Martin Freeman Is Ready For His Extreme Close-up, Mr. DeMille!

Stuart Muller, South African contributor

The Hobbit: The Desolation Of Smaug premiered in Los Angeles earlier this week, ahead of its theatrical release on December 13, so herewith a new quiz to celebrate the return of our indomitable hobbit, played pitch-perfectly by Martin Freeman.

It was during the Lord Of The Rings years, from 2001 to 2003, that The Office first appeared, and for the ten plus years since I have seen nobody but Freeman as the inevitable Bilbo. While his role as Tim may have sparked this dream casting, it has been his rich and varied work in the intervening years that kept the dream alive. During this period he has been increasingly hailed in the UK, but has remained largely unknown to the wider world until recent roles as Watson, in Sherlock, and most significantly, Bilbo Baggins. So let's reflect a little on how he came to be so indispensable a casting that Peter Jackson completely restructured his shooting schedule to ensure that Freeman could participate.

Freeman got his first real acting break in a 1998 short film, I Just Want To Kiss You, before landing the BBC skit show Bruiser, back in 2000. The show only ran for six episodes, but with the likes of David Mitchell, Robert Webb and Ricky Gervais on the writing roll, it was clearly doing something right. This was followed by bit parts, and some not-so-bit parts, in assorted TV shows and TV movies, until his role as Tim in the BBC's original The Office series made him a household name (in the UK at least). 

He continued his rise still very much a TV man, though now headlining a number of promising shows that ended after typically British short runs; there was Hardware (for which he won the prestigious Rose d'Or), The RobinsonsBoy Meets Girl (in which he played a man trapped in a woman's body, played to great comedic effect by Rachael Stirling), and more recently that little show he got an Emmy nomination for... oh what's it called... Smauglock? Sherlock!

At a superficial glance, Freeman is a plain sort of fellow who won his early acclaim playing a plainly charming office employee, so it's not entirely surprising that he found himself somewhat typecast in "everyman" roles once he made the jump to film. Among others, he played a delightful Arthur Dent in the undeservedly disparaged The Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy; a husband-to-be drawn into the hilarious world of competitive reality TV weddings in Confetti; a washed up pop star writing jingles in The Good Night (co-staring Gwyneth Paltrow, Penélope Cruz, Danny DeVito and Simon Pegg!), and most recently of course, the yuppie in Edgar Wright's cohort of mid-life pub-crawlers in The World's End

Despite the relative absence of physical transformation in these roles, certainly as compared with our other quiz characters (Tom Hardy and Bruce Dern), he succeeds in consistently bringing an authentic originality to his parts. Which is not to say he hasn't disappeared into some disguising characters (Nightwatching, Ali G In Da House, and Margery & Gladys spring to mind), but rather that his characters' originality seems channeled primarily from within, with little reliance on outward transformation.

It is this, I think, that distinguishes him as an exemplary actor, and in conjunction with his sublime comedic instincts, made him the perfect everyman to fill Bilbo's big (hairy) (confusticated) feet. It is the very fact that he hasn't undergone startling physical transformations that has allowed him to so effectively mine his nondescript looks, and to hone his ability to act his way into disguise despite never really looking all that different. And in a film like The Hobbit, where everyone is covered in makeup, it is this skill that helps keep the only recognizable star from being distractingly recognizable.

Even though filming is long over, Freeman will be riding The Hobbit marketing train for another year at least, and between this success and Sherlock's it seems we will be seeing a lot more of him in the years to come. Though if you've seen Nightwatching you know there really is no more left to see... 

Some of the films shown are mentioned above, but others not, and some are admittedly obscure. Have at it, and I will release the answers in a week if some still remain undeciphered.