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Martin Freeman is Bilbo Baggins in “The Hobbit” (Opens Dec 13)

Sixty years before his nephew Frodo would take his own great and terrible journey in the Lord of the Rings trilogy, Bilbo Baggins is living a contented, peaceful existence in his cozy home of Bag End in the market town of Hobbiton.  Like all of his kind, he loves his home and knows little of the world beyond the Shire, except what he gleans from his precious books and maps.

To play the Hobbit at the center of the adventure in Peter Jackson’s highly awaited epic “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey,” the filmmakers had only one actor in mind:  Martin Freeman, who has been praised for the effortless humor and humanity he brings to comedic and dramatic roles alike.

“Martin has this amazing gift to be vulnerable at the same time as being staunch and strong,” screenwriter Philippa Boyens describes.  “He can be funny at the same time as having pathos.  All those qualities told us that he was Bilbo Baggins.  We knew that Martin could take you along with him on this extraordinary journey.”

Out of the film’s colorful group of Dwarves and Wizards, Elves and Trolls, Bilbo is possibly the most relatable to audiences.  Jackson confirms, “Bilbo is like a regular person, and reacts the way any one of us likely would if we were in his situation.  When Bilbo is faced with a Troll, he doesn’t necessarily grab his sword and start fighting—he panics.  And that’s what’s so incredible about Martin.  He doesn’t want to pretend any of it; he’s always real and authentic.  I’ve always thought of Hobbits as being very English, with their little cups of tea and their feet up by the fire.  Martin is probably one of the nearest people to a Hobbit that I’ve ever met,” the director adds with a smile.

Determined that Freeman was Bilbo, Jackson rearranged the shooting schedule to build in a hiatus for the actor to leave New Zealand and travel to the UK to perform his role as Watson on the television series “Sherlock.” “I was truly shocked and pleased because I really wanted to play Bilbo, and that’s not the kind of offer that comes back,” Freeman recalls.  “It showed that they had such faith in me as Bilbo.  They must have seen something in me that could play worry, but with humor.”

Freeman describes Bilbo as “quite self-sufficient.   He is also quite self-satisfied, I think, a learned man without having traveled the world.  The things that struck me about him suggested a certain timidity in many situations, a certain hesitancy in life, because his world is his home and Hobbiton, and beyond that is a bit scary.”

In the film, Bilbo Baggins is swept into an epic quest to reclaim the lost Dwarf Kingdom of Erebor from the fearsome Dragon Smaug.  Approached out of the blue by the Wizard Gandalf the Grey (Sir Ian McKellen), Bilbo finds himself joining a company of 13 Dwarves led by the legendary warrior Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage).  Their journey will take them into the Wild, through treacherous lands swarming with Goblins, Orcs and deadly Wargs, as well as a mysterious and sinister figure known only as the Necromancer.

Although their goal lies to the East and the wastelands of the Lonely Mountain, first they must escape the Goblin tunnels, where Bilbo meets the creature that will change his life forever…Gollum.

Here, alone with Gollum, on the shores of an underground lake, the unassuming Bilbo Baggins not only discovers depths of ingenuity and courage that surprise even him, he also gains possession of Gollum’s “precious” ring that holds unexpected and useful qualities… A simple, gold ring that is tied to the fate of all Middle-earth in ways Bilbo cannot begin to know.

A production of New Line Cinema and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures (MGM), “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey” will be released in the Philippines by Warner Bros. Pictures on Thursday, Dec. 13, 2012.

The second film, “The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug,” will be released on Dec. 13, 2013, to be followed by “The Hobbit: There and Back Again” on July 18, 2014.

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