Since winning hearts and minds as amiable worker Tim Canterbury in Ricky Gervais' series The Office, Martin Freeman has rapidly emerged as one of the UK's most promising new stars. Endearing turns in Love Actually, The Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy and Confetti helped to broaden his appeal before a dramatic supporting role in Breaking And Entering extended his range.
His latest, The All Together, finds him returning to comedy as a bored TV producer who unwittingly becomes involved in a hostage situation. He tells BBC Movies why it appealed and discusses some future plans...
What attracted you to The All Together?
I thought it was original. It didn't feel like it had been written by committee or with so many concessions to demographic or commercialism. It sounded like someone had written the film that they wanted to write and they were now going to make that film - not for American stars or with a mind to how it's going to go down in Wisconsin. It was about taking a punt and making a film that comes from someone's head and heart as opposed to their wallet. And that's pretty rare.
The shoot took place over 18 days. How intense was that?
Well it was six days for me, I think. It was bizarre. There's quick and then there's really quick and then there's impossible... well not impossible because we did it! I did think: "How's this possibly going to even vaguely work?" But with determination, courage and a sunny side up attitude we did it.
Did the time constraint help with bonding?
It did help because no one's getting paid, no one has any status and no one has a Winnebago to retreat to. You literally have to be in this stuffy little room with each other for five hours and do your bit. I don't want to make it sound unpleasant - but the upside of the no budget thing, or the quickness, is the camaraderie. It's more akin to radio or theatre because no one has their own space. It means you have no choice but to get on with people and be with the other cast. You get to know people.
Was it nice being able to spend some working time with your girlfriend Amanda Abbington as well?
We've done it before a few times and I do always really enjoy it. She's a brilliant actress and I respect what she does. Obviously I love her too. So it's easy. There's no other politics like I'm doing the scene with someone I don't really like. Anything we don't like about each other we can say [laughs].
Is it fair to say that the approach to making The All Together was similar to the mentality that went into making The Office so unique?
Exactly. No one could ever have dreamt that it [The Office] would take off, or make us the money that it did from DVD sales. No one could have dreamed it would become a cultural phenomenon. We were doing it because it was really good and we really liked it. And if only seven people had liked it, I'd still be dead proud of it.
Are you worried about the response it might generate among your fans?
I do try and stick to that principal. I try not to be too swayed or flattered by other things - certainly not by commerce. I don't want to be poor, of course. But I try not to make that the guiding force behind whether I choose to do something or not. It's boring and it's ultimately not what people are going to be talking about in 40 years. We all know the films that have affected us from the age of nine onwards, that mean so much to us. You could not give less of a **** about whether it made four billion quid or not. What matters is, did it say something to you, whether it's funny, serious or romantic.
Would you like to turn your hand to writing or directing in the future?
I'm not sure that I could. I don't know that I'd be great at that. I think the only directing I'd be any good at is theatre directing. It's the only thing I can see myself doing. But I don't feel confident enough delegating that much work on a film set. There are still things technically about films that I think are a mystery to me and I want to remain a mystery. I don't particularly want to know what everyone's job is because I've got lines to learn.
Sometimes that can be used as a bit of bulls**t by actors, mainly men who feel a bit of residual guilt about the fact they're not working with tools or machinery; they're doing a bit of a poofy job of acting. So maybe if they know a lot about what the machinery is doing it'll make them a bit more of a man. But I'm quite happy being a poof. Acting is the only thing I'm even vaguely good at and acting is something that I think I do know about. I'm hoping to get better all the time. I'm better than I was ten years ago and in ten years' time I want to be better than I am now. So that's a lifelong mission as it is.
You've just finished working with Penelope Cruz on The Good Night. How was that?
That was a while ago now but again I read Jake Paltrow's script and knew he was Gwyneth's brother but I thought: "I've not read that before!" I also loved the fact that he wanted me to do it. I was flattered because it was another honest story. And I'm always dead chuffed if someone I admire likes me too. It's funny, I still have those occasional moments when I stop and think: "I'm in this film with all these people [Penelope Cruz, Danny DeVito, Gwyneth Paltrow, Simon Pegg], it's weird!" But then Gwyneth told me: "Yeah, but we're thinking the same thing about you."
And how was working with Peter Greenaway on Nightwatching?
I'm playing Rembrandt in a film about Rembrandt and I've never worked on a film like that before. He's unique. No one makes film like he does. The process is completely different. But I really, really enjoyed that one. I've not seen all of it yet but I hope I'm good in it and I hope it's a good film. I do know it's shot beautifully. A film about Rembrandt, whom Peter considers to be the first sort of lighting director in his use of shadow, light and colour, has to be well lit. Peter's stuff always looks beautiful but never more so than this. What I have seen is stunning. I just hope that when you see it you get as much of the story across as I got from reading it.
Has the quality of scripts started to improve now that your profile on both sides of the Atlantic has got better?
Well, I've eventually relented and got someone in LA to look after me over there after all this time. I'd always resisted it and been a bit suspicious of it. But it's how things work; you get an agent there and inevitably you'll be seeing different scripts. It's like human politics - you know someone who can put a word in. It's the way people work. So there are people who can make a difference for me over there that people here can't, with the best will in the world.
Obviously, there are also people in America that I absolutely love. I've got no anti-America or anti-Hollywood kick, it's just that I never wanted to go and kick my heels around LA for six months hoping something would happen. I think I've got quite a good career here. I can be acting all the time here, so I didn't want to give that up to go and get a tan! But for a good script, I'd walk a million miles and obviously there's a lot of good scripts in America.
The All Together opens in UK cinemas on Friday 11th May 2007.