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Trailer: "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey": Peace-loving hobbit Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) joins a group of dwarves and a wizard (Ian McKellen) on a trek to reclaim treasure from a deadly dragon.
Martin Freeman as Bilbo Baggins in New Line Cinema's and MGM's fantasy adventure The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. / James Fisher

At 5-foot-7 and slender, Martin Freeman can walk unrecognized through any American crowd. But soon, the British actor, 41 — who starred in the original U.K. version of The Office, in the role John Krasinski plays in the U.S. version, and who plays Dr. Watson in PBS’ series Sherlock — will forevermore be known as Bilbo Baggins. The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, the first film in a trilogy, opens next Friday. Sequels are to arrive in December 2013 and July 2014. Fun facts about Freeman:

He didn’t read J.R.R. Tolkien’s book The Hobbit until he heard he might play the part. I was surprised by the tone of it. I didn’t think it would be as humorous as it was. I thought it might take itself a bit too seriously.

Director Peter Jackson says Freeman was born to play Bilbo. He calls the actor “intelligent, funny, surprising and brave — exactly like Bilbo.” I feel comfortable with Bilbo, but he’s not me. Certain bits could be me. I have no problem playing vulnerability, fear or what might be perceived as weakness by foolish people, but in reality is human. I enjoy playing flawed, wrong-footed people. I’m terribly interested in that aspect of life.

How do you feel about superheroes? Given where the culture is these days, playing a superhero means playing someone flawed. We all want to see what’s behind the mask. What are you scared of? I can enjoy Superman as much as anyone, but at the same time real heroism doesn’t look like that. No real-life hero ever thinks he’s heroic.

What he missed most while filming 18 months in New Zealand: My bed. That’s why we have houses and our own beds — we want to sleep in them. ... You could draw that comparison between me and Bilbo.

Worst filming day: Hanging upside down, wet, dirty, covered in troll snot. We were on the side of a mountain with wind machines going and rain pouring down, and our wig glue and hair gel was going into our eyes. Peter would say, ‘Martin, can you open your eyes a little more?’ I genuinely could not. It was comically uncomfortable.

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Did you get to wear your Hobbit ears or feet out to restaurants? No. There was a huge level of secrecy. For the first few months of shooting, our trailer park was covered with tarpaulins so photographers on the hill couldn’t get a shot.

Most important thing in life:“Love. Work comes a close second, but there’s nothing’s more exciting than love.

You met your partner, Amanda Abbington, on a film set 12 years ago. Thank God. I’ve been with her for a very long time, and I’m very happy.

Work goal: I worry that on my deathbed, I’ll ask myself, ‘Did I at least give it my best shot?’ I’m very aware of the concept of selling oneself short, adding to the mediocrity of the world. My entire life has not been an endless freaking Picasso, but I’m doing things that at least please me.

How he plans to handle international fame: If I start behaving in a way I know I hate when I see it in other people, that’s a pretty good gauge for not doing it.

His ancestral treasure: My record collection. It’s in my sitting room. I’ve bought records since I was a child. I love them.

Famous role he most wants to play: I wouldn’t mind Macbeth, but I’ve been in this job 17 years, now, and I love doing things I establish. That way people can’t say, ‘Oh, he’s this’ or ‘Oh, ‘he’s that.’ I decide. Maybe in the next 10 years, there will be 14 Bilbos, but this is my version.

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