Thursday, December 5, 2013

Mr. Anonymous

The original British version of The Office.

The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.

Two collaborations with Edgar Wright.

The Hobbit.

If I listed those accomplishments in the abstract, you'd say that whoever starred in them had to be a household name, right?

Not Martin Freeman. Somehow, the man still seems anonymous.

I say this not because I've had a bunch of conversations with people about Freeman and his under-the-radar profile, but just because it's a sense I get about this man. He was selected to play the lead in not one, but two cherished properties of British fantasy fiction (Hitchhiker's and The Hobbit), yet I suspect many if not most people don't know who Martin Freeman is.

It appears he's also been playing Dr. Watson to Benedict Cumberbatch's Sherlock Holmes, so there's one more feather in his cap.

Perhaps it's Freeman's unassuming quality -- which may just be his defining quality -- that keeps him from really breaking out into popular consciousness.

That very quality is what made him so easy to root for as Tim, the lovesick paper company salesman in the original Office. An affable prankster who could not resist pulling one over on his rival and desk neighbor Gareth (Mackenzie Crook), Tim was the very definition of an everyman, the kind of guy you pull for because everyone can see a little of themselves in him.

Unassuming everyman was the primary job qualification when Freeman was cast as Arthur Dent, accidental sole survivor of the destruction of planet Earth, in The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. Granted, that movie was not enough of a success to encourage the expected sequels, which could have given Freeman the exposure he needed to truly become a star.

Not everyone forgot about him, of course, and he was given the most key role among newcomers to Peter Jackson's Middle Earth in the first of the new trilogy of Hobbit movies, which will continue this Christmas and next. There again, though, Bilbo Baggins is the ultimate everyhobbit, remarkable for his very lack of remarkable qualities, and the courage he summons despite possessing little more than that courage.

Freeman's involvement in Shawn of the Dead (very minor) and The World's End (more central) doesn't exactly fit the pattern, but we're still talking about two very well received movies, one of which has become a genuine cult classic, or possibly just a straight-up classic. (I didn't remember on my own that he was in Hot Fuzz, but that actually makes three Edgar Wright collaborations, doesn't it? In fact, he's the only actor other than Simon Pegg and Nick Frost to appear in all three of the so-called Cornetto trilogy. Wait, that's another lie. Rafe Spall makes the briefest of appearances in all three as well.)

It was while watching the somewhat disappointing World's End last night that I started to wonder why Freeman hasn't really "hit it big."

Well, I'm sure Freeman will take his own version of success. And even if people don't learn his name, the future of movies is certain to be littered with the kind of everymen Freeman has made his specialty.

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