An Inside Look At Martin Freeman's Life And Career

Martin Freeman began acting professionally in the mid-1990s and quickly picked up film and television work in his native Britain. As IMDb notes, his early screen credits included the crime drama "The Bill," the medical drama "Casualty," and the sketch comedy series "Bruiser." In 2001, he was cast in the role that would propel him to stardom — Wernham Hogg paper sales rep, Tim Canterbury in the critically acclaimed, award-winning comedy "The Office," co-created by and starring Ricky Gervais.

Everything exploded for Freeman as Hollywood came calling, which led to memorable big-screen performances in such films as "Love, Actually," and "The World's End," followed by starring roles in "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy," and "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey." Freeman also carved out a niche in both British and American television, starring in the first season of the FX crime drama "Fargo," the FX comedy "Breeders," and the critically acclaimed BBC dramas, "Sherlock" and "The Responder." In November 2022, Freeman began making the media rounds to promote the debut of the long-awaited sequel, "Black Panther: Wakanda Forever," marking his third appearance in the vast and ever-unfolding Marvel Cinematic Universe.

As Freeman became increasingly famous, he continually demonstrated a determination to maintain his privacy. And while he's successfully kept his personal life out of the tabloids, he's nonetheless revealed a surprising amount about himself over the years — enough to provide an inside look at Martin Freeman's life and career.

He didn't learn to drive until Fargo

Somehow, Martin Freeman had managed to avoid a particular rite of passage that most people achieve as teenagers — he never learned how to drive until his 40s. As Den of Geek pointed out, the DVD extras in the third season of "Sherlock" revealed that the actor's inability to drive resulted in co-star, Benedict Cumberbatch (who played Sherlock Holmes to Freeman's Watson), doing the driving in "The Hound of the Baskervilles" episode.

Freeman's inability to drive became an issue when he was cast as Minnesota insurance salesman, Lester Nygaard, in the first season of the anthology series "Fargo," a role that required the ability to drive on camera. This finally prompted the star to get behind the wheel and earn his license. 

According to Freeman, he felt that his inability to drive wouldn't exactly enamor him to the series' cast and crew once he arrived on the set, in the Canadian prairie city of Calgary, which doubled for a similarly frigid Minnesota. "Working in America, I didn't want to be the Englishman who couldn't drive. They wouldn't find it charming. They'd find it like an illness," Freeman explained in an interview with The Guardian. "So I learned in a week, then a week later I was driving on the wrong side of the road in snow in Canada."

Hamming it up at home led to a health discovery

Growing up, Martin Freeman's talent for performing became evident to his family early on. As the actor recalled in a 2002 interview with The Mirror, he'd regularly put on performances for his mother and siblings in the family's living room. Interestingly, it was these at-home performances that inadvertently led to the discovery of a previously undiagnosed medical issue that would shape his childhood. "I remember when I was singing and dancing for my mum and sister, I kept blacking out. At first, they thought it was part of the act. They were in hysterics," Freeman told the outlet. "Eventually, after it happened several times, they realized it wasn't an act and I was having problems breathing. It was then they discovered I had asthma."

This wasn't the only health concern that Freeman had to contend with as a child. As he explained to the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, the actor was a diminutively sized kid who suffered from a variety of debilitating ailments. During an appearance on BBC Radio 4's "Desert Island Discs," he explained, "I had a dodgy hip and asthma and eczema and hay fever. I was in and out of hospital occasionally for various things." 

He's not a big fan of technology

When it comes to modern technology, Martin Freeman has admitted to being something of a Luddite who eschews using technology whenever possible. For example, according to a profile in The Guardian, he prefers to receive a hard copy of a script rather than via email. He's also the kind of guy who prefers to spin a vinyl album on a record player than stream it on Spotify. In fact, he's singled out his record player — the same one he's had since childhood — as his most favored piece of technological hardware. "It's the one I use for all my music, and I thank the person who invented that," he said in a 2010 interview with The Guardian.

In that interview, Freeman was also critical of the ever-evolving nature of technology. "On the one hand, we're constantly told about recycling and cutting back, and on the other hand we have to buy the next gadget that comes along three weeks after the last one you bought. It's absolutely insane," Freeman said. "We've been suckered into buying and buying and upgrading and upgrading." 

Freeman readily admitted that he finds dealing with technology to be frustrating, particularly when he's forced to rely on others whenever he encounters any issues. "There's virtually nothing that I find easy about it. I'm just not great with buttons," he told Stuff. "... Because I'm not particularly literate at it I get someone else to fix it when I've got a problem."

Martin Freeman is a total homebody

Martin Freeman is not the type of celebrity to be constantly photographed by paparazzi after partying at some Hollywood hotspot — something that he concedes is reflective of his inclination to stay in rather than go out. "I'm a creature of habit, mashed-potato comfort, I like rugs," he told The Guardian. "Our sofa's squishy. Maybe too squishy — it's hard to get up sometimes."

Freeman would far rather be chilling on his couch than going out partying. "I don't do any of that s**t. I've got a [bachelor party] coming up and I've said I'm not doing anything more than a few drinks. I won't have it. I'll go home and watch 'Antiques Roadshow,'" he explained. On those occasions when he does go out, he prefers to keep things low-key. He joked to the outlet that this way, he doesn't wind up accidentally getting himself embroiled in some sex or murder scandal. "If you stay in watching 'Antiques Roadshow,' that kind of s**t doesn't happen," he astutely noted.

Filming "The Hobbit" movies back to back in New Zealand for more than a year pushed Freeman out of his comfort zone. "It's very daunting — the daunting part is leaving home," he revealed during a 2011 appearance on the "Modcast" podcast (via Independent). "I'm a real homebody, even before we had children, I was a homebody, so with children, it's like aww ..." 

He shared the screen with his ex during their breakup

In 2016, Martin Freeman revealed in an interview with the Financial Times that he and his longtime partner, Amanda Abbington split up, ending a 16-year relationship that resulted in two children. He subsequently told Radio Times that they'd been broken up for some time at that point — and that they were officially exes when they portrayed onscreen spouses John and Mary Watson in the most recent season of "Sherlock." "Yes, we've not been together for a while," he said. "I mean, we did the series not together." 

As for the reasons behind the split, Abbington was diplomatic. "We still get on really well, we still really both admire each other as actors," she told The Times. "He's a great guy, but we just couldn't live with each other anymore." She also insisted that whatever they were going through personally never made its way to the "Sherlock" set. "We were professional and we were going to get on and make a show and be civil to each other," she explained. Still, during an appearance on "Desert Island Discs" (via The Guardian), Freeman admitted that working with his ex during the split wasn't exactly a good time. 

Both Freeman and Abbington have since moved on to other relationships. In 2020, The Sun reported Freeman was dating Rachel Mariam, a French actor 21 years his junior, while Abbington is engaged to daredevil stunt performer, Jonathan Goodwin.

He's passionate about music and vinyl

In addition to his love of acting, Martin Freeman is also passionate about music — something that was initially sparked by the emerging punk scene when he was a youngster. "The first music I latched on to was British punk — the Sex Pistols, The Clash, and The Jam," Freeman told The Guardian. "I just loved the power, the rawness, and the rudeness. You had to turn it down when your dad came in the room; your parents were supposed to hate it." He eventually gravitated toward Two-Tone, a British genre of music that became popular in the late '70s and early '80s that melded punk with ska. "There was something very direct about it; I was one of millions of kids in Britain who felt like it was speaking directly to me," he said of the sound while appearing on "Desert Island Discs."

Meanwhile, Freeman's wallflower tendencies don't particularly lend well to enjoying live music. "If I could get bands to come and play in my house, I'd like that," he joked to The Guardian, admitting he'd never been to a music festival. Even before he became famous, going out to catch a band was more of an exception than the rule. "I was a bit of a homebody and would go to the occasional gig or club night, but it was really just records for me ..." he explained in an interview with Chap

Martin Freeman is proud to be 'geek royalty'

Among Martin Freeman's many roles have been Earthling protagonist, Arthur Dent, in the 2005 adaptation of "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy," crime-solving physician, John Watson in "Sherlock," and Bilbo Baggins in "The Hobbit" and its sequels. Given the fervent level of fandom for anything associated with "Lord of the Rings," Freeman told The Hollywood Reporter that he'd made peace with becoming an idol to aficionados of J.R.R. Tolkien's iconic books. "I'm geek royalty now," he proudly boasted. "That's the main responsibility. It's not playing Bilbo, it's my responsibility as a geek prince." 

He told the outlet that he remained hopeful that he'd deliver future performances that would be enjoyed enough that "The Hobbit" would eventually fade back to become one of many memorable roles — not the pre-eminent one. "I hope by the time my life is over I've given them something else to talk about," he said of his Tolkien following. "But I think in all reality ... it's very likely that they'll be calling me Bilbo."

Freeman's role in the "LOTR" franchise dovetailed with his love of music when he revealed he'd listened to "The Legend of Bilbo Baggins," performed by another legendary nerd icon, "Star Trek" star Leonard Nimoy. Asked whether the "Hobbit" inspired song helped his preparation for the role, he told Gizmodo, "No it didn't. It helped me enjoy that three minutes of listening to it."

He almost became a professional squash player

Despite his childhood illnesses and surgeries on his hip, Martin Freeman mastered a very particular sport when he was still a kid. "I played squash from nine and had a real natural aptitude, so I assumed I'd be a squash player, but then I fell out of love with it," he explained to The Guardian. However, deciding to quit playing squash left him feeling at loose ends about what he wanted to do with the rest of his life. "I was worried that 14 was quite old not to know what I wanted to do," he explained.

As Freeman revealed while appearing on "Desert Island Discs," he was good enough at the sport to compete at the national level, and at one point had become Britain's top-ranked player in his age category. "I thought I was going to be a squash player until I was about 14," he said. "I loved it. Until I started to not love it, because it's a big commitment — a lot of training, a lot of travel. I wasn't competitive enough."

Speaking with BBC Radio 4's "Front Row" (via Squash Mad), Freeman insisted that he had managed to maintain a certain degree of skill at racquet sports despite stepping away from playing squash competitively. "I'm not bad with something in my hand," he shared. "Actually, I'm not bad with whacking things around at all, I quite enjoy it."

He has a complicated relationship with fame

Success has been something of a double-edged sword for Martin Freeman. While roles in popular projects such as "Fargo," "The Hobbit," "Sherlock," and "Black Panther" have made him a recognizable star, becoming a celebrity isn't something about which he felt particularly comfortable. In fact, he told Entertainment Weekly that he was grateful that his star hadn't risen to the same level as that of his "Sherlock" co-star, Benedict Cumberbatch. "The trajectory of [Cumberbatch's rise] is very extreme," Freeman said. "It's deserved in his case, because he's really good. But to that extent? No thanks ... I've got enough madness in my life without it being there all the time." 

In fact, before "A Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy" came out, Freeman had been nervous that starring in a major movie adaptation of a massively popular cult-classic book would cause his life to change. "And it didn't, really," Freeman told Time Out Paris. "I'm a big believer that life changes as much as you want it to," he added. "If you invite in all the madness, it will. If you don't, if you kind of let the world quietly know, 'No thanks, I still want to get on the train and live my own life,' then somehow it doesn't have to." As Freeman mused to the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, "My nature is very private, and, of course, you only find out how private you are when people want to know more about you."

He's fought hard to avoid typecasting

In his breakthrough role, Martin Freeman played cubicle jockey, Tim Canterbury in "The Office" (which proved to be similarly star-making for John Krasinski when he played the role, renamed Jim, in the NBC version of the mockumentary sitcom)."[Tim is] "an Everyman romantic hero for the modern age," posited The Guardian about the character. As he told the outlet, he was as proud as he was wary of that characterization. "Obviously I don't want to be seen as that character for the rest of my life," he reflected. "I'd like it to be seen as one of a number of things I'm proud to have done."

Becoming typecast was something he's tried hard to avoid, and he has deliberately turned down Tim-like roles that came his way. In another interview with The Guardian, he theorized that unless an actor actively fights against their type, then they run the risk of getting too old to fulfill the same characteristics as they age. "And then you won't work again because that was your bit." Speaking to Entertainment Weekly on the topic, he added, "Any pigeonhole is something to be rebelled against. When people say, 'You're a normal Everyman,' I go, 'Well, you f***ing find five of me in the street then!' There aren't many of me walking around, you know!"

Billy Bob Thornton concurred, telling Entertainment Weekly about his "Fargo" co-star, "He's much more intense than people might think."

