Read the full transcript from BAFTA A Life in Pictures: Martin Freeman
Briony Hanson: Hello everybody, a very warm welcome this evening, thank you for coming to BAFTA on this very sunny evening and forsaking the sun for what is going to be a very entertaining evening, I think. I’m Briony Hanson, I’m delighted to be your host for this BAFTA Life in Pictures with Martin Freeman. With a back catalogue of well over thirty feature films and even more TV performances, Martin Freeman has a reputation for playing characters that we like, people that are full of wit, full of pathos, occasionally full of a little desperation around the edges. He feels incredibly relatable; we all think we know him from the characters that he plays, and tonight we get the chance to find out if that was all true. We’re going to see a little taster of his work before we introduce him; can we roll the clips please?
Ladies and gentlemen, Martin Freeman.
Martin Freeman: Thank you.
BH: Hello, thank you so much for joining us tonight.
MF: It’s my pleasure.
BH: Everyone here probably first met you in The Office.
MF: Yeah, I’d think so.
BH: But there was a bit of backstory before we got there. Can you just fill us in on how you got to the point of becoming a kind of—everybody’s most loveable Tim.
MF: Yeah. That was about five or six years after I left drama school. I was at Central in North London for three years and I’d done a lot of theatre and small bits on TV and short films and stuff, and around about the time I got The Office, I was being seen a lot and doing little bits for BBC Comedy I suppose. I was kind of well known to that department as a young actor who could do—who could sort of be a bit funny, but I never saw that as—you know, I was an actor who could be funny as opposed to a stand-up. But I found myself in the company of a lot of people who were stand-ups I guess, you know, or who had that background, a straight comedy background.
And then yeah I got to The Office actually via, I had done a sketch show that Ricky Gervais wrote on, a sketch show called Bruiser that had Mitchell and Webb in it and Olivia Colman and Matt Holness and it was a sketch show that very few people saw but I first met Ricky there and we’d liked each other. He never said, ‘oh you’re going to be in my thing,’ but about six or eight months later or whatever when I went up for The Office, he wasn’t actually there but Stephen Merchant was there with Ash Atalla the producer and thankfully for me that audition went well. But I was knocking about doing—I was always working, you know, but I wasn’t famous…
BH: Had you always wanted to be an actor?
MF: Yeah. Well from about seventeen, yeah. I joined Youth Theatre when I was about fifteen in Teddington where I grew up and yeah, from about seventeen I thought it was something that I could do. I gradually had the confidence to think that I could maybe have a try at it as opposed to—I always really enjoyed it but I used to look with awe at people who could sight read or make anything look real or effortless and think ‘God that’s amazing,’ and then sort of little by little I thought ‘well I can do that.’ And so I then went to college and auditioned for drama school.
BH: And drama school you dropped out of.
MF: Well no I didn’t drop out but I left slightly early, I left slightly early because I got a job. In the third year, for those not familiar with this, the idea is anyway agents and business people come and see major drama schools in their third year and see young actors and see who they might like and whatever. And a few of us had agents but then the—yeah, I ended up leaving early to go and work with Matthew Warchus at the National Theatre in Volpone and then I did Mother Courage there. But yeah I left a few months early so I didn’t actually, I didn’t properly get my degree from Central.
It’s been a bone of contention ever since.
BH: When you went to work at the National you’ve talked before about how you were effectively a spear-carrier.
MF: Yeah, yeah, yeah.
BH: Which presumably means you got to watch a lot of people?
MF: I did, yeah absolutely.
BH: And how was that?
MF: It was amazing. It was really—looking back on it I was twenty-three and it was startling really because I’d literally been at Central on the Friday and then I was rehearsing at the National Theatre on Monday and the first person I met there was Simon Russell Beale who was very nice and very welcoming and seemed as nervous as I was, weirdly. But watching him, watching Michael Gambon in that production then in Mother Courage watching Diana Rigg and Geoff Hutchings and David Bradley—it was amazing. And as I say I was doing very little in those productions, any little bits I had believe me I clung on to, but you got to do a lot of looking and learning, it was a fantastic place to learn.
BH: And did they ever contradict what you’d been told at drama school? I used to be involved in a company that trained screenwriters and we would tell them certain things and then put them up in front of Charlie Kaufman and everything they’d been told would be thrown up in the air. Was that the same?
MF: To a certain extent, yeah. I mean I remember first realising—and I didn’t know Michael Gambon, for instance, had a reputation for arsing about. I didn’t know that.
But he does, he does. Because I was young, what did I know? And then half way through rehearsals he gives this big speech as Volpone where he’s talking to a crowd of people, a sort of mountain bank speech where he’s trying to sell them a load of hooky gear, you know. And he started just making shit up. And I thought ‘ha, that’s very funny, he won’t be doing that for real,’ but he did! He did!
Pretty much every performance he had this probably four-minute stand-up, and it ended up being stand-up where he—Ben Johnson wasn’t writing about Nancy Sinatra and Pot Noodles, you know—
That was pure Michael Gambon. So even though that wasn’t exactly—that wasn’t what Matthew Warchus asked him to do, but that’s what he was doing. So yeah, you would never have thought as a sort of serious acting student that that was what the great and the good would be doing. And they’re not all doing that; but that’s part of someone like his greatness actually is he’s loose. I mean thinking about it now, there’s a real—the dual thing of the professionalism, say, the real razor sharp, surgeon-like work of Simon Russell Beale and the really sort of looseness of Michael Gambon—not that he’s not also sort of professional and precise—but two very different approaches, and I think those were a really good first introduction to work for a young person, do you know what I mean? Because I was seeing, I think Michael Gambon would be completely mesmerising in one way, and Simon Russell Beale would be the same in a very different way. But they would complement each other.
BH: And you went from that to The Bill—is that your first credit?
MF: That was my first TV credit. I mean again at the time—I left in ’95, I left drama school in ’95 and for a good year and a half all I did was solid theatre all around the place, but my first TV credit was The Bill, yeah.
BH: Which is probably everybody who’s ever sat in that chair, that’s what they say, The Bill, Casualty…
MF: Apart from Nicole Kidman.
She did Doctors.
BH: Why do you think that’s such good training?
MF: Well, not wanting to disparage The Bill; I don’t know that it’s good training it’s just that’s what there was, that’s what was around. It was a sort of a kind of rep for actors really. It ended up being good training because of the speed of it, and you know people using terms that I didn’t know. I didn’t know what anyone was talking about for the two weeks I was on it. So when people would say ‘favour the wall,’ what?! Favour the wall? Oh you mean walk near the wall, right. ‘And if you could just banana over there,’ what the fuck are you talking about?!
