After months of confusion and rumors, it was finally announced -- with the endorsement of Peter Jackson himself -- that the role of Bilbo Baggins in the upcoming two-part adaptation of “The Hobbit” had finally been cast. The role will go to none other than Martin Freeman, a comedic actor who is best known in the public eye as ‘that guy who played a body double for a porno in “Love Actually"’.
To the trained fan eye, however, Martin Freeman is better known for his portrayal of Arthur Dent in the film adapted from Douglas Adams’ comedic science fiction series “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy". He is also currently playing Dr. John H. Watson on the BBC’s “Sherlock”, a modern retelling based upon the stories of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. When it all adds up, Freeman has quite the repertoire of iconic characters under his belt. It begs the question: how does this affect a celebrity’s career?
Some actors are forever tied to their signature role; Michael J. Fox as Marty McFly comes to mind, and there are few who can even mention Arnold Schwarzenegger without muttering “I’ll be back” under their breath. But what of those actors who are twice or even thrice blessed? Those ephemeral figures who manage to take on more than one character who captures the imagination of audiences for countless years to come?
Some seem to walk the line with relative grace. Orlando Bloom does not appear to suffer being both an elven prince in the world of Tolkien's “Lord of the Rings” and young Will Turner in the wildly successful “Pirates of the Caribbean” franchise. Karl Urban also walked the lands of Middle Earth as Eomer of Rohan, and yet he stepped on board the Enterprise in the latest "Star Trek" film and won over a new group of fans as easily as he assumed the guise of the ever-sardonic, ever-cranky Doctor McCoy.
There are those rare times, though, when the roles an actor takes on are so iconic, so well-stitched into the giant quilt of pop culture, that there will always be an argument over who they should forever be identified as. The most obvious embodiment of this dilemma, of course, being Harrison Ford. The actor is known for his off-screen heroics and love of flying; when he rescued a stranded hiker in Wyoming, the press asked what it was like to be saved by Indiana Jones. The hiker corrected them: he had been saved by Han Solo.
There is no end to this argument, and perhaps that is part of Harrison Ford’s legacy. Perhaps it says more about the individual, which version of Ford they prefer. While the instantly recognizable fedora and whip may be on display at the Smithsonian Museum, there are few little boys who don’t grow up running around their living room with a plastic miniature version of the Millennium Falcon. Maybe the only thing an actor in Harrison Ford’s situation can do is chuckle, sit back and enjoy.
So what will Martin Freeman be forever associated with? Odds are on Baggins -- "Lord of the Rings" has great visibility in pop culture these days, and fans of the series are devout. But surely at this point in his career, he has to be wondering what sorts of memorabilia the kids might be asking him to sign forty years down the road.