Another Day at the Office

20th April 2018

He’s starred in everything from cult comedies to record-breaking film franchises, plus a recent superhero flick that everyone is talking about. But in keeping with Martin Freeman’s mellow nature, no matter how big the project, the job remains the same. Ian Faulconbridge meets him.

Martin Freeman has spanned the genres; comedy, sci-fi, action, costume drama – even those scenes in Love Actually where he and co-star Joanna Page were regularly in the buff. But on this last point especially, the star feels like he has to clear his reputation somewhat.

“We weren’t working on a porno, we were stand-ins on a very high brow, sort of racy Merchant Ivory,” he delivers with a sombre expression. “It’s all a misconception.”

The 46-year-old has been known to sometimes adopt a slightly stand-offish persona; it’s abundantly clear that the promotional trail isn’t Freeman’s desired territory… which is, in a sense, at odds with his career on paper. At a glance, it’s a veritable smorgasbord of big-budget cinematic success, from a starring role in Peter Jackson’s sprawling The Hobbit trilogy, to bit-parts in each of good friend Simon Pegg’s much-loved projects, and, most recently, a role in culturally seismic superhero bonanza, Black Panther.

Yet while this latest addition to his filmography proved not only a box-office success but a ground-breaking film carried on a wave of social media superlatives, Freeman wants to add some ballast to the exuberant opinions surrounding Black Panther.

“I’m keen to reiterate, it’s not about just race and just changing the structure of Hollywood, certainly the story isn’t about that,” he muses. “Yes, it’s a first of its kind with a cast of majority black actors and it’s also a very empowering film for female actors but beyond that, that’s not the crux of the action.”

He articulates his view with precision.“It appears to me an archaic notion to focus on, and I know it’s hugely significant but isn’t that wrong? It shouldn’t make cause for any headline, there are characters in the story, some are black, some are brown, some are white, and that’s life. I hope this is it, we don’t have to address this anymore when it comes to a film, and [can] look at it instead as a piece of entertainment that will forward socio-cultural issues, but on the whole leave the audience exhilarated.”

Freeman’s appearance as slick CIA agent, Everett Ross, first in Captain America: Civil War and then more wholeheartedly as part of Black Panther, has certainly opened up the possibility of recurring appearances in the ever-expanding Marvel Universe. But for such an established pro, the thought of being called upon by the biggest franchise in Hollywood history is nothing new.

“The camera is the same and whether it’s something smaller or something huge like this, the job is always the same for me,” he explains. “Film-making is a group of people coming together and trying to tell a story in the best way.

“Yes, on these movies with huge budgets, you’re looked after very well – accommodation, travel, food… they want to make your environment as comfortable for you as possible, so you can do your job to the best of your ability. So there’s the difference there, but that’s pretty much where it begins and ends.”

And although he can happily say he was involved in cinema’s highest-grossing franchise, some of Freeman’s most well-loved work – both in terms of his fan-base and the man himself – has come about on the small, rather than silver, screen.

“I think I’m particularly fond of The Office, if I had to pick one, because that’s where it all took off for me,” he smiles. “I wouldn’t be here without it. At the time, it was the biggest thing I’d ever done and the first time I’d had that giddy excitement. It changed my life, it was when I started getting stopped on the tube. I love it. If I catch it on the telly by chance, I’ll always sit down to watch, because it’s my kind of show… it’s everything I like.”

The Office remains a cult favourite, of course, but there’s an argument to be made that Freeman’s greatest work on the box has come courtesy of the Emmy Award winning Sherlock. As Dr Watson to Benedict Cumberbatch’s iconic eponymous detective, Freeman has notched yet more acclaim – and has enjoyed every minute.

“Sherlock is one of my favourite things I’ve ever worked on, maybe will work on,” he reveals. “I love doing the show and I’m like a little kid when those scripts come through my letter box. I get genuinely breathless.”

Not one to be drawn into any sort of confirmation over a potential fifth season – “I’m not being cagey when I say I really don’t know; it might happen” – one thing’s for certain. In this entertainment era of reboots and reunions, Freeman is far happier to let sleeping series lie.

“I like the finite nature,” he says of his two biggest TV appearances. “I like the idea of leaving it alone, allowing the memory and the legacy to live on untarnished. You’re running the risk of making something that won’t be half as good as what we did before. I say, ‘leave people wanting more. Not wanting less. No one wants to read a review, which so often happens, ‘they should have stopped five years ago.’ I’m happy to say, ‘Sorry, that’s enough.’”

Fans may well be disheartened at the star’s acceptance that Sherlock may well be joining The Office in the pantheon of British TV history. But such an approach is idiosyncratic of Freeman’s career to date – and the most unassuming box-office hit in Hollywood isn’t about to change any time soon.

“I just think it’s important to never believe it,” he says of his cinema star status. “Never actually talking any of it seriously, like it means anything in the grander scheme of things. Because when you do, that’s when the problems start.”

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