You mean walk in a curve, right OK. But yeah the speed of it, and I was fairly bad on The Bill, I was fairly bad in my little guest lead, but it was a good, very steep, quick learning curve. Through that and through—I’ve always been lucky enough to work, thank God, you want to get better. And so the next—I think the next time I was in front of the camera I knew to slightly just do less. I think the hard thing or the common thing with young actors or actors who don’t work that much, is you put them in front of the camera and they’re going to do all of their acting at one go. They’re going to do all their acting in two lines because it’s very difficult not to, because what else are you going to do? It’s a gradual thing about learning to refine and refine until eventually you are hopefully, unless you really are required to depending on what play you’re doing, you’re hopefully doing nothing at all. And that’s—I think that’s the goal of enlightenment, that’s when you reach Zen is when you’re doing nothing. Or at least what looks like nothing. You’re actually doing loads but it has to look like nothing or people just smell it a mile off.
BH: Let’s see if in The Office by that time you were doing nothing. Let’s have a look at our first clip.
Too tragic to even describe. Do you remember the audition process for this? You said you knew Ricky…
MF: Yes I do remember the audition process. I went in actually to read for the part of Gareth who Mackenzie Crook ended up playing brilliantly. I went in for Gareth and it was Stephen Merchant and Ash Atella and I did my reading of Gareth whatever that would have been I don’t know, I can’t remember what I did. And it’s really like a showbiz story and I don’t know if it’s become a showbiz story because I’m naturally an actor and therefore am a twat—
And therefore built it up to being this, but I’m pretty sure this is really what happened: I was on my way out the door, and I had my hand on the door—I think this is true, I don’t know but I think this is true—and Stephen Merchant or Ash said ‘actually can we get Martin in maybe to read Tim, I think that might be a good thing.’ And I’d seen the first episode script and really liked it so I knew the character Tim, so I sat back down and read Tim and thank God I did because I wouldn’t have got cast as Gareth over Mackenzie because he was so perfect for it. But thankfully that was a good fit, yeah. But I could very nearly have not been in The Office.
BH: Did you like auditioning? Do you like auditioning?
MF: I mean I don’t love it. I don’t think many actors love it, but there is a period where when you start getting offered—if you are lucky enough to be offered work on the one hand it’s a real relief and on the other hand you’re wondering if you deserve it, do you know what I mean? If you’ve earned it because you think have I fought for it or you know… Because you’re really in the trenches when you’re in a room, when you’re in a corridor, you know with twenty other people and you get the part you think ‘oh I won out over those.’ And when you start to get offered things of course it’s delightful and please God I don’t want to then go back to the corridor, but you do think ‘I wonder if…’ yeah part of you wonders if you’re a fraud, yeah.
BH: You wonder who you beat.
MF: Yeah, yeah, yeah.
BH: How tightly scripted was The Office? Did you have room to play with it or did you…
MF: You did have room to play with it, yeah. I think probably what—what I feel happened in the aftermath of the success of The Office was that when—because it looks improvised, because it looks like we’re improvising on camera, people would ask Ricky and Steve ‘is it improvised,’ and basically they came back ‘no, none of it’s improvised. It’s all scripted,’ which of course is true, it was very scripted, it was very scripted. But to say it was not loose would be not true. Anyone who knows—there’s a couple of people in the audience who have known me for a very long time and they know that there’s things that I say that are only me, and I’m sure the same goes for Lucy or Mackenzie, you know. That doesn’t mean I’m going to take a co-write or push to say it was improvised; it wasn’t improvised, it was a scripted comedy that I think they were—a) the scripts were fantastic, but also Ricky and Stephen were smart and generous enough to allow you to be loose with it. Because if you trust the people who are being loose, good things can happen, you know. We weren’t kind of improvising whole scenes on camera or going ‘I think my character should go down—‘ it wasn’t that, it was totally shaped and formed, but yeah we were allowed to be loose. And I think that’s what you see on the show.
BH: And what was the dynamic between the two of them, Ricky being in it, and the rest of the cast?
MF: Well I think—Ricky was and is an amazing person; I’ve not seen him for a long time, but he’s an amazing person in that he struck me as someone who, if he’s not making you laugh at any given time, life is a waste of time. Like it’s not actually worth living unless you are sort of convulsing in pain at something he’s just said. Brilliant, but on the other hand really infuriating if you’ve got ten minutes to go and half a page to do and you think ‘mate, this is your show. What are you—stop making everyone laugh!’ Because deliberately corpsing me isn’t going to get the day finished because I can’t carry on if you’re making me laugh. So it’s like a sort of pathological thing for him I think. It’s a very—I always felt like he was one of the best natural actors that I’d worked with, you know. Like everything he knows instinctively is pretty bang-on I think. And not having been trained in it and not having an actor’s background, he’s—I thought he was amazing.
BH: And what about Tim? I mean Tim’s a really fantastic sort of non-showy, relatively passive character, which is why that sequence is so dramatic, it’s such a big deal for him to do that. Did you like Tim?
MF: I loved him. I really loved him, yeah. Because he was—I was able to put a lot of me in it, there was a lot of my brother Tim in it as well; it felt familiar to me as someone—not that I’m always like that but as someone who is an observer of stuff and finds things ridiculous and awkward and embarrassing a lot of the time, yeah. And as a conduit for that I really enjoyed playing him. As a character he was the funniest person in that office because he had a true, the best sense of humour. For the audience at home obviously David Brent is a hilarious incarnation of a character, but as a real person Tim was a funny bloke and he had a real eye for what was amusing, but he was as happy to keep it to himself as he was to share it. But I liked Tim very much, yeah.
BH: But also amazingly tragic in that scene. It’s almost hard to watch.
MF: Yeah I know. But to give credit to Ricky and Steve, they wanted all that stuff to be as important as the David Brent Comic Relief dance or whatever. There’s sort of The Office Greatest Hits, which usually involve David Brent, understandably because it’s a fantastic character performed fantastically, but the really good B-sides I think are the more sort of straight bits, the more dramatic bits, you know. So it felt, from my career’s point of view, that was a big show. For those of you too young—including my kids, they don’t give a shit—do you know what they like? The American Office.
They really love the American Office, they barely—that’ll be the first time they’ve seen that.
BH: But the American Office is only one of many, many different language translations, isn’t it?
MF: Yes it is, yeah.
BH: There’s like a Finnish Office and an Indian Office.
MF: Yes, it was a big show.
BH: Is that a very surreal experience to see yourself—
MF: It is. It is, yeah. I’ve not stuck with the Finnish one as much as the American one. I got more out of the American one than the Azerbaijanian one.
But it’s horses for courses. But having been in a very big comedy I still felt like because what Tim was being required to do was, you know, it was almost fifty-fifty between the funny stuff and the straight stuff so I was getting the best of both worlds for me as a practitioner because I was flexing both those muscles; it was really nice.
BH: Let’s move from the small screen to the big screen. You did a few bits and pieces and then you came to Hitchhiker’s Guide.
BH: Actually some of those bits and pieces we clipped, that great Love, Actually clip.
MF: Yeah, yeah, yeah.
BH: Did you find that you were getting quite a lot of the same characters sent to you? Yeah.
