“I saw it about a week ago and was blown away,” he said. “You remember what you did on the day, like on the river with the barrels, I knew that was a green screen and now they’ve just made an entire world out of it, and this film is full of those. Digital renderings of things that are remarkable. I am able to watch some of that as a punter.”
Bilbo Baggins development matches the shift of tone with this second endeavour, as the increasing intensity makes for a thrilling production, and Baggins drops much of the joviality from the first, in turn for a darker showing. “When you first meet Bilbo, he’s a slightly pompous, homebody, and this time he has to kill or be killed,” he continued. “Bilbo is anxious, he’s kind of nervous, quite pompous, very unadventurous, hasn’t got a particular sense of humour about himself, he’s funny, but by accident. He’s tentative, very polite. So what do we have in common? Well, we look alike.”
However that’s not to say Freeman’s intrinsic comedic nature isn’t on show occasionally, and the actor tells us that he has been making people laugh since he was a toddler. “I think I was about four or five. I remember being in the pub with my dad and people throwing money at me. My pockets were bulging with change, because I was a performer. I’m the youngest of five and I’m small and you need to get attention.”
Meanwhile his Sherlock co-star, Benedict Cumberbatch, also has a key role in the film voicing Smaug, the fearful dragon. Though sharing various scenes with Freeman, regrettably they were never actually in person. When we had the chance to sit down with him at the Berlin event, he told us, “The freedom of that work, is that you get to do it in an environment where you can do whatever you want, because there’s no continuity, no fixed points and you really do just have your imagination to play with and nothing else. At the same time, the con is that you’re not working with other actors and I wanted to meet some of the people I was doing scenes with – a couple of whom I have yet to meet. I haven’t met Cate Blanchett or Hugo Weaving.”
Cumberbatch – who also voices Necromancer – explain his process of getting into the head of a gigantic dragon, and how studying the mythical creatures movement was an essential ingredient in getting this role spot on, as he used motion capture to perfect his performance. “It’s really complicated,” he said. “He has human characteristics and flaws that are very recognisable and he’s more than just a dragon in a fantasy story. I wanted to help the construction of him so they had a dramatic principle. He’s very investigative, charismatic and mercurial before he gets his rage on at the end, he’s not just a one-note thunder of destruction. If he was, you wouldn’t need him to speak English, there’s a reason why Tolkien characterised him. So all of that fed into me wanting to do motion capture and then take that into the voice work I did.”
The actor also told us of his intricate research methods before the shoot begun. “I went to the reptile house at London Zoo to look at the komodo dragons and serpents and bats. They did fuck all for a long time, and then they’d suddenly be very violent, or they’d be very slow and I saw the way their eyes moved.” Such research was beneficial to the talented actor, who was otherwise without any completed image of what Smaug would eventually look like in the finished product.
“I had impressions in my head from the illustrations from the editions of the book that I looked at, or could remember from childhood. My dad read this to me, so it really began with him. Dragons hold a visual fascination in British culture because of heraldry and because of St. George and the dragon, you don’t have to see the Neverending Story to know what a dragon looks like. It’s something that visually you are aware of.” When asked if he would change anything about his performance now he’s seen Smaug in action up on the big screen, he said, “Would I change it? No I don’t think so. Maybe when it comes out on DVD and I watch it for the tenth time I might change my mind.”
The first film, was was well-received by critics and the public alike, has certainly paved the way for a thrilling second feature, as this film starts to take real shape in the narrative, as we approach the dramatic finale. However the shooting itself has recently come to an end, and as Freeman looks back over what has been an incredible experience for him, the British actor tells us that the positive reactions have been encouraging and fulfilling for him. “I wouldn’t seek out negative comments, because I have enough of those in my own head. I’m always anticipating people disliking what I do anyway, so the things I hear or the things people want to say to me are positive, and people seem to think I’m a good Bilbo, which is nice,” he continues, “ It’s a very beloved book and I’ll never be as good a Bilbo as what people have in their heads as a reader, but we’re making a film and I had my go and someone else will have a turn in another 30 years I guess. I knew that I nearly didn’t do it, it had nearly gone because of Sherlock commitments, so when it came back I was absolutely delighted and amazed.”
Freeman’s words are no doubt thoughts shared by Cumberbatch too, who also turns in a commendable performance, with a hugely memorable scene alongside Freeman the highlight of the movie. So what’s the answer to his impressive vocal performance? “A lot of honey and ginger tea,” he finished.