Latest Stories


Becoming Bilbo

Martin Freeman on his prosthetic feet, the action scenes and the other challenges of playing Bilbo Baggins

Your name was mentioned for a while for the role of Bilbo Baggins. What was the first you heard of it?

I put it down to the fact that I’ve just got a weird face, which is sort of a back-handed compliment, because if people think you look like a Hobbit, that’s not necessarily a good thing. [Laughs] But I bumped into Andy Serkis, and he said, “Has anyone spoken to you about playing Bilbo?” And I said, “Not really, apart from rumors and stuff.” And he said, “I think they will, or they should.”

It was never definite until about February 2010. I put myself on tape for it, and from the time that it was just all very positive. I was told that they weren’t wanting to consider anyone else, and I was the only person they wanted to play it.

So, there were never any big names in the mix that you were up against?

It wasn’t like that.  It was, “Either you, or we’re not going to make it!” You learn to take things with a pinch of salt, but it was nice.

There was a terrible moment when it looked like “Sherlock” might come in the way. That’s another great role, so it would have been a difficult choice.

Absolutely, I desperately wanted to do both. I loved doing “Sherlock”; it was a big hit in the UK so that was great, and I didn’t want to turn my back on that. Well, I couldn’t anyway, it was contractual! So I said to my agents, “I’m going to have to let Bilbo go, aren’t I?” Then I heard it was back on, that Peter had rearranged the schedule so that I could do it. That was amazing! It was like somebody was gagging on me, and I couldn’t quite believe it. I still think that’s a big fluke!

So where did you start with Bilbo? Did you turn to the book?

No, I read the book in the run-up to it.  I hadn’t read it before.  And then I didn’t go over it.  I didn’t start with Bilbo really until I went over to New Zealand some months later. I started working on him physically—how the feet change your physicality.  He has long feet, so there’s the Hobbit gait: how you hold yourself, how you literally look at the world, how you move your head and your shoulders.  And, again, it isn’t massively different. They’re the most human of all the species, but Hobbits aren’t human; they’re different. So Peter [Jackson] was keen that it should be very recognizable. It’s not like playing a bloke, although as a species they are the most familiar to a reader or a viewer.

Bilbo is the heart of the story, so there has to be a sort of neutrality to him. If your job is to carry the audience through, it can’t be too dividing, I suppose.  It has to be likeable; it has to be engaging and truthful. But there are certain physical and vocal traits that are Hobbit-y, and Ian Holm-y, and just Bilbo-y.

Did you go back and look at Ian Holm’s performance?

I did, yeah. I didn’t want to worry about it too much once I’d seen it.  I didn’t want to keep referencing it before every take.  But I watched his bits a few times, to get a taste of it, so it would just be there somewhere in the background.  I didn’t want to have to bring it out, to say, “Look, I’m doing my research; I’m playing Ian Holm!” It should just be there somewhere.

How were the costume and the Hobbit feet? Were they comfortable?

Compared to the Dwarves, very comfortable! They were in prosthetics and big fat suits.  I had a much easier time than most people did in makeup. So, by Hobbit film standards, quite a short makeup, but by normal film standards it was quite involved. Putting on big feet and prosthetic ears and a Hobbit wig is more than you normally do. But the costume was nice.

Your first scene was “Riddles in the Dark” with Andy. It’s a pretty amazing place to start.

It’s lovely, and it was nice to start there. Some people asked if I wanted to start somewhere more sedate, but it’s more fun starting on a fun scene. You’re straight into it, and that’s a good way of finding out who Bilbo is.  Because, of course, until you’re doing it you don’t know all the choices you’re going to make. You’re finding it, really, as you go. So, between you and Peter, you’re kind of going, “What about this? What about that? Up that bit and down that bit!” It was great.

And I was doing it with Andy, who is not only very good but knows that part and created that part so brilliantly.  It’s a truly iconic part in the canon of those films, and he’s good at it!  It’s lovely doing it with someone who raises your game.

How were the action scenes? Those must have been difficult!

There was a lot of running, it was very physical. The 3D cameras did slow things down a bit, but not a whole lot. They got on top of the technology, and the technology improved all the time.

What about the theme of the film? If “The Lord of the Rings” was this very sweeping, good vs evil story, this seems in some ways more like a more personal story about Bilbo.

Well, certainly from his point of view, it is. The Dwarves, I suppose, don’t give a stuff about Bilbo’s self-discovery! For Bilbo, it’s a decision to put himself completely out of his comfort zone or to be open.  If that is his overriding thing, he’s made a decision to put himself in the place where he has to just receive and not control everything.

What Bilbo discovers is that the stuff  that will really enrich his life is not the stuff he can physically take with him on the journey. It’s not his wines, his shoes and his maps. He’s got all the books and maps and all that, but he hasn’t been anywhere. That’s the thing that Gandalf tries to appeal to in him: It’s out there, the world’s out there! It’s not in your maps! Which I think is quite a nice moral, if it is a moral.

He’s a bit like Tolkien himself; he didn’t travel very much either.

I think so, absolutely, absolutely. That’s what it seems to be. He was a very Hobbit-y man.

Follow Us

Follow us on Facebook Follow on Twitter Follow on Twitter

Recent Stories:

Complete stories on our Digital Edition newsstand for tablets, netbooks and mobile phones; 14-issue free trial. About to step out? Get breaking alerts on your mobile.phone. Text ON INQ BREAKING to 4467, for Globe, Smart and Sun subscribers in the Philippines.

