Martin Freeman interview from Saturday Times
Martin Freeman: fame, family and Fargo
Helena de Bertodano
Irascible, eccentric, outspoken? Nothing like his affable on-screen persona? It’s strange what five months in the snowy wastes of Canada can do to a man – or perhaps this the real Martin Freeman?
You can tell quite a lot about Martin Freeman from his excuse for arriving late for this interview. “I was in a really hot bath watching a documentary about Harold Wilson and I suddenly looked at the f***ing time…”
Quirky, yes; a self-styled intellectual, yes (later, he tells me he is reading a book about the Russian Revolution); prone to giving strangely intimate details about himself (yet very guarded on seemingly innocuous subjects); a bit grumpy, hence the constant swearing; head somewhat in the clouds, so doesn’t notice trivial details such as time – which is probably why he is still talking the hind legs off a donkey three and a half hours later, fuelled by frequent infusions of peppermint tea, beer and coffee.
Freeman, 42, is on a career high – has been for a while now. In the hugely successful modern-day reworking of Arthur Conan Doyle’s detective stories, he plays Dr Watson to Benedict Cumberbatch’s Sherlock; he is Bilbo Baggins in The Hobbit, Peter Jackson’s trio of epic fantasy adventure films – the first two grossed nearly $2 billion and the third will be released later this year. And now he is shooting a much-anticipated television series, Fargo, based on the Academy Award-winning 1996 film of the same name. Freeman plays Lester Nygaard, an interpretation of the William H. Macy role in the movie. “I’m f***ing lucky,” says Freeman. “I’ve done four or five things in my career that most actors would give their right arm to have done just one of.”
And yet, despite everything he does, the role people still associate him with – at least in the UK – is Tim Canterbury from the TV sitcom The Office (2001-2003), playing opposite Ricky Gervais’s David Brent. He is the loveable sales rep who fancies Dawn, sticks Gareth’s stapler in jelly and whose job is going nowhere. And I have to say it is Tim who springs to mind as I catch sight of a solitary figure trudging through the swirling snow towards the restaurant in Calgary, Canada, where he has been holed up for the past five months shooting Fargo.
The restaurant is marooned on an island and accessible only by foot. Freeman pushes open the door, brushing the snow out of his cropped, greying hair and stomping his long moccasins. He removes two thick jackets and rubs his hands together. I ask him if he is sick of the weather. “It depends if you’re going to put it in [the article],” he replies. What? Surely the weather is not off limits? “They get easily offended,” he explains. Off the record, he tells me his view – with lots of swearwords – on living through nearly half a year of sub-zero temperatures. But he also confesses that one of the reasons he took on Fargo (which purports to be a story from northern Minnesota) is: “I was interested in the idea of being that cold. I’ve got a bit of a Scott of the Antarctic fixation. On a couple of days they’ve had to stop filming because it’s been -40C.”
His Fargo character is stuck in a dead-end job, selling insurance, prompting comparisons with Tim from The Office, something I am stupid enough to mention, setting off a firestorm. “I don’t think other actors are asked all the time about the similarities between their roles. I don’t think Ben [Cumberbatch] or Daniel Craig are asked that. I think it stems from my so-called perceived approachability. And it is totally f***ing perceived. I come across as a half-decent person and not very pretentious. I’m a good actor; I can pretend. Look,” he says, calming down a bit, “I’m angry and defensive about everything. It just drives me slightly bananas because I know how hard I work. Tim is nothing like Bilbo Baggins either. People tend to think, ‘Oh, you’re just doing what you do.’ It’s a) insulting, b) f***ing bulls***, and c) I’d invite any other f***er to try to do it.”
Right. In fact, he has played a wide range of roles – from a lusty Rembrandt in Nightwatching (2007) to a shrewd Lord Shaftesbury in the BBC One drama Charles II: the Power and the Passion (2003). “People say, ‘I’ve seen all your work,’ and I think, ‘No, you f***ing haven’t. No one has – even I haven’t.’ ” He even found himself starring opposite Penélope Cruz (“a f***ing delight”) in The Good Night, a 2007 romantic comedy. And from July 1 he will be taking on Richard III for three months at the Trafalgar Studios in London. “It will be my first professional Shakespeare. At least I’ll be at home, too.”
