actor who you know was born to play a role, but that was the case as soon as I met Martin. He is intelligent, funny, surprising and brave - exactly like Bilbo..."

Part one of this film adaptation of the fantasy novel by J.R.R. Tolkien follows Baggins as the hobbit journeys to the Lonely Mountain accompanied by a company of dwarves to reclaim a treasure taken from them by the dragon Smaug.

The leader of the dwarves will be played by Richard Armitage (UK TV's MI-5 and the upcoming Captain America). Other actors cast as Kili, Fili and Dwalin and others include Rob Kazinsky, Aidan Turner, Graham McTavish, and Mark Hadlow, and New Zealand actors Peter Hambleton, John Callen and Stephen Hunter.

Others rumored to be in talks for roles include Cate Blanchett and Hugo Weaving. Ian McKellan is expected to play Gandolf with Andy Serkis as Golum, repeating roles from Jackson's The Lord of the Rings.

After delays in production due to MGM's financial problems and then labor disputes with acting unions, it seems the film has been fighting goblins in middle earth. Though the acting boycott ended, the studio has considered moving the $500 million production from New Zealand to the UK, Ireland, Canada, or the Czech Republic.

The Hobbit, Part 1 is set for release in December 2012 with Part 2 to follow in December 2013.