September 8, 1971
Aldershot, Hampshire, GB
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With a knack for milking comedy gold out of awkward situations, English actor Martin Freeman became a mainstay on the BBC prior to expanding his work to international film. After a number of years spent paying his dues with minor parts, Freeman broke out as the prank-loving Tim Canterbury on Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant's hit sitcom "The Office" (BBC 1/BBC 2, 2001-03). The increasingly popular actor jumped to the big screen, first with a supporting role in the ensemble romance "Love Actually" (2003), followed by the lead in the inspired adaptation of the cult classic novel "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy" (2005). An exceptionally prolific period followed, during which Freeman divided his time between television work and appearances in such films as the action-comedy "Hot Fuzz" (2007). The actor garnered more acclaim than ever before when he was cast in the role of Dr. John Watson on the modernized interpretation of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's iconic creation "Sherlock" (BBC 1, 2010- ) opposite Benedict Cumberbatch as the eccentric super-sleuth. Freeman's scored his biggest role yet as the diminutive Bilbo Baggins in Peter Jackson's "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey" (2012), the first in another trilogy based on the works of J.R.R. Tolkien. While known for his comedic acumen, Freeman's everyman appeal and impressive range made him one of the more sought after British imports of his day.
Born Martin John C. Freeman in the town of Aldershot, part of the English county of Hampshire, on Sept. 8, 1971, he was the youngest of five children by parents Geoff and Philomena Norris. Raised Roman Catholic, he was educated at Cardinal Newman School in Hersham before attending the private Salesian School for his secondary education. After studying at the Central School of Speech and Drama in London, he began making guest and recurring appearances on British television. Among his notable early turns was on the sketch comedy series "Bruiser" (BBC, 2000), which featured Ricky Gervais among its writers and allowed Freeman to perfect his pained reaction to mortifying situations. He made his feature debut in 2000's "The Low Down," and played Ricky C, the equally clueless gangsta wanna-be pal of Sacha Baron Cohen's Ali G in "Ali G Indahouse" (2002). That same year, Freeman was vaulted to critical and audience attention as paper company sales representative Tim Canterbury in the original U.K. version of "The Office." A likable thirty-something with a knack for self-deprecating humor and pranks, Canterbury also struggled to find some worth in his existence, which largely consisted of his life at home with his parents and his seemingly pointless job. Hope surfaced in the form of a potential romance with company receptionist Dawn Tinsely (Lucy Davis), but Canterbury's reticence prevented them from becoming a couple until the show's second season finale. The show's international popularity, which earned it a Golden Globe and two Emmy nominations in America, thrust Freeman into global waters, where he was able to parlay his fame in several notable productions.
In "Love Actually" (2003), he played an actor's stand-in for a sex scene in a film, and pursued a tentative relationship with his fellow stand-in (Joanna Page). And in the big screen adaptation of the cult favorite "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy" (2005), he was top-billed as the hapless Arthur Dent, who becomes the sole survivor of Earth's destruction and joins a crew of fellow misfits in defeating an alien race from spreading bureaucracy through the universe. Freeman soon settled into a steady schedule of supporting turns in British features and the occasional American production while taking the lead in several U.K. television series. "In "Hardware" (ITV, 2003-04), he was a sarcastic hardware store employee who spent his days mocking overeager customers, while "The Robinsons" (BBC2, 2005) cast him as a insurance actuary who grew dissatisfied with his career and decided to remake his life. A rare break from comedy came with the miniseries "Charles II: The Power and the Passion" (BBC 1, 2003), which cast him as English politician Lord Shaftesbury.
The year 2007 saw Freeman in no less than seven films, including leads in the comedy "The All Together," as a screenwriter who loathed British gangster films, only to find himself at the mercy of real London mobsters, and Peter Greenaway's "Nightwatching," which cast Freeman as the artist Rembrandt. In 2009, he starred in the miniseries "Boy Meets Girl" (ITV, 2009) as an aimless clerk with socialist leanings who accidentally switched bodies with a glamorous fashion journalist. Freeman's breakout year proved to be 2010. After a more than a decade as an entertainment favorite in the UK and a cult hero in the U.S. and abroad, Freeman broke out when, after seemingly endless debate, he was cast as Bilbo Baggins, the hero of J.R.R. Tolkien's fantasy novel "The Hobbit" (2012) in a film adaptation produced and directed by Peter Jackson, who won an Oscar for his "Lord of the Rings" trilogy (2001, 2002, 2003). Freeman was nearly forced to turn down the role due to his duties on "Sherlock" (BBC 1, 2010- ), an updated television adaptation of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes stories. Freeman played the series' Dr. Watson, a former Army doctor who suffered a debilitating wound while serving in Afghanistan, and found himself aiding the brilliant but highly dysfunctional consulting detective Sherlock Holmes (Benedict Cumberbatch). His performance earned the actor an Emmy Award nomination for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Miniseries or a Movie. Freeman also appeared as a vicious killer in the British dark comedy "Wild Target" (2010) with his "Hitchhiker" co-star Bill Nighy and Emily Blunt.
The Hobbit: There and Back AgainBilbo Baggins
The World's EndOliver Chamberlain
The Pirates! Band of MisfitsThe Pirate with a Scarf
What's Your Number?Simon
The Good NightGary Sheller
Hot FuzzMetropolitan Police Sergeant
The Hitchhiker's Guide To the GalaxyArthur Dent
Ali G IndahouseRicky C
The Low DownSolomon
The All TogetherChris
NightwatchingRembrandt van Rijn
Saving SantaBernard D. Elf