MF: Sort of yeah. Versions of. I think in the wake of The Office you know, nice sort of nice next-door boys. Lovelorn, yeah. That kind of thing. Which I think happens—I had to make my peace with that because I realised as it went on that that happens to every single person. It wasn’t just happening to me, they weren’t just singling me out, that happens to the greatest actors. Once they’ve made their thing—you don’t think Robert Di Nero got offered a few gangsters? Or Al Pacino? The best people who I’ve always loved, that happens to them, so it’s going to happen to me of course.
I had to accept it and just still do the best work I could do within that, and still try and make it layered and still try to make it three-dimensional. That’s always my entire belief in anything I do; as long as you’re making it layered, as long as the audience believe you for that whether it’s half an hour or two hours of whatever; that for me is the beginning, middle and end of any actor’s job, you know? Whether or not you’re doing a Senegalese accent with a limp, that’s extra, but if I don’t believe you I don’t care. I’ve always tried to give myself that as the main goal. Even if you could say there’s a similarity in the world of parts, OK yeah there is, but there aren’t many people you and I could sit on the stage and name for whom that is not true. Meryl Streep might be one; there aren’t many. People we love and you go yeah but they sort of operate in that world.
Also you have to be realistic about what your playing range is. Not unambitious, because I’m still, you know I’m still really ambitious but also yeah I’m probably not going to play the same parts that X, Y and Z are going to play, or be offered those parts. And that’s where strategy and your own work and your representation’s good skills come in about trying to make people see you in a different light. But yeah, at first of course I was in Love, Actually because Richard Curtis loved The Office.
BH: Let’s move to another totally different world that is the world of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.
MF: Sorry, yes.
BH: Let’s see.
MF: Do the thing.
BH: Yes, that’s supposed to happen immediately!
BH: So this was your first feature lead.
BH: Did you—was there a sense of sort of anxiety or pressure about that?
MF: Oh God no.
No there wasn’t. And I don’t say that with pride, but no there wasn’t. It all—what I remember about the audition process for that is I was doing an ITV sitcom at the time, I was filming it or I was rehearsing it, and I went for this audition with Garth Jennings and Nick Goldstein, the producer, and Garth the director of this. They had like a boat on the river, presumably… On the top of a tower block! And their office, a company called Hammer and Tongs and they were a very homely environment, they were two of the loveliest men you could hope to meet, and mainly what was in my head in that audition was my ex Amanda had driven me there, and I was aware that she had nowhere to park. And I thought ‘oh I better hurry up.’ And it was going very well, the chat was happening and going on and going on and all I was thinking was ‘Amanda’s going to fucking kill me.’
Because at no point—it worked, because I got the part—at no point did I think ‘this is a big deal.’ And I think that’s sort of stood me in quite good stead all the time. All the time. Because I’m always basically thinking ‘someone’s double parked.’ That’s what I’m thinking, yeah.
BH: And this is the first time you took on a character that we all knew.
BH: Because of the books, because of the TV series, yeah. Was that, does that—are you able to sort of bring your own stamp to it, or to what extent do you feel free to do that?
MF: I felt very free to do it within the confines of what the character is. And I think that’s true of all of them; I’ve played a few characters now that have been in literature, say, and there’s no point doing it—if I was just going to do an impression of Simon Jones, who’s my boyhood version of that part. Well he’s already done that and he’s done it better than I could do it so there’s no point, you know. So I definitely, I didn’t want a kind of Uncle Bulgaria dressing gown either, I wanted something different. That was towelling and we were doing it in the summer and it was fucking boiling.
That was more fool me. But yeah I think you have to have your own stamp on it because it makes it fun for you and it makes it not a museum piece or a cover version; it should never be a cover version.
BH: And this one was in the works for a long time, long before you, too, from the ‘70s I think—is that right?
MF: Yeah I think they’d been trying to make a Hitchhiker’s for a long time, yeah.
BH: And Douglas Adams said that he didn’t want to do it because it was like Star Wars with jokes.
MF: Yeah so he had, well he latterly had help with a screenwriter called Kerry Kirkpatrick who helped bring it to life, and Douglas unfortunately didn’t live to see it made, which was a real tragedy actually. But there were people on our firm who did know Douglas and who loved Douglas and we got to meet his family a little bit so it was really nice. It did feel like a film made with a lot of love for him and for the idea and the tone of it, I guess.
BH: And the tone is very, very British.
MF: It’s really more British than I am. Yeah it’s really British.
BH: In a sort of Monty Python way.
MF: Yes, I think so, yes. Yeah, it’s very—and I don’t say this as anything like a slight because Monty Python is obviously a huge influence on my life as I’m sure it is everyone of a certain age’s, but yes, it’s very English university sort of humour, yes.
BH: Were you surprised that it travelled?
MF: I was in a way, but then it didn’t travel that well because we didn’t get to make another one.
BH: It did OK though!
MF: Yeah it did really well; I could honestly say at that point I’m in a number one film in America and in Britain. Great, I could have retired on that, that’s something to tell your kids. Again, they don’t give a shit, they’re texting.
MF: They’re watching the American Office. But that’s something you could say was a successful film, but I remember having dinner with Garth Jennings shortly after it opened and I said ‘do you think there will be another one?’ and it just didn’t make enough, did it. It just has to make a certain amount, and I think it got to number one very quickly in America but it didn’t sustain; there just wasn’t enough there for an American audience or for an international audience. As you say, it’s not even British it’s English, it’s very English, yeah.
BH: You’ve continued with that very poster boy for British humour with The Cornetto trilogy, which I’m gutted we can’t screen.
BH: And Nativity as well. Can you talk a little bit about those, particularly your relationship with Simon Pegg?
MF: Yeah. Well I’m not Simon Pegg, just to clarify.
BH: Good, that’s why I asked.
MF: We do—the running joke between me and Simon, and John Simm, actually, is that—
If we’re in a pub or a park we’re sort of each other’s stand-ins for compliments or whatever. ‘I loved you in that Life on Mars’—‘wasn’t me, wasn’t me’—‘yes it was.’ You end up as an actor in the same Rolodex as other people, as other actors. Yes I became good friends with Simon many years ago, and Amanda my ex and Maureen, Simon’s wife, we would see each other a lot and we hung out a lot together and in the course of that yeah, Shaun of the Dead happened. I was actually offered another part on Shaun of the Dead, but I was doing—I was doing a thing called Charles II at the time with Joe Wright for the BBC, and so I couldn’t do it, and so I ended up doing a sort of joke appearance in Shaun of the Dead with an alternative gang. You sort of follow Shaun’s gang and they bump into another gang headed by the sort of people who are a bit like this gang. So there’s Tamsin Grieg and me and Reece Shearsmith as people in this other gang. And that was mine and Simon’s and Edgar’s I suppose joke to the fact that people think me and Simon are similar.
And then yeah Hot Fuzz I play a little bit more in it and then The World’s End I had my biggest role in the Cornetto trilogy when I got my head knocked off by a baseball bat.
BH: Were they fun?