He admits he has anger issues

Martin Freeman admits he can sometimes become prickly and is not unaware that he's barely containing a simmering volcano of anger beneath the surface. "There's quite a deep well of it," he admitted in an interview with Entertainment Weekly. "It alarms me sometimes." Asked to identify things that triggered his anger, Freeman replied, "F***ing name it. Some of it is a sort of lighthearted anger that I know will pass, but some of it is pretty deep-seated and a fundamental part of me that I think people often don't understand." 

However, he's also admitted that being able to tap into that anger for a film or TV role has been hugely advantageous, arguably contributing to the success he's achieved as an actor. That was particularly true for his role in the British drama series, "The Responder," in which he portrayed a mentally unstable police officer. "I've always been able to access anger," he told the Metro (via Express). He also admitted that the same anger that aids his acting can also play havoc with his personal life. "Some people are impossible to live with but I relate to that because I know in my life I've been really hard to live with," he shared. The star added that the role was ultimately cathartic for him. "Part of what [series creator] Tony Schumacher probably saw in the possibility of me playing Chris was a fellow miserable b***ard," he joked.

Peter Jackson really wanted him for The Hobbit

It's no secret that one of Martin Freeman's most notable projects has been playing Bilbo Baggins in "The Hobbit" and its sequels. However, the role nearly had to be recast when the shooting schedule of "Sherlock" overlapped with that of the movies, which were filmed back to back. However, the film's director, Peter Jackson, refused to proceed with any other actor than Freeman. "Martin was the only person that we wanted for that role, and that was really before we met Martin," Jackson said during a 2012 press conference, reported by The Hollywood Reporter. "We just felt he had qualities that would be perfect for Bilbo. The stuffy, repressed English quality."

Having enjoyed the actor's previous work, the filmmaker's mind was set on Freeman. However, with just weeks until filming was set to begin, Jackson was running out of time. "I was really panicking," he admitted. Finally, he came upon a solution. After filming with him for four months, he decided to fire Freeman, pausing production for two months while the actor returned to London to film "Sherlock." 

The period when it seemed like he'd be unable to join "The Hobbit" was a difficult time for Freeman. "I had to let that go, and that was deeply gutting," he confessed during an appearance on "The Jonathan Ross Show." However, he was deeply humbled by Jackson rearranging the film's schedule to accommodate him.  "It's very gratifying," he said. "It means someone wants you."

He's open to stepping into directing

From Clint Eastwood to Jodie Foster, Hollywood is practically bursting with actors who've stepped behind the camera to carve out careers as directors. Fans can count Martin Freeman among them — maybe. "It's something that I would consider," he said in an interview with Collider. "I do think about it. I change with it, really. Sometimes when I'm on set and I see what a director does, I look at it and go, 'Yeah, I could do that.' I'd be right with this part of it."

However, Freeman also admitted that he felt daunted by the constant decisions a director faces regarding production — tasks that go well beyond simply shaping how an actor plays a particular scene. "I'm ... not sure I'd have the mental bandwidth for [it], just with the endless questions and how you have to be across everything," he added. Ultimately, he's not going to close any doors if the opportunity to direct were to arise. "But never say never," he said. "If I get the confidence to think I could do it, then maybe so."

While he hadn't yet stepped behind the camera as of 2022, the actor has certainly been building up his behind-the-scenes credits as an executive producer on TV shows like "Breeders" and "The Responder."

Martin Freeman feels like an outsider in the MCU

Martin Freeman joined his co-star, Benedict Cumberbatch, in becoming part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. In 2016, he starred as Everett Ross, head of the Joint Counter Terrorist Centre, in "Captain America: Civil War." He went on to reprise the role in 2018's "Black Panther" and its 2022 sequel, "Black Panther: Wakanda Forever."

Freeman sees his character as something of an outsider in the story, an ally to Wakanda but certainly not privy to the fictional African nation's inner workings. "He's the man on the outside," the actor told Digital Spy of his character's role as a conduit between Wakanda and the U.S. government. "... I guess he's a very useful ally to have in a country like America. He advocates for them, and I think that's very useful for them."

The star is also keenly aware that his role within the MCU is very much that of a small cog in a very large machine. "You get on the Marvel train and the train is operating just fine without you, it's going to carry on with or without you just fine," he told GQ about his "Black Panther" involvement. The film's great success may have been essentially guaranteed, but Freeman was nonetheless grateful for how much love it received.  "... It's one of the few things that you will ever do in your life where you know there is a huge audience for it," he shared.