Martin Freeman interview: “Nothing will take me to Hollywood, you can rest assured of that”

Martin Freeman, Arthur Dent in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, has been on a gruelling promotional schedule for the film adaptation of Douglas Adams’ iconic novel. He looks knackered. Unshaven and dressed in blue open neck shirt and a casual jacket, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy star looks like he wants the media merry-go-round involved with promoting a big budget movie to stop – preferably before he is sick…

It is his last interview in a week of back-to-back promotion and he is clearly feeling the strain.

“I am sorry, have I met everyone? I have met about four million people this week,” he says flatly, clearly redundant of small talk. “I have been asked that about 40,000 times so it must be true,” he says when asked about the reaction of Hitchhiker’s fans. And when asked what he would change if he could rebuild the Earth, he answers: “The fact that you could do a film and then not talk about it for five days. It would be nice to slink into the woods and play with my Action Man, and that is not a code word.”

But instead of this irritation being insulting, it is endearing. Freeman is not swept away by the glamour of it all. Just as with Arthur Dent, his character in the film, you get the feeling that all he really wants right now is a decent cup of tea.

Freeman, famous for his role as the lovelorn Tim Canterbury in The Office, was not the most obvious choice for the role of Dent, whose previous incarnations have been played by the Simon Jones, a Cambridge friend of Douglas Adams. While Jones’ Dent could be described as cricket and crumpets, Freeman’s version is more of a pie and a pint man.

The decision to make Dent more of an everyman was deliberate. “I could pretend to be posh but I don’t think there was any point really. I think maybe having the last surviving person on earth being middle class and probably went to Cambridge just was not as accessible as someone who hasn’t done that stuff.”

“I have met about four million people this week…” – Martin Freeman gets to grips with the media whirl around Hitchhiker’s…

That said, he says that Jones “cast a long shadow” over the character and he tried to avoid seeing or hearing him in previous versions of the book. “For me he was Arthur Dent, and I think for many people he still will be for quite a long time,” he admits. “It was part of the reason that I thought I was not right for the role.”

Freeman’s self-doubt is unnecessary. In Dent he delivers a performance that strikes at the heart of the character’s understandable bewilderment – his planet has just been demolished – and search for solace in the everyday comforts of a cuppa and English sarcasm.

His expression when guided by Bill Nighy’s Slartibartfast – the man who put the twiddly bits in fjords – through a factory floor for galaxies is the most moving part of the movie, palpably conveying the utter sadness of a man who has lost everything. “The stakes are pretty high for Arthur and I wanted to make them real. I didn’t want to play him as a nice polite sketch show or parody of a stiff upper lipped Englishman, because he is a man who has lost his entire planet in the first 10 minutes of the film and that should matter.”

“De Niro is the best actor in the world but he always looks the fucking same” – Martin Freeman on the man who played Frankenstein’s monster…

After this, The Office and the sitcom Hardware, is he worried about being typecast as “The Everyman”, an expression he uses himself. “I only use it because other fuckers keep saying it, you know what I mean?” he jokes. “I genuinely don’t see the connection between Arthur and Tim, we look the same but that is it. Robert De Niro is the best actor in the world but he always looks the fucking same.”

He adds with a note of irritation: “It doesn’t worry me, though you are the 400th person who has asked me that and so maybe it should worry me.” He plans to deal with the problem by taking more serious roles, which better reflect his background. Though famous for comedy, Freeman made his name in dramas such as the acclaimed Men Only. Later this year he will appear on the West End stage this autumn in Toby Whithouse’s play Blue Eyes and Heels.

He obviously relishes the change in scale. It is good to have more money flying around with a film, but the long period between shoots are less fun for him. “There is the potential to be bored for longer because you are spending eight hours rather than two hours of your day sleeping,” he comments.

“I don’t equate Hollywood with merit.” – Tough-talking Martin Freeman

Perhaps this is why he is less keen to follow fellow Office star MacKenzie Crook to Hollywood. “Nothing will take me to Hollywood,” he says adamantly. “You can rest assured of that. I don’t equate Hollywood with merit. It is like when people say no really you are famous, that is a compliment. That is no fucking compliment. Himmler was famous as well,” he adds. It is a spikey answer, though said with a smile.

The feedback from Douglas Adams’ family about his role has been very positive. “When I saw them at the premier they were delighted in a way that was above and beyond politeness. If they are happy and we are hoping that Douglas would have been happy too, then we are too.”

And with that the interview concludes. As I leave the room I hear him say to his PR: “Is that it?” “Yes,” she answers. I look back and the relief on his face is obvious. “Thank God for that,” he says and walks away.

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Martin Freeman interview: “Nothing will take me to Hollywood, you can rest assured of that”