MF: Yeah they are fun because they’re good people. Simon and Nick and Edgar are really lovely people and they’re friends and that shows I think and there’s a lot of love in those films, a lot of good humour on those sets.
BH: And same with Nativity? My son’s favourite film.
MF: Oh good. I love Nativity, I’m really proud of it. And short of—yeah there are some things I’ve done which are big things and very universal, but just below that there’s Nativity actually. I get more compliments for Nativity than almost, almost anything because of the age that it spans. Because parents like it, kids like it and different generations of kids like it; I really like that film. Debbie Isitt wrote that—well I say wrote, we were improvising on camera; she wrote the outline and storyboarded it and directed it. She’s a very smart cookie, Debbie, so smart that I was like ‘well just write a screenplay, please just write words so you don’t have to go through hours of me improvising badly to edit out.’ But she likes what happens between humans when they’re making stuff up on the fly.
BH: Interestingly all the reviews of that talk about the idea that it’s ripe for remake which seems ridiculous because it’s so British that Americans wouldn’t make a film with that as your lead character.
MF: No probably not, probably not. Again, as you said it seems very British I think. But the people from other places I know who have seen it, they do love it. There is a sort of, you know, people who have got kids, kids go to school, there is a sort of universal experience there about childhood and teachers. Not everyone has a nativity play but that thing of a common endeavour of putting a performance on, that’s universal, really.
BH: We should get to Sherlock.
BH: Let’s see a little clip of Sherlock.
BH: Again like The Office it’s something that you come to expecting one thing, you expect it to be a comedy or you expect it to be a whodunit, but actually incredibly poignant moments.
MF: Yes, yeah. I always thought it was just—what I was struck by when I read the first episode was just how smart it was and how funny it was and exciting. It really moved along at a great pace, and it was unexpected for me as well because I was sent this script saying they’re looking at you for Doctor Watson—not only me they were looking at a few people for Doctor Watson—and yeah, within the first couple of pages I thought this was really good. And my experience of it was it just got better. That was reading the first script before the pilot, before the first episode, anything. Every subsequent episode that I read, certainly of that first series, was amazing; it was so full. And then the decision was made, we made an hour-long pilot and then it went to ninety minutes and then we were told it was going to be ninety minutes and I thought that was a mistake, I thought ‘well that’s a bad idea, it doesn’t need to be ninety minutes, that’s rubbish. Bloody BBC.’ And I’m really glad that was the decision because it made it like a film; each episode was like a film and that made it like—I think that was partly why people were able to get behind it so much, because there was a lot of it but not too much of it.
BH: With a scene like that are you able to just put it off and go home and make the tea? Do you bring your work home with you?
MF: No. Not for things like that, no. I think what I tend to do is I don’t—I’m always aware when you’re talking about acting that you’re not down a coal mine. There’s hard work and then there’s hard work. But I don’t pretend that doing that costs me nothing or is easy or I’m not literally having a tea and then ‘oh yes love I’ll come and do the graveside scene,’ and all that, because you’ve got to get into a zone, you’ve got to concentrate and got to focus, but yeah, yes, for me generally as soon as you call wrap on a day it’s over. Especially with things like that and I’ve just done a show now I finished last night where there was some quite heavy stuff in that and my feeling is I want to get out of that as soon as possible because I’ve got to go home and I’ve got to see kids and I’ve got to be a normal person and I don’t want to carry that around. But for the duration of the day that you’re filming yeah if you don’t concentrate on it, to be honest, when you see it in six months time it won’t be as good as you hoped it would be. And I’ve been in that, I’ve seen that, and I don’t want to see it again. I want to try and protect myself as much as possible for when I sit down and watch it, often with my kids—I mean they do like some things that I’ve done, they like that—
BH: They like its.
MF: They like that. I want to be proud of it, you know, or as proud as I can be of it. So that does require real concentration. You know, acting is like anything, it’s really easy unless you want to do it well. If you want to be good at something it’s really hard. Football’s easy unless you want to be good; to be good at anything takes real work and application and concentration. For stuff like that, you ask for a bit of that atmosphere on the set and yeah, people always oblige because everyone in the crew wants to be good as well. But after it’s over it’s really over, yeah.
BH: Tell us about the chemistry between you and Benedict, which is famously the thing that makes everyone hysterical. How did you—you hadn’t worked with him before…
MF: No, I’d never worked with him before. I hadn’t—I’d seen him, I’d seen some of his work and knew he was really good. I really did think he was good and when I heard he was going to play Sherlock—because I was sent it, I was sent the script and as far as I remember, and my agent’s here, he can correct me, but I think Ben was attached to play Sherlock Holmes and I thought that’s good, I can see that, he’ll be brilliant at that. And when I finally got into a room with him and just sort of read, it worked, something worked. Neither me nor Ben can take credit for that it’s just luck, it’s good fortune, you know.
BH: I think Mark Gatiss said the way he played Sherlock changed after you were cast.
I’m feeding you here.
MF: Not my words.
The words of Mark Andrew Gatiss. That’s not his middle name. No but I think when you’re working with good people—well I mean he hadn’t seen the way I’d play John before but you know Ben had an effect on me. Because your job is to react. You know that old adage of acting is reacting is completely true. Unless you know how to receive something and change accordingly then there’s no good to anyone. Because if someone’s giving you A, B and C and you’re busy doing F, G and J, then it’s pointless; you have to be listening. Ben is very, very good at his job; he’s brilliantly cast in that role, and something happened, some little game of table tennis happened where we were just knocking it back and forth. It was really, it was obvious in the room—I’m not saying it was obvious it was going to be this thing—but it was obvious we worked well together, yeah.
BH: When did you realise it was going to be ‘this thing’?
MF: When it came out. The day it came out I was rehearsing a play at the Royal Court and the day after a couple of people in the cast said ‘that was really good last night, that was really good.’ And that happened more and more and more and grew sort of exponentially over the course. It’s only three episodes the first series, it’s three episodes, and seemingly by the end of the first—I think we all had screenings round each other’s houses for those first three and for the second series as well, but I can’t remember whose house we were at… And I’m very behind on social media and stuff but I remember Mark Gatiss being on Twitter—
Because that’s where he lives, OK.
BH: You’ve got a Twitter account I’ve seen it. You’ve tweeted like three times.
MF: I haven’t.
BH: Oh is it not you?
MF: Never me.
BH: It looks really convincing.
It stops in like 2013.
MF: I don’t say that with pride I just don’t know how to work it. But him sort of relaying to the room all this stuff that was happening. Like with The Office I knew I was very proud of it, that’s all I knew. And I knew while we were making it I had that—yeah, I did. Outside of myself because Paul McGuigan the director was absolutely brilliant; Stephen and Mark, absolutely brilliant; Ben, brilliant. I thought ‘this is going to be good,’ it’s a really good show. But you can’t anticipate the reaction it’s going to have but I knew I was really proud of it.
BH: And then something else that got a bit of a reaction: The Hobbit. Let’s go to Middle Earth now.
MF: Yes, yes. Do that thing.
BH: So obviously what we got there was a clip from all three of the films because we couldn’t decide which one to focus on. This is a mega project, three mega films with mega expectations and a mega part. Did you have fear taking it on? Was it an easy yes?
MF: No it wasn’t an easy yes, but for reasons more of family than of anything else, for practical reasons.
BH: Tell us how did you film it? In what period?
MF: I went to New Zealand in January 2011 and my last day was July 2013.
BH: Having done all three back to back?
MF: Not back to back, with a big gap. Two and a half years between the beginning and end but that wasn’t solid, there were gaps in there. The reticence for me was more about family because I was going to be away a long time. Amanda, who I was with at the time, she’s an actor, she’s a working actor, she’s a brilliant actor, and I didn’t feel I could just say—it wasn’t the ‘50s I couldn’t just say ‘right you’re coming with me.’ She had her own life, she had her own career. So that was a big decision for me. All around me people were going ‘well of course it’s a yes, of course it is.’ And I can see why they were saying that but I had two young children and I wanted that all to work, so that was why it was a difficult yes. So again it wasn’t because of a fandom thing or the legacy and literature and films; it genuinely wasn’t that, it was ‘Christ, how am I going to make this work for my family?’
BH: And when you’re performing in it, when you’re doing your day job, do you feel an expectation—all the financiers and everything they know that it’s got to hit certain points after The Lord of the Rings, it’s got to be a kind of mega success—does that translate to the cast or do you just kind of do your thing?
MF: No, no. It didn’t translate to me, not at all. Because Peter Jackson is so sort of omnipresent on those jobs that you know he’s got the weight of the world on his shoulders and he’s probably having to compartmentalise that himself and just thinking ‘I just want to tell this story.’ So he’s probably trying to put the finance stuff on the backburner, all that stuff. It doesn’t, I didn’t feel it filtered down to us, now.
BH: And what about the green screen? Because you were basically standing on a kind of concrete floor with a few twigs around you.
MF: A lot of the time, yeah. There was a fair bit of time that was real and we went—as anyone who’s been there knows, New Zealand is a very beautiful country and it’s got lots of different looks. So we did shoot on a lot of different looks but we were also shooting a lot of the time in a car park, you know.
BH: But is that difficult, is that sort of flexing different muscles as an actor?
MF: It is, yeah. It is flexing different muscles as opposed to being something I hated. I’d much rather look in someone’s eyes and do it. I think McKellan’s told this story, that in the first film there’s a scene where all the dwarves come to Bilbo’s house and Gandalf, right. So there are about 50,000 people in my house and because we’re all small but Gandalf is taller, Ian had to be in a separate set where they filmed us both simultaneously on what they call slave motion. So two cameras are doing exactly the same movements at exactly the same time but filming different sets. So we had—me and the dwarves had each other to look at and a fake Gandalf, like a green tennis ball Gandalf, and Ian just had a load of fucking green tennis balls in his little grief hole. And we all had little earwig ear pieces in so we could all hear what the others were saying on the other set but we couldn’t look into their eyes, we couldn’t hear them the way we can hear each other. It was pretty difficult and I think Ian by his own admission found that pretty depressing, I think, because it sort of went against everything he’d done for the past fifty-five years. We found it hard too but it was beautifully choreographed and you see those scenes in the finished film and it’s worked, it’s beautifully done.
BH: And presumably you can’t see rushes, or if you can—
MF: I wasn’t, no I was certainly in no position either I didn’t want to and I certainly wouldn’t have been shown them anyway.
BH: Would you not normally do that?
MF: No I don’t think—also rushes are kind of different now because for previous generations when people were invited to rushes, you’re generally not now. I mean that’s a thing of the past I think, it’s not happening.
BH: Though it’s a bit surreal with this one where you did do them effectively sort of back-to-back, in that you couldn’t see what you’d done in order to change it.
MF: No, but because the filming period was so long that we could at least—no you’re right, you’re right. Which is why my performance is so uneven. Which explains the Scottish accent in the second one. And so we had to go back in 2013 and do stuff so we kind of were informed by that but I think, I don’t know, you’re playing that part for so long, we’d all played those parts for so long and obviously Ian had done it all those years before, you kind of know what part you’re playing and in some sense, and any actor will know this, it’s sort of wrong anyway to be led by the audience reaction. That’s why I find it not helpful if I’m doing a play to not read reviews during it because I don’t want to start playing the notes of what they did like or didn’t like about what I did.
I think you just have to stick true to what you know you’re playing. And if it’s suiting you and the director and the artistic team that’s what you’ve got to keep doing rather than suiting a critic or your cousin or whatever. You’ve just got to keep going with it.
BH: And given that you spent sort of two or three years in the world of orks and elves and lonely mountains—did it send you a bit mad?
MF: No it didn’t. No, I mean I think a lot of the time you think it’s a mad way to make a living, as an actor.
BH: You mean generally?
MF: Yeah. Whatever you’re doing, I mean I’ve just been doing a very naturalistic set in the real world thing and even then you find yourself in situations where you think this is not what the career’s officer had in mind, you know. But yeah that’s a more extreme version of that and there were times when I and I think everyone on the set of the Hobbit films felt this was just like ‘how is this going to work? We’re filming in a sort of nothing space and it’s going to become this Elvin kingdom or whatever.’ It is—it’s very, very impressive and it’s nothing to do with you. You’re doing you’re bit but you’re a little cog in a massive wheel with—I walked on to the set of The Hobbit for the first time and it was like walking into NASA because there were banks of people with laptops or not laptops but computers just doing this, and it wasn’t like a rehearsal room put it that way, it wasn’t like a normal film set, it was very techno. But all those techno people are also very creative and they’re artists as well. So everyone is going towards the same endeavour but your little bit of acting even though it is ultimately people want to see human experience, all the stuff going on around you and all the spectacle and cleverness is nothing to do with you, you know.
BH: Let’s move to the snowy North American wastes for a bit of Fargo.
So obviously everyone knows that this is loosely based on the world that the Coen brothers created for Fargo, which is a much-loved world, a much loved film. Was it much loved by you?
MF: Yeah I really liked it but I wasn’t a Fargo-ologist or anything, I hadn’t seen it multiple times. I’d seen it when it came out, really liked it, loved the tone that they got and that particular flavour they got. But before I did it I hadn’t seen it for a long, long time.
BH: And did you trust that it was going to work, taking the kind of sense and tone and location—
MF: Yeah because I read—again, so much of my job and anything I can take credit for, one of the things is I have to trust my own taste. And this was a thing where my American representation did a fine job in getting to a point where I was being sent an offer for this show—I was filming series three of Sherlock, I was staying in a hotel and I got episode one through and that scene was the clincher for me, I was like ‘I’m going to be doing that with Billy Bob Thornton? Of course I’m going to fucking do it. That’s too good not to do.’ And it was a straight offer and there weren’t—for where Lester Nygaard gets to go in those episodes, not everyone’s seen me do that. So it was really lovely to be offered it and to be trusted with that. Also with that accent and that particular flavour, that’s not something I’m doing all the time and to have that trust is a real confidence boost.
BH: And tell us about that accent because obviously that’s such a massive part of this. Is that constraining or liberating or fun or—
MF: Very liberating. It’s totally liberating. I think when anything is written with an accent in mind, written well with an accent in mind, there’s just that tune in your ear and in a way it can only be said in that accent. It makes complete sense in that accent. I worked very hard at it, I kept it up a lot.
BH: Are the scripts written with that accent?
MF: Billy’s character Lorne Malvo is not because he’s a drifter from somewhere else but everyone else has that tune and it’s everywhere in the script, yeah.
BH: It’s interesting what you said about your character progressed, because Tim in The Office his progression was that he tells Dawn what he thinks; this he becomes a massive killer and hits his wife with a hammer and—
MF: Orchestrates the death of his next wife—
BH: Which presumably is hugely entertaining?
MF: It’s massively entertaining, yeah. Contained within that first episode were so many things that as an actor you want to play. Again it was too good not to. I think, because my managers had always known that I’m just not going to do American TV because in those days, which seems like 100 years ago now, sort of just about or not quite pre-Netflix but just as Netflix was coming up, you had to sign on the line for seven years before you’d even kind of committed to the pilot. I was never going to do that, again because I have a family and I’m not going to up sticks and go somewhere else for seven years. But this was finite, it was ten episodes so they said ‘look read this, I know it’s American TV but it’s only ten episodes; it’s an offer, I think it’s really good.’ And it was, of course, brilliant. Noah Hawley was the writer and show runner and he did a fantastic job of getting that tone of the Coens and just running with it himself. People say to me ‘what was it like working with the Coen Brothers?’ and I have no idea! I’ve never met them! They were executive producers on it but I think that just involved them going ‘yeah you can do it,’ they gave their blessing but we never met them.
BH: We’ve got one final clip and we’re going to go into the Marvel world. So let’s see a little clip from Black Panther.
So this is obviously the second outing for Everett.
MF: Yes. Everett Ross appeared in the previous Captain America film in a small part and it was always going to be the deal that Everett had kind of more to do in the Black Panther film.
BH: What was the appeal of him? Because he couldn’t be further from where we started this evening.
MF: Well in his world, like he’s a fish out of water when he gets to Wakanda obviously, but in his world he’s got real high status, he’s kind of within the CIA let’s say quite a big fish, he’s a major sort of dude, you know. And I like—because I’ve played a lot of people who aren’t very confident, and I’ve played a lot of people who are sort of awkward, but I also like playing people who are confident; it’s sort of it’s quite relaxing, do you know what I mean? Just to be able to play someone who walks in the room knowing the room is for him. Again, he finds himself in a world where that’s not the case but on his own turf he has status and it’s kind of fun playing people—it’s fun playing all of it but I like playing people with status sometimes because you don’t get to, you definitely don’t end up kind of doing little tics and stuff that you’ve done a lot before when you’re playing nervous man from Surrey, you know.
BH: Nervous disappointed man.
MF: Thwarted man.
BH: We talked about Sherlock being a thing. Good grief, did you know this was going to be the thing it became.
MF: Again not to the extent that it was, but when we were making it and before I was doing it I knew people who were very excited about it and I was hearing people very excited about it. I knew it had an audience, we all knew it had an audience and I thought it was really good what was happening on set everyday, I thought it was very impressive.
BH: Because you and Andy Serkis are the only two white actors in it.
MF: I don’t see colour.
I refuse to see it… Yeah. And obviously I’m old mates with Andy and that was really lovely. I love those scenes between those characters, yeah. They’re great scenes. But I really liked Ryan Coogler who was the director and co-writer and he’s a very smart guy and very, what I liked about him because he’s young, you know, this sounds obvious to say that he cared but he really poured himself into it a lot and took nothing, nothing for granted. You could see it was work, he was going to work every day and not leaving anything in the locker, as they say.
BH: How does it work when you enter that Marvel universe? How much control, how much is dictated about your performance or what the film looks like?
MF: Nothing felt dictated, actually, no. It felt—the joy for me in all the work I’ve done, and please God continue to do, is I’ve eked out enough space for myself in my working life that I have autonomy, I don’t mean autonomy like I’m in charge, of course I’m not in charge, but in terms of between action and cut I don’t want to have gone home that day thinking ‘I wish I would have tried that,’ I try everything and I want to be satisfied, I want to be sated. And that felt like that on Black Panther, it was—regardless of size, my thing always is regardless of whether it’s a tiny indie film or a huge Marvel film, your job is the same and your relationship with the director should be the same. It’s an artistic one and it should be a craft one. Whether you’ve got billions or two quid, you want to make the scene the best you can and you’re trying to work out how that’s possible. That’s what I loved doing on Black Panther as well; we had a lot of chats about who he was and what his place in this world was, as Ryan did with every character. It’s the same job; it’s the same relationship you have on Nativity! or anything else, you know. You’re just trying—between action and cut you want the audience to believe what’s happening, the end. That’s your only job really.
BH: I don’t want to get all Desert Island Discs about it, but if there is a favourite character you’ve—
MF: The Beatles.
BH: Have you got a favourite out of all these characters?
MF: No. No I haven’t. There are things I can’t imagine, the way my working life has gone I can’t imagine not having done The Hobbit or Sherlock or The Office, and now Black Panther as a recent addition to my working life, of course I’m very proud of that, proud to have been part of something that feels—it’s an artistic endeavour but it’s also a sort of social and cultural phenomenon as well.
BH: And obviously people want you to go back to things, they want you to do another Sherlock, they want you to do more Black Panther, which of course you’re going to do—
MF: Yes, please God
BH: Do you—are there directions that you want to go in?
MF: I mean a lot of them are unknown by me at the moment. What I’ve started to do and what I’ll hopefully do more of is be behind the creation of things and the actual the sort of coming to fruition of things. I like that. I like having a vote and not just having an opinion.
BH: Might that extend to writing and directing?
MF: I think I would need to get more confidence with those things, especially with writing. Because people say to me when I have this conversation sometimes with writers, because of course writers don’t see writing as this thing. So a lot of writers have said to me, ‘well you could write, you’re allowed to,’ and I’m like—it seems to me still like something that people from another planet do, like music. How do you do that?
BH: What about directing, though?
MF: I could see that more, but even then. I don’t know I would need to get more confidence in that. And again, so many people have told me well it’s a question of delegation: you get a good editor, you get a good DoP, all this stuff, and I know that’s always true but the stuff that you have to do before you start shooting and then after you start shooting, I’m not sure my brain works like that. I’m not sure that I can do the months of pre- and the months of post-. I don’t know.
MF: Maybe. But my favourite thing is acting. I think I’m quite good at acting.
But genuinely I think that’s what I have to offer and I’m not exactly backwards in coming forwards with my opinions on a set or in a rehearsal room. I definitely want my flavour to be in there, but I like the collaboration of it. And again directing is also collaborative if you’re smart, if you’re a good director, but I don’t know. I don’t know if my brain is there for ‘OK now three months we’re going on another recce to some other place and I have to care as much about what rucksack someone’s wearing.’ I don’t care. Some people are fantastic at that thankfully, but I love my job and so many actors come to writing because they’re not acting, do you know what I mean? So in their downtime when they’re not getting parts they do that. I’ve been very lucky; I’ve not had that. I mean I know at some point I will and everything is finite but I’ve been very lucky; I’ve worked. I’ve always had that muscle worked, I’ve always had that satisfied.
BH: And throughout your career you’ve sort of flip-flopped between film, TV and theatre as well. Do you have a kind of first love out of those three disciplines, and are they different?
MF: They are quite different but again as I say your job is always the same, your job is just to make the audience believe for the duration of the play or the film or the television episode just to believe you’re that character. That’s it for me. The execution of it, of course, is different. But I don’t know that I have a first love. I learned everything through theatre, the basics, the rudiments of acting I learned in a Youth Theatre in Teddington with a couple of people who are here tonight as a teenager. And I owe that a lot. But I also know myself that I have quite a low boredom threshold and that I don’t want to do a run for eight months or a year or even six months; I’m not necessarily built for that because I like to move on, I’m quite restless like that. I do sort of—they’re like children, you love them all equally. They’ve all got different value but all equal value in a way. When I haven’t done a play in a while I’m desperate to do a play, and sometimes filming drives me up the fricking wall because sometimes the monotony of it or just the relentless ‘we’re going again, OK we’re going again. Christ.’ Filming walking up a hill fifty-six times or something. But then the monotony of doing a play eight times a week for months and months… So that’s why I quite like keeping on the move and being a moving target and doing a bit of that. It keeps me sane otherwise I feel like I atrophy.
BH: We’re going to take some questions from the audience. Just while we sort some microphones out, I believe there is one on either side, let me just ask you—do you know when you’ve done a good job? Do you feel, you know, do you do a take and go ‘do you know what I’ve nailed it.’
MF: Occasionally yeah. You’re not supposed to say that are you? But occasionally yes.
BH: And has that got better as you’ve gone—as you’ve done more and more?
MF: Your own gauge for that?
BH: Say again.
MF: My own gauge for that?
MF: Yeah I think it has. With anything, whatever you do as a job you should get better at it the more you do it. If you’re a carpenter you should get better with wood twenty years after you start; so yeah the hope is you’ve got better and your experience tells you that probably will work and that won’t work. The job I just finished yesterday there was a day that I really had to admit that it wasn’t happening today. And professionally you are still at a baseline level and you have to deliver something, but whatever inspiration or Holy Spirit that you hope is going to descent on you, it sometimes doesn’t. You have to be OK with that. And again not that anyone else will necessarily agree or think that take was different, but just so you can think ‘I did the best I can possibly do there,’ some days unfortunately that doesn’t happen. Experience tells you to not kill yourself over it.
BH: Perfect. Let’s take some questions we’ve got a couple, one on either side down here. You first, or whoever gets the mic first. Don’t be shy, go for it.
Q: You were talking about accents. Is that a big part of learning acting process, studying it? Is that a big part of acting when you learn?
MF: What, sorry?
Q: Sorry my accent. Is learning accents a big part of acting process—
MF: Oh accents. Yeah, when required, yeah. I don’t think… I mean accents should be a by-product of whatever character you’re playing. Not every great actor is brilliant at accents and that doesn’t mean they’re a less brilliant actor. But I think if you are doing an accent, if I come out and I’m playing an American and I sound Swedish I will have failed.
Q: Like for the accent from Fargo it really changed from the voice you—
MF: Yes it does in that sense it does—I played a Glaswegian in a film a few years ago and things make you feel differently, yeah. I mean an old friend of mine he saw Fargo and he’s not an actor but he was embarrassed because he thought my accent was terrible.
BH: He’d never met anyone from Minnesota.
MF: No exactly. He hadn’t quite clocked that it was meant to be—he thought it was just a general American accent. And he thought ‘Martin’s shit at accents.’
Which again may or may not be true but when he figured out it was a specific kind of one he gave me a pass. But yeah I think accents make you, like anything, speaking is a physical act so if you’re speaking in an accent different to your own one it makes you feel a different way. So in that sense it’s very important. I would rather see a truthful, good performance in someone’s own accent than a showy-offy performance in a different accent. Because it still has to be truthful and real.
Q: Thank you.
BH: And down here and then up here.
Q: Hello. My question is, because you have done lots of work adapted from books and novels and some of those are different, like Sherlock is just taking the core of the books but The Hobbit we know Peter Jackson was really faithful for the original materials. My question is for you as an actor taking part in adapted work do you take more care translating the word from the screenplay to the visual arts or do you also consider the original materials as well? And can I ask another question? And another question because you mentioned when you’re acting you like to give more options to the director, like you offer opinions to the director—do you think a film or TV series is a kind of collaborative work or does the creative work come from the director like we usually say the directors are the authors.
BH: You’re not going to say it’s all from the director, are you?
MF: I like collaborating and I like giving choice. I’m a big believer in if we’re going to do sixteen takes of something we may as well try everything in those sixteen times. If you’ve got the first one and the director says ‘that was great, let’s do it again,’ there’s no point doing it sixteen ways the same. As long as you’re not disrupting anyone else’s process, a) it should be fun, and as I said I have a low boredom threshold and I want to try everything out, but also I’ve got one eye on the edit for the director to give them choice. And I think it’s much better for the director, and I’ve heard this from many directors, it’s nice to choose that or that or—and they’re distinct, different flavours. As long as they’re part of the same story, it’s fine. I just want to give myself license to have fun and have freedom.
The other question being about the adaptations: Ian McKellen was very, very quite religious about having Tolkein on set all the time and he kept going back to the books. And I see the value in that definitely, and obviously we know how good Ian McKellen is and how fantastic Gandalf is, so that obviously has great value. But also I’m aware that we’re not strictly speaking doing—Tolkein’s not on set, I mean he hasn’t written the screenplay; the screenplay’s written by Philippa, Fran and Peter, and that’s what we’re actually dealing with. So beyond knowing—I like to know the source material definitely, but myself, rightly or wrongly, will probably be less referential to the source material than the screenplay because it’s the screenplay I’m actually doing. Thank you.
Q: When you’re looking at a script and trying to decide whether to take on a project, what sort of qualities in the script are likely to make you decide to go with something? What do you find compelling?
