Martin Freeman on Playing Bilbo Baggins in ‘The Hobbit’

Martin Freeman The Hobbit photo

WRITER’S NOTE: This article was written in 2012.

He’s made a name for himself on BBC television shows like “The Office” and “Sherlock,” and he had the lead role of Arthur Dent in “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.” But now actor Martin Freeman gets his biggest role to date as Bilbo Baggins in “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey.” This character was previously portrayed by Ian Holm in Peter Jackson’s “Lord of the Rings” trilogy, but Freeman now has the privilege of playing Bilbo in a movie which takes place sixty years before that trilogy’s beginning.

When it comes to portraying a character who has been played by a well-known actor in previous films, the task can seem quite daunting. Any actor in this position usually has to deal with a shadow hanging over them as their performance will always be compared to what came before. Holm’s Bilbo, however, functioned more as a cameo in “The Lord of the Rings” movies as he was only in them briefly. Furthermore, Freeman more than makes this role his own as he takes Bilbo from being someone who’s just minding their own business to someone willing to risk their life to help others. Still, you had to wonder if Freeman spent a lot of time studying Holm’s work in the previous films. Eventually, he cleared this up with Steve ‘Frosty’ Weintraub of the Collider website.

“I’ve watched the films again, obviously in more detail before I came to this. I looked at Ian’s (performance) more when I needed to. Again, I don’t really know how much I should say, but there were points where it was relevant for me to look very closely at Ian’s performance,” Freeman told Weintraub. “But generally, no because I think we’re quite good. I know why I was cast; do you know what I mean? Because I think we’re not that dissimilar, physically or whatever else. I think if I was, I don’t know, Jeff Goldblum or someone, then I might be thinking right, hang on, if he’s the older me I’d better attend more to something else maybe. Well, grow, for a start. But no, ’cause I think I was always trusted with it.”

“All I was told, which I think was flattery, and probably bollocks, was you are the only person to play it. So, I thought, well if they think that, then I’ve got to trust that,” Freeman continued. “And there’s only so much you can run with someone else’s thing. It’s very helpful in the way that it’s brilliant as he is always brilliant, and it’s a beautiful establisher of that character and a very loved one for obvious reasons. But it can also hamper you if you’re thinking, like in the barrels, if there’s even part of me thinking, how would Ian have done this, then I’m fucked. So, I’ve got to let that go. I’ve always been mindful of it because I’m familiar with it. But I think the work for that connection was done in the casting of me, rather than what I’m then going to do on top of it.”

In an interview with Colin Covert of the Toledo Blade, Freeman described Bilbo as being neither “the main guy in the room” or an “alpha male.” Looking back at “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey,” this gave the actor a great starting off point as he has to take this character from being a timid and rather pompous man to one who acts selflessly. Freeman really gives an exceptional performance as Bilbo’s transition from a self-centered person to a warrior of sorts feels seamless and subtle. You never consciously catch the actor trying to shift his character in a certain direction because it all seems to come about naturally.

One of the movie’s pivotal scenes comes when Bilbo meets up with Gollum who is again played by the brilliant Andy Serkis. This scene was actually shot in the first week of production and apparently took a whole week to film. When it comes to CGI characters, the actors usually have to play opposite something or someone which isn’t there. Fortunately for Freeman, Serkis was there on set to give life to Gollum, and he talked with Meredith Woerner of i09 about what it was like working with Serkis.

“Andy feels real,” Freeman told Woerner. “Obviously he doesn’t look like Gollum, strictly speaking, but he’s being Gollum. And I’m an animal of the theater and you’re used to using your imagination. You don’t have to use your imagination that much when you hear that voice and see the physicality and you think, oh there’s Gollum. There’s a man or a creature that wants to eat me. It didn’t feel very cheated at all. Gollum is such a beloved character. There’s a special place in people’s hearts for Gollum, I think. People who love the books and the films are delighted he’s in this, I think.”

Seriously, Martin Freeman gives a pitch perfect performance as Bilbo Baggins in “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey” to where you wonder if he and Ian Holm were actually separated at birth. This bodes well for the next two movies in Jackson’s “Hobbit” trilogy, and it will be interesting to see where Freeman takes this character from here.

