British comedian Martin Freeman surprised everyone by landing the lead role of Arthur Dent in The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. He's largely unknown in the U.S., but quite famous in Europe for his role in "The Office". His casting had a lot of people scratching their heads, but I'm pleased to report that he absolutely nails the film. Martin perfectly captures the confused "everyman" as Arthur Dent slogs his way around the galaxy. He's quite funny and puts a face on one of Sci-Fi's most beloved characters.
How did you get the role of Arthur Dent?
Martin Freeman: It came to me as they all do. It arrived in script form with a view to meeting the directors. So I read it and liked it. I went to meet Garth [Jennings, the director] and Nick and did a reading for them. They told me which scenes to prepare. I did those and read with Garth. It went well apparently because they sort of wanted me from there.
Where you a fan of books?
Martin Freeman: I was familiar with it. I was young when they came out and young when it was on telly. I remember watching it on and off. The books were around the house because people in my family were fans of them. I had a familiarity with it. I always knew who Zaphod and Ford Prefect was. So I was aware of the basic tenants of the story. But it wasn't the part I thought I was born to play. I wasn't waiting 30 years to play Arthur.
What was it like being lone British actor in the cast?
Martin Freeman: It felt like the British Alamo. No, it still felt like a British thing because we were doing it in London and the creative team were British. But I was one of a few British actors who were on it all the time. But it still felt like a homey thing. I think people's fear—well certainly British peoples' fear—is that it would be completely Hollywoodized or morphed into this thing where the stuff we initially cared about is no longer there. I believe and hope people don't' feel that's happened. Occasionally I would feel like the only Limey in town. I felt it was in good hands. No one was on board to scuttle it. They all wanted to serve the film and make something good happen. We were all on the same side.
How did you bring that great "everyman" quality to Arthur?
Martin Freeman: I think, to be honest, that work is already done by Douglas [Adams]. It's done in the writing. You'd be hard pushed to make that guy James Bond. You just wouldn't be following the map if he wasn't average. He's written as the last surviving human so he's not looking his best. He's not George Clooney. He's just one of us in the sense that he's a normal bloke with a job he doesn't particularly love and he's in love with a woman who isn't in love with him. So that's certainly tangible for most of the population of the Earth. My approach to him was to play him as real as possibly and as funnily as possible. Be aware you're in a comedy so it is heightened. But the stakes have to matter. I didn't want to play it as just a polite tea-time sketch. I just had to make it real for me. His planet is gone in the first 10 minutes, which is by any standards a massive thing to happen. So I wanted to make it that he is genuinely hit by that. I wanted that to matter at the same time as being funny. And within all of that out comes that is this average, flawed person.
Were you nervous about playing Arthur? He's really the anchor of the entire film?
Martin Freeman: I do obviously. I think everything I do is the anchor. Yes, I suppose so. I suppose he's the most famous character in the story. Anyone who knows Hitchhiker's has heard of Arthur Dent. He's who you should be rooting for. He's the last one of our species. And humans are going to see the film until there's distribution on Mars. So we should be behind him.
Do you worry about the fans reacting poorly?
Martin Freeman: Not really. As we all know, you can't do your job worrying about abstract ideas. I'm not a big webhead so I don't spend my time thinking do people want me or Jack Davenport? I knew some people would think I was a great idea and some would think I was a terrible idea. And I know that's still the case. All I can do is just do what I can do and not be hampered by knowing that some people won't like it. But some people won't like everything I do.
No one has said Arthur Dent, you?
Martin Freeman: No, mainly because I don't go to the pub. But my girlfriend has: You? I suppose I meet the people who are being nice and I guess the people who think I'm terrible don't bother talking to me.
What was it like working with Mos Def?
Martin Freeman: He was very easy to work with. I knew him as a recording artist. But it was very clear it wasn't like having Puffy in your film. Mos is by instinct an actor. And he's a nice bloke. We talked about music the entire time. We've both got a very Catholic taste in music and talked about that a lot.
How do you feel about Americans adapting British TV shows?