Tags: Bilbo Baggins , Cinemas , Hobbit , Lifestyle

Copyright © 2014, .
To subscribe to the Philippine Daily Inquirer newspaper in the Philippines, call +63 2 896-6000 for Metro Manila and Metro Cebu or email your subscription request here.
Factual errors? Contact the Philippine Daily Inquirer's day desk. Believe this article violates journalistic ethics? Contact the Inquirer's Reader's Advocate. Or write The Readers' Advocate:
c/o Philippine Daily Inquirer Chino Roces Avenue corner Yague and Mascardo Streets, Makati City, Metro Manila, Philippines Or fax nos. +63 2 8974793 to 94
  1. Are your favorite malls open this Holy Week break?
  2. Levine designs womenswear with help from fiancee
  3. ‘Labahita a la bacalao’
  4. This is not just a farm
  5. Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Nobel laureate, dies at 87
  6. Clams and garlic, softshell crab risotto–not your usual seafood fare for Holy Week
  7. Why is the lifestyle set now afraid to wear jewelry–before Kim Henares?
  8. How Vitamin B can be a remedy for ‘manhid’ and neuropathy
  9. Ford Mustang turns 50 atop Empire State Building
  10. Sarah Geronimo and Matteo Giudicelli sing ‘All of Me’–and we all swoon
  1. Dominique–Gretchen and Tonyboy Cojuangco’s daughter–now an endorser
  2. Why is the lifestyle set now afraid to wear jewelry–before Kim Henares?
  3. Are your favorite malls open this Holy Week break?
  4. Sarah Geronimo and Matteo Giudicelli sing ‘All of Me’–and we all swoon
  5. How Vitamin B can be a remedy for ‘manhid’ and neuropathy
  6. Marcos grandson to wed beautiful Rocha scion
  7. Ever heard of HydroBob?
  8. 90 percent of Filipino households don’t practice proper toilet hygiene, sanitation
  9. Are your favorite malls open this Holy Week?
  10. Boots Anson-Roa to wed in Eddie Baddeo
  1. Mary Jean Lastimosa is new Miss Universe Philippines
  2. Did Angara ruin Pia Wurtzbach’s chances at Bb. Pilipinas?
  3. Dominique–Gretchen and Tonyboy Cojuangco’s daughter–now an endorser
  4. Manila in shock over model Helena Belmonte’s death
  5. Vinegar test helpful vs cervical cancer
  6. From Jeannie to mom of suicide victim
  7. San Vicente beaches hidden but not for long
  8. Borgy and Georgina are back; others are off–again
  9. Sen. Angara: I thought Pia Wurtzbach gave a good answer
  10. Why is the lifestyle set now afraid to wear jewelry–before Kim Henares?


  • Traffic from provinces to Manila light on Black Saturday
  • Sub search for missing plane to be done in week
  • Gloomy weather on Black Saturday–Pagasa
  • Mixed feelings for Gabriel Garcia Marquez in hometown
  • Korea ferry captain arrested, divers spot bodies
  • Sports

  • Duke’s Rodney Hood joining Jabari Parker in NBA draft
  • Phelps entered in 3 events at comeback meet
  • Boston prepares for huge wave of marathon visitors
  • Motivated LeBron James preps for postseason
  • Nadal ousted by Ferrer in Monte Carlo quarters
  • Lifestyle

  • Levine designs womenswear with help from fiancee
  • Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Nobel laureate, dies at 87
  • Ford Mustang turns 50 atop Empire State Building
  • Pro visual artists, lensmen to judge Pagcor’s photo contest
  • ‘Labahita a la bacalao’
  • Entertainment

  • Myx TV premieres Asian American ‘docu-series’
  • A nutty finale for ‘Scandal,’ TV’s craziest show
  • EXO postpones release of mini album ‘Overdose’
  • ‘X-men’ filmmaker slams ‘fabricated’ sex attack claims
  • Singer Chris Brown’s bodyguard on trial in DC
  • Business

  • Fiat-Chrysler to produce iconic Jeep in China from 2015
  • US commerce secretary spells out economic facet of ‘pivot to Asia’
  • Italy sells luxury state cars on eBay
  • Asian shares mostly up in quiet trade
  • Dollar up in Asia on US jobs data, Ukraine deal
  • Technology

  • Nasa’s moon-orbiting robot crashes down
  • Netizens pay respects to Gabriel Garcia Marquez
  • Nokia recalls 30,000 chargers for Lumia 2520 tablet
  • Facebook rolls out ‘nearby friends’ feature
  • Netizens seethe over Aquino’s ‘sacrifice’ message
  • Opinion

  • Editorial cartoon, April 17, 2014
  • A humbler Church
  • Deepest darkness
  • ‘Agnihotra’ for Earth’s health
  • It’s the Holy Week, time to think of others
  • Global Nation

  • OFW from UAE tests negative for MERS-Cov–health chief
  • Multicultural flock marks Good Friday in San Francisco
  • Las Vegas ‘Pinoy Pride’ fest hails Filipino heritage
  • Marking Jesus’ journey on Good Friday
  • Filipina accomplice arrested for fake bills in Malaysia