One other thing; Freeman made it clear how Leonard Nimoy’s song “The Legend of Bilbo Baggins” did not play a big part in his research for the role.

“It helped me enjoy that three minutes of listening to it,” Freeman said of the song. “I’m still baffled by it.”

SOURCES:

Steve ‘Frosty’ Weintraub, “Martin Freeman Talks the Ring’s Impact on Bilbo, Being a Favorite for the Role & a Lot More on the Set of THE HOBBIT,” Collider, October 25, 2012.

Colin Covert, “Q&A; with ‘Hobbit’ Martin Freeman,” Toledo Blade, December 17, 2012.

Meredith Woerner, “The Hobbit’s Martin Freeman on dwarves, Gollum and Leonard Nimoy,” i09, December 16, 2012.

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Nicholas Meyer Talks About ‘Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan’ at New Beverly Cinema

Star Trek II movie poster

Nicholas Meyer was the guest of honor at New Beverly Cinema on August 12, 2012 where “Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan” was being shown. This classic sequel was being screened as a double feature with John Carpenter’s “The Thing” as part of the New Beverly’s tribute to movies from the summer of 1982. Meyer thanked the sold-out audience for showing up and admitted it was “preferable to being outside in this weather” where the temperature was inching closer to triple digit territory.

Actually, seeing Meyer appear in person for a screening for “Star Trek II” was a bit of a surprise. Last year, American Cinematheque presented a film program of the first six “Star Trek” movies, but Meyer politely declined to appear for the “Star Trek II” screening because he felt his head would explode if he was asked another question about it. In a sense, you have to be sympathetic to him because this is now a 30-year-old movie, and he has probably been asked every conceivable question about it. Meyer even went out of his way to tell audiences at the start, “I’m sorry if you’ve heard all these stories before. These stories can also be found in my memoir entitled ‘The View from The Bridge: Memories of Star Trek and a Life in Hollywood.’”

Meyer recalled how, after directing “Time After Time,” he wanted to do an adaptation of a Robertson Davies novel and would not consider anything else. But one evening while he was “flipping burgers” in his backyard, Meyer said a friend of his, an executive at Paramount Pictures, encouraged him to meet with producer Harve Bennett about the new “Star Trek” movie. Meyer ended up asking his executive friend, “Is that the show with the man with pointy ears?”

He met with Bennett who had gotten his start as a television producer on shows like “The Mod Squad” and “The Six Million Dollar Man,” and Meyer said they both remain friends to this day. Bennett ended up getting Meyer to watch “Star Trek: The Motion Picture” and episodes of the original “Star Trek” series so he could get familiar with the show and its characters.

Watching the show, Meyer said, “reminded me of something I loved as a kid” but he couldn’t recall what exactly. But it was late one night when he woke up at 4 a.m. in the morning that Meyer suddenly remembered: “Star Trek” reminded him of Captain Horatio Hornblower, a fictional sea captain who sailed the sea during the Napoleonic Wars in novels written by C.S. Forester. Meyer then envisioned this movie as “Captain Hornblower in space,” and from there he said he got a “hard on for doing a space opera.”

Four drafts had already been written for “Star Trek II,” and Bennett told Meyer Paramount was currently waiting on number five. Meyer said he had asked Bennett for the fifth draft and eventually got it after a delay, describing it as being 180 pages long and that he didn’t understand what he was reading. Meyer said he then asked Bennett if he could read the fourth draft, and he said Bennett ended up telling him, “Look kid, you don’t understand, all those previous drafts were just attempts at making a second ‘Star Trek’ movie.”

Meyer said he then suggested to Bennett they get all the previous drafts, read them over and then make a list of things they liked so he could try and weave them into a new script. The only problem was Industrial Light & Magic needed a script in 12 days so they could prepare the special effects for the opening. Meyer said he then asked Bennett, “What opening?”

“Star Trek II” already had a date it was set to arrive in theaters on, and this made writing a new script problematic. Bennett said it would take too much time to make Meyer a deal to get an additional writing credit, and Meyer ended up telling him, “Look, forget about the deal, forget about the writing credit, forget about the money. We don’t work on this new script now, there will be no movie.” Among the ideas kept from the previous drafts were the Genesis Device, Lieutenant Saavik (played by Kirstie Alley), and Captain Kirk as a dad.