Martin Freeman: My view is that it's always happened. I think America has always had a hard time taking British stuff undiluted. From Sanford and Son to Death Us Do Part. We've always made, if I can say so myself, top class comedy. We've also made dreadful comedy. I don't' want to make it sound like Britain has only been churning out pearls, because Britain often makes dreadful things. But the best stuff that I think could and should have worked in American hasn't. Because I think America can be an insular place. It can be a place that has a hard time dealing with anyone speaking English in an English accent. We've always had American shows as they are. It's just not been something that's reciprocal. Rock n roll, jazz, and Hollywood had all come from America and we've eaten it up. So we know American accents, Route 66. You don't know about Croton. That stuff is not reciprocated. It's a shame people don't know what Yes, Minister is or even what The Office is. When people say to me you must be really pleased America has really taken to the Office, and I think well maybe New York and LA has but I don't know about Ohio or Arkansas. And that's America. I wouldn't' want to just assume that just because 30 people who are journalists know who it is, that means that America is taken care of. I wish there was more two way traffic. We know every good American show. That's not two-way traffic. And it's not because we've made dreadful comedy. Something's happening and you're not getting it. Which is frustrating to be honest. Not everything we've done is great, but we have done some great stuff and it would be nice not to have it changed or be ruined. Which is why people are so afraid about Hitchhikers. There's a long standing tradition that America takes something, doesn't quite understand it and changes it into something they do understand. I'm happy to report that from my experience here, that doesn't apply. I would defy anyone to see it and think that not everyone has been cast right.
What do you think about the American version of The Office?
Martin Freeman: I saw the pilot. And I liked it. If I had come across it on the telly, I'd watch it again. I've not seen any of the series. It was very like ours only with American accents. It was so good and faithful I kind of wondered who was going to get it that wasn't going to get the English one. If you don't like the English one, are you going to get this? My fear was everyone was going to be beautiful, but everyone looked normal. Because that was the essence of the British one. Hats off to them, I think they did it well. I thought the actor playing my character was good. I'd really say if I didn't.
Are you planning to do something with Ricky Gervais again?
Martin Freeman: I'm not sure. It would have to be so specifically right and something not jeopardizing what has gone before. Hence not doing any more Office or what he's doing now. It would have to be specific because we wouldn't want to be teaming up just to push memory buttons. And I'm an actor by trade and he's pretty much a writer by trade.
Are you planning on coming to the US and taking a stab at Hollywood?
Martin Freeman: Not at all, I've got a massive DVD collection and a lot of that is American. I'm just not first in the queue when it comes to getting a visa to come to LA. Again, it's not reciprocal. You're not expected to make that move as an American. You're expected to live here. And as a British person, you're expected to [move]. So many British people with no prospects say, "I'm going to go to Hollywood and just see what happens." And I'm like "What the fuck do you think is going to happen?" That's the place where everyone wants to be. And if you're making The Godfather that's great. But you can make rubbish at home! Good scripts wherever they come from is what I'm interested in. I'm English, I'm a Londoner and I love it there.
What's next for you?
Martin Freeman: Hopefully a film in New York called The Good Knight, written and directed by Jake Paltrow. A lovely screenplay and I've been talking to him about that. It's a question of if I can fit in before I do a play in the autumn in London. I read a lot of American scripts that are better than British scripts. They're for grownups. They're not trying to remake the Italian Job. We do a lot of capery stuff in Britain and a lot of American scripts are a bit more grown-up.
Would you make a sequel to Hitchhikers?
Martin Freeman: If it was going to be the same team, I'd be interested. Given that this film has taken 25 years, you'd have to worry about the quality. And Douglas is not around and we were working with Douglas's words this time. We haven't got that luxury now. It will take a lot more work and a rethink. I don't anticipate it happening real soon. If Garth or Nick were involved I'd always be interested in what they were doing.
Do you ever get sick of talking about the Office?
Martin Freeman: I don't sick of it. I do really understand it. If in 10 years I'm still talking about the Office, I've done something wrong. It's a thing to beat. Early in my career, I do one of the most talked about things of the last few years. That doesn't come along very often.
Dont't forget to also check out: The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy