I find the title of this article quite misleading (as they often are) but for the links sake I kept it. IMAO it’s been chosen to get a reaction out of people. Martin talks about so much here. His roles in Black Panther, Sherlock, Fargo, Startup, personal things, his new TV series Breeders, being a mod, music etc.
Read for yourself:
“In a reversal of usual Hollywood practice, Martin Freeman stars as one of only two white characters in a predominantly black film. He plays a CIA agent on the trail of a villain in the superhero blockbuster Black Panther. The other white actor is his Hobbit co-star Andy Serkis. As a result, the two were known on set as “the Tolkien white guys”.
“Yes, that was quite funny,” agrees Freeman, over a sushi lunch. His character, Everett Ross, is also on the receiving end of one of the film’s best lines – “Don’t try and scare me, coloniser!” – after he bumps into Shuri, a princess in the mythical African kingdom in which the film is set.
But Freeman was keen that Agent Ross should be more than the beleaguered operator that appears in the original Marvel comics, saying he didn’t want to play another “goofy white guy among cool black people going ‘What the hell?’” So he discussed fleshing out his character with director Ryan Coogler.
“And he was completely on board with that,” says Freeman. “I had no interest in [playing a thin character] any more than a black actor would have had interest – as they have been for many years – in being a one-or two-dimensional black character.”
Freeman thinks we’ll be seeing more of Everett Ross in the Marvel cinematic universe. But he isn’t sure if that will mean he and Sherlockco-star Benedict Cumberbatch – who plays Marvel’s Doctor Strange in the franchise – will ever share big-screen time. Nor is he sure if he and Cumberbatch will be reunited on the small screen any time soon.
The fourth series of Sherlock finished in January 2017 amid a flurry of negative headlines accusing the once highly acclaimed show of having become convoluted and over-the-top. How did Freeman feel about the backlash?
“Um, we’re British. We basically want everyone to die after the first album,” he says. Yet he thinks some of the critics may have had a point. “To be absolutely honest, it [was] kind of impossible. Sherlock became the animal that it became immediately. Whereas even with The Office [the Ricky Gervais comedy that launched Freeman’s career] it was a slow burn. But Sherlock was frankly notably high quality from the outset. And when you start [that high] it’s pretty hard to maintain that.”
He seems more frustrated by speculation among the show’s rabid fan base that Watson and Sherlock are in love. “There was a chunk of people who just knew it was going to end with us getting together,” he says, still sounding exasperated 15 months after the last episode was broadcast.
For the record, then: “Me and Ben, we have literally never, never played a moment like lovers. We ain’t f—— lovers,” he says forcefully.
Have they discussed a fifth series?
“Not massively. Um… I think after series four [it] felt like a pause. I think we felt we’d done it for a bit now. And part of it, speaking for myself is [due to] the reception of it.”
Rather than the criticism, he means the exceptional personal pressure he found himself under as a result of the show’s success. “Being in that show, it is a mini-Beatles thing,” he says. “People’s expectations, some of it’s not fun any more. It’s not a thing to be enjoyed, it’s a thing of: ‘You better f—— do this, otherwise you’re a c—.’ That’s not fun any more,” he repeats.
The actual reason for our meeting is to talk about Freeman’s new compilation album, Jazz on the Corner, which he has put together with old friend Eddie Piller, the founder of revered label Acid Jazz.
The pair co-hosted a show on independent station Soho Radio a couple of years ago: two hours of “digging in the crates” for beloved old jazz records to play. There was such a positive response to it, that Piller suggested an album.
“And it was nice. It’s just a good excuse to delve through some jazz records at home and kid yourself that, ‘I’m doing this for this work purposes’.”
The actor is a Mod to the soles of his well-shod shoes, but Freeman was keen to break out of the confines of the culture and “go jazz”.
“There are some, for want of a better word, Mods who can’t talk about anything else. Totally mono-cultural. And that drives me totally barmy.”
He himself grew up on the fusion of ska and punk rock that dominated the early Eighties. “Catholicism and Two Tone were my twin religions as a kid,” he grins. “I was crazy about it. I went mad over Madness and The Beat and the Specials. It was great music that managed to touch 19-year-olds and nine-year-olds.”
It’s music first and foremost that keeps him sane in the long hours of downtime on film sets, particularly on huge and laborious productions like the Atlanta-based Black Panther.
His long absences away from home are rumoured to be among the reasons for his split from his partner and Sherlock co-star Amanda Abbington, with whom he has two young children, in 2016. He admits now that juggling work with home life has always been tricky. “Even when Amanda and I were together I was very picky [over what I did]. I even thought about [not doing] The Hobbit! I was thinking, ‘Hmm, that’s a long time away from two little kids…’”
Has the split made him change his attitude to his career? “No, it hasn’t massively impacted on my life. I’m determined to do things that I want to do. And not do the things I don’t want to do. And me and Amanda will always find a way of making it work, because we’re very supportive of each other.”
Freeman is currently single, which might help explain his raft of recent projects, including Black Panther, the jazz album, last year’s West End play Labour of Love, an Australian zombie movie for Netflix called Cargo and new BBC sitcom Breeders.
Created by and starring Freeman, Breeders is about “the stuff in parenting that nice middle-class people just don’t want to talk about, and almost never do,“ he says. “And I can’t quite believe it. I can’t have serious conversations with parents who don’t admit that sometimes they want to throw themselves out of a window – for real!
“I realised when my kids were very, very young that I couldn’t have any more nice north London conversations about how fantastic it was. Yes, of course it is – you love your kids more than anything in the world. But sometimes you want to kill everyone in your house.”
Part of his recent output would also seem to be driven by a desire to remove himself as much as possible from the ‘everyman’ persona he first cultivated as Tim in The Office, a persona he has vocally resented being labelled with ever since. Recent roles have been grubbier and dirtier, from his mild-mannered insurance man who descends into murder in Channel 4’s Fargo, to the Amazon drama StartUp, in which he played “a bent FBI agent”.
“I really enjoyed doing that,” he says eagerly of StartUp. “In Fargo you saw a guy who at the start was not psychopathic and was not mental. But in StartUp he begins there. This was not an, ‘ooh, he’s an everyman, but he’s taken a turn…’ No, he’s really dark. And I really loved that.
Did it unlock any inner demons?
“Nope,” he shoots back with a smile. “In my job I think that’s exactly how you exorcise things, because you get to do it on the set. Not that I’m never a complete p—k in real life – I am a complete p—k in real life sometimes, but probably less than I would be if I didn’t have this job.”