When asked about what it was like working with the “Star Trek” actors, Meyer responded, “Have you seen the movie ‘Galaxy Quest?’ That movie was made for me!”

Meyer said the actors were very helpful in terms of crafting the script as they had already inhabited these characters for many years. Much of the talk, however, was on William Shatner whom Meyer described as “a very good actor.” Meyer also said Shatner was “very protective” of Kirk and that he is always the hero and in your face. In directing Shatner, Meyer described him as getting better the more he did a scene because he started getting bored to where he stopped striking an attitude and just became Kirk. This led Meyer to creating excuses to shoot scenes with Shatner over and over again like saying, “The sound’s not right there…”

There was also much talk about the late Ricardo Montalban who played Khan, and Meyer recollected he gave Montalban a copy of “Moby Dick” when they first met to talk about the movie. As an actor, Meyer said Montalban “hit all his marks” perfectly, but that he had to rein the actor in during Khan’s introduction. The character’s opening scene sounded like a rant, Meyer said, when Montalban first performed it, and he ended up taking the actor to the side and told him about a famous piece of acting advice once given by Sir Laurence Olivier:

“You shouldn’t show the audience your top because if you do, then you will have nowhere to go.”

When asked why Kirk and Khan never shared a scene together, Meyer said he didn’t realize this was the case while he was writing the script, and he found it impossible to put them together in a two-shot. Meyer then joked that these characters have Skype and that their conversations had to take place this way. He also answered the question he is most asked when it comes to talking about Montalban, “Yes, that is his real chest.”

Looking back at “Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan” these days, it does appear to represent one of Hollywood’s first attempts at a franchise reboot as the original, while a commercial success, was not well-received critically. While he probably has answered every conceivable question regarding this movie, it was still great to see Nicholas Meyer at New Beverly Cinema as he has been responsible for some of the very best “Star Trek” movies made so far, and his talent as a writer and director remains strong to this day.

Star Trek (2009)

Star Trek 2009 movie poster

I have been into “Star Trek” since I started watching the original series when I was five years old. I reveled in Kirk, Spock and the rest of the Enterprise crew hurtling through space and exploring new worlds. I still remember watching the episode “The Return of the Archons” where the Enterprise crew was being held prisoner, and there was this overwhelmingly loud noise which rendered them unconscious. As they fell to the floor, I mimicked what I saw on that ancient Zenith television my parents bought, pretending I was part of this great crew. Back then, I envisioned myself as a character on that show and “Star Trek: The Next Generation” as its adventures made up for the dullness of reality.

As “Star Trek” expanded from its original incarnation later became a never ending movie franchise, I stayed with it as much as I could. My dad had to carry me out of “Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan” after I burst into tears at the end. The fact that I kept saying he would come back to life was truly an utter coincidence when “Star Trek III: The Search for Spock” came out, and I was in tears after that one as well. I later became determined to be the first person in Thousand Oaks, California to own a copy of “Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home” on VHS. When my family moved from Thousand Oaks to the Bay Area, I found myself wanting those transporters to be real so that I could beam down south to hang out with the friends I was forced to leave behind.

But somewhere along the line, I found myself losing interest in all things Trek as I started to miss out on the last couple of seasons of “Star Trek: TNG.” Then there were other spinoffs like “Deep Space Nine” and “Voyager” among others, and I became increasingly less excited about the franchise as it came to resemble “Law & Order” and its various other incarnations. You knew what you were going to get, so the level of excitement I had for the franchise kept fading away year after year. Still, I believed that the franchise could be resurrected because, as Spock would say, there are always possibilities.

That resurrection has now arrived, seven years after “Star Trek: Nemesis,” thanks to J.J. Abrams. His “Star Trek” movie is the most exciting film this series has seen since “First Contact,” and I fucking loved it! This origin story of the Starship Enterprise and its cast gives the franchise a much needed kick in the ass. By taking the series in new directions, Abrams has succeeded in opening up the world of Trek to an audience that never fully embraced it before.

We get to see a young James Tiberius Kirk driving a hot rod while blasting the Beastie Boys’ “Sabotage” on the car’s stereo, and this is the first sign that this “Star Trek” is not going to be the same old shit. We see a young Spock getting taunted by his classmates which makes him use methods other than that famous Vulcan nerve pinch to subdue his enemies. Seeing Spock beat the crap out of others might have been hilarious in any other movie, but Abrams takes the character in fresh new directions we have not seen him go to before. This plays much more intensely on the fact that Spock has always been half-human and half-Vulcan.

The plot of “Star Trek” revolves around the device of time travel which has played a part in the most entertaining and successful films in the series (“The Voyage Home” and “First Contact”). It involves a large mining ship of Romulans commanded by Nero (Eric Bana) who is as thirsty for revenge as Khan was in “Star Trek II.” It doesn’t matter how much you know about Gene Roddenberry’s sci-fi universe because anything and everything you remembered about it previously will seem very different, and that makes this movie all the more entertaining and unpredictable.

One of the key successes Abrams has with “Star Trek” is the actors he has chosen as none of them try to do imitate what the actors who originated these roles did before them. Among the most impressive is Chris Pine who plays Kirk as a hotshot who gets himself in trouble constantly and lacks a father figure in his life. Pine really succeeds in capturing the same cockiness and over confidence that William Shatner brought to the role before him.

But even better is Zachary Quinto who plays Spock at his most emotionally unhinged. Of all the actors here, he has the biggest obstacle to overcome since the original Spock (Leonard Nimoy) is in this film as well. I admired how Quinto strongly displayed Spock’s inner turmoil and of the fact that he is a child of two worlds. One of his best moments comes when he essentially flips off the Vulcan High Command after he is accepted into their prestigious science academy. By describing Spock as having done well despite the “disadvantage” of having a human mother (played by Winona Ryder of all people), we get a huge thrill out Quinto making “live long and prosper” sound like he’s saying fuck you to the.

Another inspired casting choice in “Star Trek” is Simon Pegg as Engineer Montgomery Scott. As the movie heads to its exciting climax, it is frightening to see just how much Pegg resembles Scotty from the original series, and that’s even more so when we hear him say, “I’m giving her all she’s got Captain!” Pegg gives us a Scotty that is a perfect comic foil, and it will be great fun to see where he will take Scotty in future installments.

As Nero, Eric Bana gives us the strongest and most lethal villain this series has had since Khan. Whereas the previous antagonists seemed more refined in how they acted among their prey, Nero’s fury is so personal and uncontainable, and the fact that he is named after the Roman Emperor whose rule was marked by tyranny, and that he ordered the execution of his mother and adopted brother, should give you an idea of how screwed up he is.

The rest of the cast includes Bruce Greenwood who is perfectly cast as Christopher Pike, and it reminded me a lot of his underrated portrayal of John F. Kennedy in “Thirteen Days.” John Cho of “Harold & Kumar” fame plays Sulu, and he has a great moment where he gets to put his fencing skills to the test. Zoe Saldana plays Uhura with a calm sexiness and an intelligence that is foolishly underestimated by others until she makes you see the big picture. Karl Urban gives us a pitch perfect Dr. Leonard ‘Bones’ McCoy and captures the character’s infinite crankiness we all know him to have. Anton Yelchin plays Pavel Chekov, and while the character feels underused here, he is still well cast and has a flawless Russian accent. And of course, we have Winona Ryder playing Spock’s mother, and her performance is all the more impressive when you take into account that she is only two years older than Quinto.

What impressed me even more about this particular “Star Trek” is that it was given a budget of over $100 million. There is no doubt that the money is there on the screen, and the effects are remarkable. This is an especially good point to make as special effects have never really been the strong point of the “Star Trek” series, but here they are the best they have ever been. The Enterprise bridge looks so much different than it ever before, and it has a sleek style to it that makes being there all the more inviting.

I’ll be very interested to hear what die hard Trekkers think of this latest adventure of the Enterprise crew. This one does not dwell on big ideas the way “Star Trek” has done for the most part throughout its various incarnations. The main power of Roddenberry’s series was how it dealt with social issues of the day in the realm of science fiction. This one is meant to be more like “Star Wars,” and it allows Abrams to give this aging franchise an invigorated feeling that it desperately needed. While it may not be a “Trek” rooted in philosophy, I think this one leaves the door open for writers to explore present day themes in a future installment.