He studies the menu, then puts it down with a sigh. “I don’t only want egg and chips all my life, but the title of every dish here is like the first chapter of a book. I’ve never heard of bresaola. And what’s bottarga – is that a cheese?” He does not eat meat (gave it up aged 14) so, after quizzing the waiter, he settles on a green salad (Heritage Greens, Venturi Balsamic Epsom, Parsnip Chips, Fairwinds Farm Caerphilly – he has a point), followed by a pickerel, which we establish is a white fish.
He’s a family man, and the long stint in Canada is beginning to wear on him. He lives in Hertfordshire with the actress Amanda Abbington, who plays his screen wife in Sherlock, and their two young children, Joe, 8, and Grace, 5, but has only been home twice since filming started in October: “It’s a very heavy price. My main priority in any job is when is the soonest I can get back to the three people I love most in the world. I even ummed and ahhed over The Hobbit.”
Freeman met Amanda on the set of Channel 4’s Men Only in 2000, but doesn’t want to say if they are married: “Let’s leave that a mystery. What I like about our relationship is that we choose it. I’m not saying we’re not married, though.”
His phone rings and he sticks a finger in his ear to listen to one of his children. “Are you going to bed now?” He looks at me and mouths “Sorry,” then wanders off to chat in private. When he returns, he tells me his kids sometimes find his fame tricky to handle: “Joe’s just started a gymnastics class and he said to me: ‘Daddy, people don’t believe that you’re my dad there, can you come in with me?’ And I said, ‘Of course I’ll come in,’ but I always try to say, ‘It’s much more important for people to like you for you than for me.’ But when you’re 8, and especially if people don’t believe you, you want to show them. He is very proud of me, as I am very proud of him.”
Despite his huge success and settled family life, he says he is “not brilliant at being happy”. “If you ask my children and Amanda, they will definitely say I am pretty grumpy and hard to live with sometimes. I also know that I can be playful and full of joy…” Freeman describes himself as a hands-on father, happy to get up in the night when his children were babies.
“I wasn’t like a Fifties dad. Now, I enjoy reading and telling them spooky stories. I’m quite a disciplinarian: I can be a shouter. But I can be a very demonstrative kisser and hugger.”
Some aspects of fatherhood surprised him: “It goes without saying that you’re going to love your kids, but what you’re not expecting is wanting to kill everybody in your house. I’m fortunate in that Amanda is generally a slightly nicer person than I am. If it were purely up to me, my kids would probably be vegetarian Catholic Marxists.”
His children love watching their dad in The Hobbit. “I thought the spiders would really do Grace in, but she wasn’t scared by the peril and the violence. The thing that most upset her was the bit where the dwarves come round and basically eat Bilbo out of house and home. Grace is inconsolable at the idea that they have stolen all Daddy’s food – she thinks I’m being bullied.”
Although he makes a very comfortable living, he says he is not as fabulously wealthy as people seem to think. “I understand why people think I am; it just happens not to be true. I’m certainly wealthier than anyone else in the history of my family.”
Nor has he embraced many of the trappings of wealth. “I don’t live large in that way, because that’s not my taste. I drive a Mini. But I love going to Italy on holiday, being happy in the sunshine, eating the best food and looking after my family in that way.”
He describes his house as “a gamekeeper’s cottage” just outside a village – where they moved from London after Freeman grew sick of people ringing his doorbell at all hours to speak to “Tim”. “I fell in love with the house and it was near where Amanda grew up. I had an idea that I would go with John, my father-in-law, to a local village pub, but the dual effect of Sherlock and The Hobbit means that now I just become the cabaret.”
