INT: Martin Freeman
Martin Freeman is, by his own admission, an English everyman. That's what led him to be cast in his breakout role on the original BBC series "The Office" and now in his first lead film role in THE HITCHHIKER'S GUIDE TO THE GALAXY. He's so laid back about a possible big film career that he spent much of his audition worrying about how he left his wife double-parked in their car outside. He was an especially easy guy to interview and seemed like the kinda guy you'd like to hit a pub with afterwards and grab a pint and eat some bangers and mash and other assorted British stereotypes. Here's what he had to say about taking on one of the most iconic roles in British sci-fi/comedy/literary history:How does it feel to be playing your first lead role in a highly anticipated big movie like this? It feels okay. I mean, I'm sorta finding out how it's feeling. I'll let you know how it feels when it either explodes or bombs. We're all obviously hoping it's going to do well, and I'm hoping it's going to be well received. The thing is I can't get genuinely too excited and try to propel this feeling of "It feels great!", because ultimately, the audience is going to decide. They're going to be the ones to choose and it's rather insulting to view otherwise. God knows I've watched enough films that I hate. It's a good part and it's a great films so it's fantastic. Could you describe your view of Arthur? The only view that I could have of him really. If Hugh Bonneville or Hugh Laurie had, or someone else called Hugh [laughs] had played him, it would have been their Arthur. I mean it when I say this isn't false anything, I was one of them, but I can think of loads of other people who would have been good Arthurs. I think I make an alright Arthur, but Christ, there are loads of people, who would have that sort of take on him, and I think they would all be interesting takes. I could only play it the way that I could play it, which is to make him real and funny in whatever way that is. To make the stakes properly high while acknowledging that you're still in a comedy. Play it like he's sort of besotted with this woman and his every single reference point and every single memory has been erased, because his planet has gone in the first 10 minutes of the movie. So I didn't want to play that as a sketch, and I didn't want to play it as a kind of light-hearted sort of English skit. I wanted to play it...It's still serious. It's still important. It still matters. So that was my approach to it, really. That was the only way I knew how. Do you consider yourself to be the English everyman? No. No, I absolutely don't. Apparently everyone else does [laughs], but no, I don't. You say that a lot of other people could have played this role. What did they see specifically in you that you brought to the part? Probably that I was an English everyman [laughs]... I really don't know. I guess I'm just even better than I thought I was [laughs]. Did you get nervous at all working with a first-time director? Well part of the motivating thing for me saying yes to it, to be honest, was that I saw their show reel, for Hammer & Tongs, which is Garth and Nick [Jennings and Goldsmith, director and producer respectively]. I just saw that they were visually better than anything I'd seen for ages. I mean really, really interesting, and still with heart. So they've got the technology thing down, but they've also got soul. They can actually tell stories, and the technology is not at the expense of the human side. I mean just from videos. Just on paper you look at it and say, "They just made pop videos and know they're giving them this important film..." but, trust me, I really wouldn't have done the film just because it was this film or just because I was being offered Arthur. I wouldn't do it. I saw something in their work that is absolutely evident on making the film as well that has a lot of heart and a lot of real visual brilliance to it. They're so creative and they're so UP as people as well, that they're people you want to go to work for and do well for. I really do love them, and I know that for some people I'm sure, especially for real diehard HITCHHIKER fans, it can be, "What do you mean? They've never directed a movie before?" And I hope they trust and go in with an open mind and then decide as opposed to [imitates people muttering under breath]. Cause I think Garth is one of the most talented people I've ever worked with in any forum.
Have you actually seen the finished film? I've seen a nearly finished one some weeks ago, so I'm looking forward to it coming out and seeing it all finished. I loved it. I thought it was really good. It was everything that I thought it would be cause I always knew it was going to look good, cause Garth is very much that way inclined. What I was pleased about was that the story got over the human side or got over the alien side of it. Garth is somebody who is not only a brilliant visual mind, he's also a director who can pull you up when you're not being good enough, you know what I mean? He'd say, "remember you just had that scene where you went through there..." just basic acting stuff. A lot of directors don't know that - how to speak to actors, especially if you're so engrossed in visuals. The story goes out of the window a lot of the time, you know? But Garth had a really good handle on both of those things. Is it true that when you auditioned you were more worried about leaving your girlfriend in the car than getting the part? That is true, yeah. Amanda, my girlfriend, and I had come out from the set doing whatever we were doing and I had this meeting I thought would take 20 minutes tops. After 40 minutes of being in there, then Garth and Nick came in and I'm like [long sigh]. Then I was like, "Oh God, she's still out there, we got a load of food in the car, it's gotta go straight in the fridge when we get home..." I'm setting the picture she's an ogre but we were tired and, to be honest, I do sometimes have a laissez-faire attitude about this stuff cause I don't get that excited on the base of it, whether it's a film or a TV show. I was thinking virtually the entire time, "Oh jesus..." As I was leaving, Garth told me that that was exactly what he wanted. As an actor you're so used to hearing that all the time anyway - "Oh you're fantastic, just what we want!" and then you never hear from them again. So I thought he was being nice and polite or whatever and I didn't walk out thinking I really nailed that, I was walking out thinking about...the bread. Did you have any idea "The Office" would be such a huge hit and would catapult you to this sort of stardom? Not at all. Again, I just thought it was a good script. I read the first script, went in to audition and everything about it was unportentious. I went in and read for [the character of] Gareth and they said actually, "let's talk briefly for Tim." No one knew anybody, you know what I mean? None of us were well known. Ricky Gervais wasn't the King of England that he is now. He can have people killed, you know? [Laughs] He's way too powerful. We just wanted to make this very small-scale TV program. There was no way of knowing. I just thought it was good. What has it meant for your career? It's obviously opened a lot of doors. I get more scripts. I get terrible ones but I get good ones. Then it's up to me to make the right or wrong choices. It's helped... As everything in life it comes as a blessing and a curse. On the hand it's, "I've seen you and I know what you can do," the English everyman stereotype. I want to play someone who kills in the village. Not just this likable whatever...