But I cannot go on without mentioning the welcome return of Leonard Nimoy as Spock (. This could have been a gimmicky cameo that lasted just a few seconds, but Nimoy’s Spock does play a very pivotal role in this movie. Furthermore, he also helps give it a sense of legitimacy that it would not have had without his appearance. Keep in mind, his character was the only one who survived the rejected first pilot of the original series.

Seeing this “Star Trek” brought a lot of happiness to me. My mood seems to get inadvertently sidetracked depending on the health of the franchise. I can honestly say that I am not all surprised at its longevity or constant rebirth. Roddenberry’s message of hope always finds a way to win out, and it is fitting that the movie is getting released around the beginning of the President Barrack Obama’s first term. Granted, this is really a coincidence since the movie was being developed before he made his decision to run for President, but it’s a wonderful coincidence all the same.

All those kids who gave me crap about liking this great series can suck it now, because “Star Trek” is here to stay. Even those who picked on me for being a Trekker, and ironically did much better in science classes than me, won’t be able to pass this one up. “Star Trek” can be seen as the first truly great odd-numbered movie in the long running series, and it is proof that this series will never die.

Live long and prosper? OH HELL YES!!!

* * * * out of * * * *

Copyright Ben Kenber 2009.

Mad Monster Celebrates The 25th Anniversary of ‘Star Trek VI’ in Hollywood

 

Yes, ladies and gentlemen, it has now been 25 years since “Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country” arrived in movie theaters. I still remember watching it with my parents at Blackhawk Cinemas like it was yesterday, thrilled that the original crew of the starship Enterprise managed to get one last adventure in space. For a time, it looked like that would not happen as “Star Trek V: The Final Frontier” almost killed the franchise, but thanks to Leonard Nimoy taking on executive producing duties and Nicholas Meyer returning to the director’s chair, Kirk, Spock, McCoy and the rest of the crew got a wonderful sendoff as they struggled to bring about a truce with their longtime enemies, the Klingons.

On July 13, 2016, Mad Monster hosted an anniversary screening of “Star Trek VI” at the TCL Chinese Theatres in Hollywood. It was the perfect place for this screening as “Star Trek VI” had made its debut at Grauman’s Chinese Theatre next door, and the cast got to write their names in the cement outside of it. Appearing for this screening were producer Steven-Charles Jaffe, composer Cliff Eidelman, and Nichelle Nichols whom we all know and love for playing Lieutenant Uhura.

Star Trek VI Nichelle Nichols

Nichols was asked how she first got cast as Uhura on the original “Star Trek” television series, and she said that she didn’t remember as that this character has been with her for so long and that she likes “the gal” and described her as “nice company.” When it came to getting cast in this iconic role, she replied that she was “just lucky I guess.”

Steven Charles Jaffe

Jaffe pointed out that he previously produced “Ghost” and that Whoopi Goldberg told him if it weren’t for Nichols, she never would have become an actress. Goldberg had watched the original series and felt Nichols was such an inspiration to her and many generations of young actors as her role really represented racial diversity. Jaffe was also eager to add the following:

“The last week of shooting this movie, I was on the bridge of the Enterprise and we were setting up a shot and I was looking at the original cast, including Nichelle, and I had this very interesting flashback of being a little boy in Stanford, Connecticut in my pajamas watching ‘Star Trek’ on television with these same people, and here I am producing this movie and thinking what a lucky guy I am. I don’t know how this happened, but how special was that?”

To this Nichols added, “I was the lucky one.”

Cliff Eidelman

Eidelman’s score to “Star Trek VI” remains one of the most haunting of the franchise and helped propel the composer to new cinematic heights. But it turns out that Meyer wanted Eidelman to adapt Gustav Holst’s orchestral suite “The Planets” as opposed to creating an original score. Eidelman said he had studied that piece “a little” in college but lied to Meyer and said he studied it a lot. However, Eidelman had something else in mind.