The most common misperception about him, he says, is that, “I’m everyone’s best mate. When people say, ‘I’d love to go for a pint with him,’ I think, ‘No, you f***ing wouldn’t.’ It goes back to Tim from The Office – he was a very approachable, funny schlub. I don’t think people go up to Ray Winstone and go, ‘All right, you c***?’ ”
Of course, there are many worse things than being seen as nice. “Definitely,” he agrees. “But if you grow up small as a kid, it’s like being mummied by the girls: ‘You’re so sweet.’ That casts a long shadow.”
Freeman grew up in Aldershot, Hampshire, the youngest of five children. “You never feel you’re not the youngest. I’m a grown man, doing all right, and I still feel subconsciously as if I’ve got to earn my place in a room.”
His parents divorced when he was 1 and he lived mostly with his father, a naval officer, until his sudden death from a heart attack when Freeman was 10. “At the time, I probably tried to brush my dad’s death under the carpet. I didn’t want people to feel sorry for me. I was small, I was pretty sickly and asthmatic; people already went ‘little Martin’. But when I was 17 or 18, I realised that losing a parent is a big deal. It was devastating in a way that I was unable to acknowledge at the time.” His eyes tear up. “Sometimes I wonder if I heard his voice now, would it be the same as it is my memory?”
He remains very close to his mother, who he describes as “a very egalitarian, principled, left-leaning snob. I never felt hard done by, because I always knew I was loved.”
Raised a Catholic, Freeman went to a Salesian school in Chertsey, Surrey, where the only thing that really rubbed off on him was the religion. “Catholicism goes in somewhere and it colours you for good and bad for ever. So does being the product of divorce. It’s all in there in little layers.”
He has stuck to his faith, although he does not go to church regularly. “I’m about as much of a practising Catholic as I am an astronaut, [but] I will occasionally pop into a church and light a candle and pray”.
The Magic Begins
↳ a scene you really wanted to be in the movies, but wasn’t: fleur’s speech after bill gets attacked by greyback at the end of hbp
#FLEUR DELACOUR ASSHOLES #BEAUXBATONS CHAMPION #OoTB MEMBER#MOVED TO A FOREIGN COUNTRY SO THAT SHE COULD BE WITH HER HALF WEREWOLF HUSBAND#ENGLISH WASN’T EVEN HER FIRST LANGUAGE#BUT SHE SPOKE IT CONFIDENTLY DESPITE THE SNEERING AND MOCKING#HAD TO FIGHT AGAINST THE PREJUDICES OF HER HUSBAND’S FAMILY
Q:When Sherlock hears John's voice in his head during the Jack the Ripper debacle, what do you make of John's voice saying, "Jealous?" What does it suggest? Sorry if you've answered this already in more detail. Love the metas and love you btw <3
Thank you so much!! :)
Apparently I’m incapable of answering this kind of thing without turning it into a full-blown meta. Let’s just look at the whole scene, because it’s funny, but (as always) the humor is masking quite a bit of darkness.
(transcript credit here)
MOLLY: What is it?
(Sherlock gets his phone out and holds it up high to try and get a signal.)
MOLLY: You’re on to something, aren’t you?
SHERLOCK: Mm, maybe.
This one’s obvious. John calls Sherlock a “show off” frequently. But next time you watch this scene, listen to the tone of John’s voice in Sherlock’s head. It’s harsh, insulting. It’s not the same tone Real John uses when he tells him to stop showing off. So why does Sherlock hear it this way?
Because despite his arrogance, Sherlock’s self-esteem is actually crap. In fact, that actually explains the arrogance – after all, arrogance is not always a matter of overconfidence. Sometimes it’s the opposite of confidence. When John says stuff about the showing off thing or being all mysterious with your cheekbones and turning up your collar so you look cool, Sherlock hears the words but he fails to understand the truth behind them, the real reason John says this stuff:
It’s what John likes.
He likes the showing off. Fantastic! (Do you know you do that out loud?) Sorry, I’ll shut up. (No, it’s…fine.)
John loves watching Sherlock show off, and Sherlock loves showing off for John. But of course, John isn’t going to act like a simpering fanboy on the outside, nor will Sherlock openly acknowledge how much he loves basking in the attention. These are two men who have a lifelong habit of suppressing those types of emotions. Unfortunately, the hard exteriors they’ve built are so damn near impenetrable, they even manage to fool one another.
