Martin Freeman, 41, the British actor hitherto most famous for portraying Tim Canterbury — the character on whom Jim Halpert (John Krasinski) was originally based — in the BBC Golden Globe-winning The Office, created by Ricky Gervais, as well as his roles in Love, Actually, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy and the BBC Benedict Cumberbatch series, Sherlock, in which Freeman plays Dr. Watson, is about to embark on a whole new brand of house-hold name fame when he takes on the titular role in the upcoming Peter Jackson prequel series to the Lord of the Rings trilogy, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey.

That's right — Martin will play the hapless Bilbo Baggins, who is coerced to leave his home of Bag End to embark on an outlandish and dangerous adventure that will bring him face-to-face with Gollum (Andy Serkis) and, of course, the One Ring. But it was no coincidence that Martin was chosen for the role. For director Peter Jackson, there was never any other option. "Martin is probably one of the nearest people to a hobbit that I've ever met," Jackson told USA Today, in the sense that his lead character "has a certain English fussiness about him. He is slightly conservative — not in his politics, but in his lifestyle. He's got that wonderful English sense of loving home and being a little bit suspicious of going abroad."

More than that, however, Jackson describes Martin as "a dramatic actor who can do comedy. You just think about the strong dramatic actors out there, and very few of them are funny. Martin is a rarity."

Freeman, with demonstrative wit that backs up his director's claims, agrees: "I call it my mini-Michael Corleone arc. I go from wide-eyed to some pretty dark places."

And it just so happens that he has a strong resemblance to actor Ian Holm, 81, who played the older Bilbo in the chronologically later LOTR trilogy. "We have almost exactly the same facial dimensions," he says. "The measurements of the forehead, the cheek, the chin. Only at the bridge of the nose is there a slight discrepancy. I am sure that was on their minds. If they thought Denzel Washington would have been a perfect Bilbo, there might have been a problem. But it might have been a way to go, too."

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey — the first in three planned prequels of The Lord of the Rings — opens today in theaters.

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