MF: I suppose tonally what I find interesting is if it doesn’t feel like it’s been written by a committee or it doesn’t feel like it’s been written to tick boxes but it feels authored, I suppose. If it feel like—whatever that voice is, if it feels like someone means it then that’s always good. Beyond that, then it’s just about whether someone can write. But there are plenty of scripts that I’ve really liked and some that I’ve done that are not you know they’re not Oscar Wilde in terms of grammar and they’re not beautifully written, but if they’re real and if they’re real as far as that writer is concerned I’m always interested in that. I like people who aren’t begging to be liked and I like scripts like that. Comedies that aren’t begging for your laughs but just set out their stall and if you like this great, if you don’t then fine.
BH: Have you got better at reading scripts?
MF: Yes I suppose I’ve got quicker, to be fair. Whether that means I’ve got better I don’t know, but I hope I haven’t got worse. Yeah I suppose you know your own process for when you read scripts. The old cliché is true: People read scripts wanting this to be their next thing. Every script that comes on to my laptop I hope I love this. So that’s why, with that in mind—it’s like when you see something really good, if I see say Fleabag, right. That looks to me—obviously it’s brilliantly written, brilliantly crafted as it turns out, but at first you just think this is someone writing whatever the hell she likes, just making up any old shit she wants to.
Without much deference to the process or what should be in a programme; it’s someone’s imagination gone like that on a page. I like that; I like the boldness of that. That’s obviously not always going to work, but if you’re good and if you’re smart then it’ll work. I like people taking a bit of a punt, I suppose. And for me personally if a director or writer sends me something I haven’t played fifteen times before, that’s obviously something as well.
BH: Question this side, and then there.
Q: Hi, I’m a big fan of your theatre work and think you’re brilliant. I liked you in Richard III… My question is your acting is very much layered characters; how do you build up these characters. A script is paper but you build up someone who has a backstory and history, etcetera. What is your regular procedure to build up these characters? Thank you.
MF: My procedure would vary. For someone like Richard III I suppose that’s something that’s been performed lots and lots and lots over centuries so at the same time you’re trying not to just recreate someone else’s Richard III but you’re also aware there are parameters there if you know what I mean. There’s definitely a structure there that works so you should probably follow the structure. Generally speaking, like every actor does, just flesh it out make it three-dimensional. The page is absolutely one thing, and I think your job as an actor—I think my job is to elevate the material. And that sounds possibly very pretentious and presumptuous, but it is sort of your job. If the writing is very good, let’s—I mean what a noble hope to try and make it even better. That’s not by rewriting it but just by making it totally human and again as I say offering choice. At the same time I don’t believe in railroading a script or a scene and thinking ‘I’m just going to pull this and make it something else.’ It has to serve the story; I think if what you’re doing isn’t ultimately subject to the story and the point that the director and the writer want to make, it’s surplus to requirements. You have to kind of get out whatever individual creative thing you want to do and whatever show-offy bits that you want to do, but it has to serve the common thread I suppose. Sometimes you see someone’s pulling over here but the story is going over there but they want to show you how they can fucking juggle or something. And it’s like who cares? No one cares and they’re not serving the scene or the story. I don’t know, I like to yeah—I like to make things relatable and real. I don’t have—as you can see I don’t have a procedure. I wish I had a better answer.
BH: There was a question there, yep. And then we may have time for one more.
Q: Hi. I think you’re very inspirational and I really like your confidence and I think it’s something you really need to be an actor because I imagine it’s really tough. Do you have any advice for an aspiring young actor who wants to start a career hopefully?
MF: Is that you?
MF: Well the only thing I did and the thing that I always feel is that I hope you love it, because you’ll need to because it’s hard. It’s hard to make a living at and it’s hard to even make a bad living at. It’s hard to just stay in poverty you know, because just to get this job and get that job, you know like if you even just get three jobs vaguely in a row that’s—you’re doing well, you know. I think love it, firstly; try and be good before you be anything else I would say. You seem like a sensible person, but yeah try and be good before you’re famous or try and be good before you’re well-known or anything. Because I think ultimately if no one else—and part of the reason we do what we do is to share it—but if no one else is ever going to see it or if no one else is going to be lucky enough to have this fortune; I am very lucky to have some of the public reaction to some of the things that I do, but say if that wasn’t going to happen, do I think I’ve done a good job? Do I think I’ve been good or do I think I’m improving? So I think attending to the craft side of it I find very important, I think. Having fun is important, not taking yourself too seriously is important, but I don’t know, having a thick skin is probably the thing. I don’t know. I joined Youth Theatre and then I was lucky enough to get into drama school, so that was my route in but not everyone has the same thing. If you want to act, find somewhere you’ll be able to act, whether it’s a local amateur dramatics company or a youth theatre or whatever, you know. Because that’s where you really find out if you want to do it rather than trying to get an agent and being famous. You better be doing it because you love it, because if you don’t love it it’s a terrible job.
It’s a hard enough job if you do love it; it’s a cruel job sometimes if you love it. So make sure that connection is there before anything else I would say, and good luck.
BH: One final question. No pressure, make it a good one.
MF: Not you. Not these undercover midgets. Little people.
Q: You said that you leave work at work…
MF: I what sorry?
Q: You leave work at work. I was just wondering if there’s a part you’ve played that you felt was actually hard leaving it at work, not bringing it home with you or—
MF: There are plenty of things that I remind myself all the time or am reminded of the fact that I find a lot of it hard, as in I think ‘God I can’t do this very well.’ Just as I think ‘I’m quite good at acting, I’m quite good at this,’ there will usually be something that happens where I think this is completely eluding me and I’m not getting it at all. You forget how difficult on a day-to-day level it can be. Not as far as bringing stuff home with me, no; I never bring characters home with me ever because I’m not mad.
I don’t think there’s any—there’s nothing good about bringing a character, you don’t get points—in my opinion, this is my school of thought, there’s no virtue in bringing a character home with you and treating your wife like a twat just because well I’m playing this. Oh good man, great. There are plenty of things that are hard because from a practitioner’s point of view you’re not getting, but not—no I’ve never found that thing about bringing… For me, the heavier the scene, the more emotionally hard the scene, I find humans—never mind actors—at some point in every funeral someone will laugh and find the joy in something. In the worst, worst, worst human situations they often actually they look for humour and laughter. So if I’m doing something quite heavy you can’t wait to laugh and all that. So that’s why I never bring heaviness home. I mean my kids will tell you—don’t talk to them—but were you to ask them—don’t ask them—
I’m heavy enough anyway, I’m a fairly moody bastard anyway, so I don’t need that from work. I get made very happy by work and I get made deliriously happy by work but no, if I’m playing a real nasty, nasty manipulative person as I’ve occasionally done, I have never found that a problem at home. Because I’ve got enough of that in me anyway, do you know what I mean?
There’s enough of that in all of us that you don’t need to rely on the excuse of playing a part like that because it’s all in you anyway, you know?
BH: We’re going to go and ask your kids now if that’s actually true.
MF: Don’t ask them anything!
BH: I am so sorry that we’ve run out of time. Thank you all for your questions and for being here, but most of all thank you so much Martin Freeman.
MF: Thank you so much. Appreciate it, thank you.