So John doesn’t realize Sherlock shows off for him just because he craves John’s appreciation and attention and approval. John doesn’t realize he’s special. He only sees the exterior; he thinks Sherlock’s an arrogant show off.
And Sherlock doesn’t realize John’s sarcasm is just a mask for the frustration and confusion he’s experiencing due to the effects the showing off and the cheekbones and the being all mysterious have on him. Sherlock doesn’t realize he’s special. He only sees the exterior; he thinks John’s irritated by his act.
That’s what we’re hearing in Sherlock’s head right now. Not real John, who actually loves watching Sherlock deduce. These are his words, but spoken the way Sherlock interprets them, rather than the way John means them.
SHERLOCK: Shut up, John.
SHERLOCK: Hmm? Nothing.
LESTRADE (glancing towards Molly): This gonna be your new arrangement, is it?
SHERLOCK: Just giving it a go.
LESTRADE: Right. So, John?
SHERLOCK: Not really in the picture any more.
(He moves away from the table and turns back to look at the whole picture. Cement dust drifts down from the ceiling as a distant rumbling can be heard.)
Right, John’s out of the picture. And Sherlock hears the distant rumble of unseen trains. Nothing subtextual to see here, move along…
MOLLY: Male, forty to fifty. Ooh, sorry, did you want to be …?
SHERLOCK: Er, no, please. Be my guest.
Molly makes this deduction first. She beats him to it. Jealous, Sherlock?
SHERLOCK (angrily, through gritted teeth): Shut up!
LESTRADE: “How I Did It” by Jack the Ripper?!
MOLLY: It’s impossible!
SHERLOCK: Welcome to my world.
SHERLOCK (quietly, through clenched teeth): Get out.
This scene isn’t just about Sherlock missing John. It’s about just how fucked up Sherlock’s head and heart are right now. John refuses to forgive him, and Sherlock’s beginning to understand just how much he hurt him. He screwed up the fall. He screwed up the return.
Low self-esteem + guilt = self-loathing.
That’s why John’s voice is so harsh, why even the text appears different than it does with normal deductions – fast, sharp, fiery. The words are like bullets and Sherlock’s exterior is starting to crack.
He’s still trying to keep up the act, though.
SHERLOCK: I won’t insult your intelligence by explaining it to you.
LESTRADE: No, please – insult away!
That’s right, do your little trick for the ordinary people, and don’t forget to look all cool and mysterious as you do it.
SHERLOCK: The-the-the corpse is-is six months old; it’s dressed in a shoddy Victorian outfit from a museum. It’s been displayed on a dummy for many years in a case facing south-east judging from the fading of the fabric. It was sold off in a fire-damage sale … (he gets his phone out and shows the screen to Greg) … a week ago.
LESTRADE: So the whole thing was a fake.
LESTRADE: Looked so promising.
MOLLY: Why would someone go to all that trouble?
SHERLOCK (offscreen): Why indeed, John?
Cue his shadow slipping through the busted, fragmented, splintered door.
If you ever hear anyone complain that Woobie!Sherlock in TSoT was unexpected, that him working so hard on planning John’s wedding was OOC, that his brain meltdown upon learning that John considered him his best man and his best friend didn’t make sense, then refer them to this scene.
Because this is when we start to see Sherlock truly believes he’s nothing more than a world-class fuck-up, and that’s how John sees him too. His exterior is pretty much shattered, and in TSoT, the real Sherlock is exposed.
whohoo, after two years of working on it, Speedy’s have finally finished their official website. And it’s brilliant!
(ahahaha, Chris also put up his setlock pictures., including a new one of MF and his mounstache)
My work is for the public and my life is for myself
sherlock literally responded to john discussing him teaching him to dance and then mentioning mrs. hudson walking in and saying “don’t know how those rumours started!” with visible upset
yet people continue to say “the references to them being a couple are just a joke!!”
yeah, looks like sherlock finds those jokes really funny