“The truth is I didn’t want to adapt ‘The Planets,’” Eidelman said. “As a young composer I wanted to write an original score that would be original for this project, but I didn’t say that to Nick and I kind of played along. Not long after we started talking about it I started writing original themes, and at some point I think the people at Paramount started to inquire about the cost of licensing ‘The Planets’ from the Holst kids. I think the cost was apparently very expensive. But anyway, you (pointing to Jaffe) came by my apartment along with some people from Paramount and Nick, and I started to play these themes of mine on my old upright piano, and I was humming what the strings would do and what the brass would do. And at some point I think Ralph Winter or somebody turned and said, ‘Well why are we licensing ‘The Planets’ when we’ve got this theme?’ So that was the end of ‘The Planets’ and I was able to go off and write my own score.”

maf7117booklet.indd

Nichols spoke at length about Gene Roddenberry, the man who created “Star Trek” and set the whole franchise in motion.

“I knew Gene before I went on the show, and he told me what he was planning and what it was going to be and that it would be on television,” Nichols said. “He wanted me to be a part of it, and I got nervous (laughs) because I loved working for him and he is very particular. But I think that was why I liked working for him because you didn’t have to guess what was going on and you didn’t have to guess what you were going to do. If you had something that you wanted to give beyond what you thought he was talking about, he was very open to listen to it and say yes or no just like that. Fortunately, he said yes more than he said no to me.”

In addition to producing “Star Trek VI,” Jaffe was also the movie’s second unit director. He said he has directed second unit on every movie he ever produced and that this started on Meyer’s first movie, “Time After Time.” The first thing Meyer had Jaffe shoot on “Star Trek VI” was the ice planet in Alaska, and in the process he said he experienced “premature global warming.”

“I went up to Alaska on this glacier three weeks before we started filming,” Jaffe said. “I storyboarded everything, I had every shot, every location I thought locked down, and three weeks later I came back with a full crew and several helicopters and everything was gone. They said, ‘Well, glaciers do move.’ And I said, ‘They don’t move that quickly.’”

“My job was to not stand out,” Jaffe continued. “It was weird because I had never shot second unit before the movie began, and I was very nervous because the studio would see my dailies before anybody’s. I figured somebody is probably doing this to get me fired off this movie really quick. Fortunately, Leonard (Nimoy) who was one of the producers and the studio liked what I did, and that was that.”

Jaffe also talked about how he and Meyer had finished making a movie in Germany before “Star Trek VI” (“Company Business”) when the Berlin Wall came down. Unfortunately, the studio they did it for was having a hard time and the movie got a horrible release. The two of them were hanging out at Meyer’s house in London when Nimoy called and told Meyer, “I got a new idea for ‘Star Trek;’ the wall falls down in outer space!” Jaffe said Meyer hung up on Nimoy and that they were both very drunk at the time, and Jaffe encouraged Meyer to call Nimoy back.

“Wait a minute, you don’t get this opportunity too many times,” Jaffe remembered telling Meyer. “It isn’t the same movie, but it’s the same theme as the film we just made. ‘Star Trek’ will get a release. We’re crazy not to do this.”

Before the Q&A ended and the movie began, Nichols had the last word of the evening as she talked about her most important addition to the character of Uhura before the cameras were rolling on the original “Star Trek” show.

“They hadn’t named her yet and I said, ‘What about Uhuru?’ And they looked at me funny and I said, ‘It means freedom.’ They said, ‘Well it’s kind of harsh.’ And I said, ‘Well, make it Uhura.’ And he (Roddenberry) says, ‘I like that.’ And I said, ‘I do too!’ And I became then and there for the rest of my life Uhura, and I’m glad to be here with you.”

Nichelle Nichols orginal Star Trek

Technically, the 25th anniversary of “Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country” doesn’t occur until December 5, 2016, but it’s never too early to celebrate. This “Star Trek” movie succeeded in rejuvenating the movie franchise and helped give the original Enterprise crew the sendoff they richly deserved. After all these years it remains one of the best in the series as its themes of war, peace and change still resonate deeply in our everyday affairs. With “Star Trek Beyond” coming soon to theaters and a new “Star Trek” television series on the way, there is no doubt that this franchise will continue to live long and prosper from one generation to the next.

Star Trek Chinese Theatre

Star Trek VI last show of the crew

Star Trek VI poster