Can you talk about the differences and similarities between Arthur Dent and your character, Tim, from "The Office"? This is only something that has come up in interviews, really, where I've been made to think about similarities between them. The only similarities at the time are that I'm playing them both. If it had been Hugh Bonneville playing Arthur, then nobody would say, "He's quite like Tim, isn't he?" It just wouldn't happen. They're both Englishmen. I mean, I'm not going to be playing many 60-year-old black women [laughs], which I think is really out of order [more laughs]. I've got a range that I can play. Every actor's got what they can or shouldn't play. I'm English, I'm white, and I'm about 30...let's just say 25 [laughs], so I'm going to play my age, and looking like I look, I'm probably not going to get cast as James Bond. If you look kind of normal or average or...let's say above average [laughs]. That's part of being an actor for me, playing people who have to overcome something. No actor particularly finds it interesting, I don't think really, to have a dry martini lying around on the yacht. I don't think that does it for anyone. You want to be kind of playing stuff and part of that is not getting the girl, or your planet being blown up in the most extreme example, or just the tribulations and trials of being alive. And that's what I find interesting about being a human being, so it's also what I find interesting about being an actor. Is it tough getting naked for a movie? It's much more vulnerable-making, and I think even though theoretically actors like to say I was great, because I felt really vulnerable, you still like to know that there's a safety net there, and actually that vulnerability is a kind of theory as opposed to really feeling like it's your first day at school or something and you're going to get bullied. I've done naked several times now, and I wouldn't be in a hurry to do it again. Do you think that Sam Rockwell and Zooey Deschanel were cast to help counterbalance the British feel of the movie? I don't know. Fact is that the biggest stars in the world are American. The British don't have that many big stars, and the big stars we have are never going to be as big as the biggest American stars, so there's always going to be a factor of getting money and getting the film made. You couldn't just have me and a load of really good actors from Soho Theatre doing it, because no one would pay to see it, know what I mean? That said, I would defy anyone to see the film with an open mind and not think that the people in those parts were well cast. When I heard that Mos [Def] was cast, I thought "[long pause] he's a rapper, isn't he?" But I didn't know him, so I didn't know that he's at least as much an actor as he is anything else. His instincts are all absolutely bang on. There's no difference between working with him and working with anyone, apart from the fact that we're all different people. My kind of feelings about that were allayed because Sam Rockwell is one of the best actors out there, and one of the most respected, especially by other actors, and I think, to be honest, the more that Mos has going on, that's going to happen as well. Zooey's got pedigree - she's been doing this since she was an amoeba, so she knows this business inside out, and I was the only one fucking it up [laughs]. How do you feel about now starring in more "Hollywood" type movies? The fortunate thing is I don't have to. That's the good sort of things you remember about being alive is that I don't have to do anything. It's great. I can stay in bed if I want. It's brilliant. And all this sort of external pressure or not, this might come out and I could not be touched with a 30-foot barge pole, or might come out and I'm great or whatever. I dunno. To a certain extent, I don't really care. I care that the film does well, because we all slogged our guts out on it--other people way more than I did for two years of their lives. I hope the film does well, and obviously I hope that I'm not hated in it, of course, of course, but I'm also not trying to relocate anywhere. I'm a Londoner. I like London, and that's my life. That's where I want to stay. Good scripts are like gold dust. Wherever good scripts come from, I'll always, always be interested in those and always take those seriously, but...c'mon I'm English.
Do you think that it would have taken something away from the film if it had been cast with very well-known actors? I don't know about ruining it, but it would have certainly made it a very different film. They were very mindful of the fact. Even though Garth's been very kind and said that I was the right person for it, I was obviously the right person because I'm not that famous. You know what I mean? I think if I had been that famous, then it would have unbalanced the film. It would have become Tom Cruise's film or Hugh Grant's film or whoever's film. And if any thing, it should be Douglas Adams's film. I think the good thing about it is that there's a lot of affection for him and a lot of affection for the previous incarnations of this story that have come before. I think there's a lot that will please fans, but if we're only pleasing fans, then we're failing. But we also have to take the fans seriously, and I think there's enough affection for the legacy of the story and the creator of the story that it will put people's minds at rest hopefully. So many people think it's going to be a Hollywood version, and that the ultimate British thing has been taken out of our hands. I sincerely believe and hope that hasn't happened. When was your first encounter with the HITCHHIKER'S GUIDE series? As a kid. I saw it on TV and the books were around. I didn't hear the radio show. I was a little - it was '78, when I was...let's say I was one. (laughter). I remember the telly and people in my family liked the book, so I was kind of familiar with it without being a rabid fan. Why were you nervous about starring in the film? Was it because of Simon Jones and his mark on the role? Yeah, I think so. It casts quite a big shadow, because he was the first casting of Arthur Dent on the telly and radio, so he helped create that character with Douglas. He and I aren't very similar, so as a testament to him really, I sort of thought that I can't do that. I initially thought I'm not that kind of actor, but also, he's the only one who's ever played him. I can only do what I do, and as it transpires, that was good enough. There's going to be a little leap for anybody who cared about it that it's not going to be Simon and that it's going to be somebody else.