An Interview with Martin Freeman

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Image © Martin Freeman via Facebook

London Calling speak with Martin Freeman about relying on his own instincts upon his return to the stage in James Graham’s latest political comedy Labour of Love.

From an office block in Slough to the moors of Middle-earth, Martin Freeman’s career has ranged far and wide - and now he returns to the stage with a lead role in James Graham’s Labour of Love, which runs for 11 weeks only at the Noel Coward Theatre from September 15th.

For a life-long Labour supporter like Martin Freeman, the opportunity to star in James Graham’s newest political play combines two of the Hampshire-born actor’s greatest passions. Labour of Love sees Freeman’s modern politician butting heads with Sarah Lancashire’s traditional Labourite in the party’s traditional heartlands.

It’s been described as “a clash of philosophy, culture and class against the backdrop of the Labour Party over 25 years as it moves from Kinnock through Blair into Corbyn” and it represents, for Freeman at least, another measured decision in a career that has moved from stage to screen and back again.

“You can never predict how audiences will respond to your work and there’s always a certain amount of trepidation that comes with that,” the 45-year-old explains. “Of course, it would be wonderful if people liked the work I did, but ultimately I have to be satisfied and pleased with the work I’ve done. That’s my perspective on every role I play and no matter what critics or audiences might think, I have to live with my own judgement. From an acting perspective, you have to rely on your own instincts.

“I have never been driven by anything more than a desire to look for good roles and not choose parts on the basis of money or commercial considerations. I’ve always followed my instincts when it comes to looking for a good script where I think I can bring something distinct and unique to a role.”

The latest in a long line of political projects from in-demand Graham, Labour of Love will run from 15th September for 11 weeks at the Noel Coward Theatre. For Freeman, it’s the first time he will have set foot on stage since he took the title role in Shakespeare’s Richard III in 2014. In the intervening years, Freeman - who first made his breakthrough as part of hit mockumentary The Office - has enjoyed a run of form in Hollywood, with appearances in The Hobbit Trilogy and Captain America: Civil War.

In spite of these big-budget appearances, the characteristically reserved star has lost none of the ‘everyman’ demeanour that made him such a delight to watch in Ricky Gervais’ cult classic.

“Fame can be slightly disturbing, I suppose, but I don’t live a very outlandish life and so there aren’t that many occasions where I’m out in the public eye going to film events or parties or things of that nature,” he admits. “I don’t have any illusions about who I am or that I’m suddenly a big star or my life has greater meaning simply because I’ve been part of some very big films.”

That’s not to say, of course, that Freeman is dismissive of his 20-year career in the industry. But with those cinematic credentials already firmly locked down, as an upcoming role in Marvel’s Black Panther film can attest, Freeman is entering a stage of his career where he is able to be more selective about the projects he lends his talents to.

“I don’t worry about work,” he smiles. “And that’s partly because I’ve been lucky and I’ve always worked. I left drama school early to work, and I’ve never really stopped working. It’s easy for me to say, in a way, but I enjoy work, and even when it’s driving me mad I’d still rather be doing that than anything else. Of course, there are times when I get insecure about it. You don’t want to disappoint anyone and naturally you set as high a bar for yourself as you can and see where that takes you.

“At the end of the day, my interest in acting stems from my passion and joy for the work. I never imagined that I would have so many great opportunities and so everything that comes my way is one more step along the way. I’m not looking for any kind of glory other than some measure of appreciation from audiences. I hope people enjoy my work and I try to give it my all.”

Martin Freeman and Sarah Lancashire star in James Graham's Labour of Love at the Noël Coward Theatre from 27 September - 2 December. Tickets from £10.