Martin Freeman: ‘I’m one of few people in my family who would ever unironically go into a church’

The cuddly Bilbo and John Watson actor, 50, on squash, lefty politics, having a little faith and reserving the right to be difficult

I was academically quite unengaged at school. I was a smartass and spent a lot of time in detention for petty things. I really do wish I’d applied myself a bit more.

I’m not a practising Catholic, but I still like popping into churches to offer one up, light a candle, do all that stuff. I’m certainly one of the only people in my family who would ever unironically go into a church.

I was into politics at a young age. It’s not like at 10 I was recording Question Time on the VHS. It was more the music I was listening to. I loved two-tone – politics via Linton Kwesi Johnson. I was a little lefty, but with more passion than rigour, more into the T-shirts and badges than trying to think up a transport policy.

I played squash from nine and had a real natural aptitude, so I assumed I’d be a squash player, but then I fell out of love with it. I was worried that 14 was quite old not to know what I wanted to do.

Turning 50 seems quite serious. There’s no way around it. It’s grown up. I can’t believe how old I am. In my head I’m still 14 or 16. So it’s always a bit of a shock when you see the numbers rack up or an unflattering photograph. But it’s so much better than the alternative. I’ll take it.

I’ve looked in the mirror a lot since I was a kid. I just find it fascinating. It’s not because I think I’m gorgeous. Sometimes I’ll look and think: “I’m looking right. This looks OK.” Then other days I think: “Jesus Christ, what’s happened there?”

The dream used to be that people shouted more than one thing at me in the street. There was a time when I thought: “Shit. Am I going to be Tim from The Office until I’m 60?” I don’t think I’ve ever been called Bilbo or John Watson.

I don’t objectively think I’m horrible, but because I became known to the public for a certain performance, I suppose I always want to prepare people to be disappointed if you think that’s all you’re going to get. I reserve the right to be difficult if people just expect me to be nice and cuddly.

Working in America, I didn’t want to be the Englishman who couldn’t drive. They wouldn’t find it charming. They’d find it like an illness. So I learned in a week, then a week later I was driving on the wrong side of the road in snow in Canada.

Do I cry? I’ll tear up watching or listening to something. It’s more rare that I’d really go for it and have a huge cry. But getting choked up is quite common.

I have real friends, some of whom might be famous. I’m friendly with people who are creative because I suppose I know more creative people than I know accountants. Although my accountant’s pretty creative. No, don’t write that, Jesus Christ!

All episodes of Breeders are available on Sky Comedy and streaming service NOW


Rich Pelley

The GuardianTramp

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