The star of The Office and Sherlock steps into the hairy feet of Tolkien's halfling hero
Martin, you apparently beat off some big names to land this – Daniel Radcliffe, James McAvoy, Tobey Maguire, Shia LaBeouf...
If you listen to Peter Jackson there was no queue. It was just me. If it's not true, it’s a nice lie. I’m sure there would have been plenty of people who would have been bigger financial draws than me.
When did you first read The Hobbit? What did you make of it?
I didn’t read it as a kid: I read it first after I’d talked to Peter about the role. Guillermo [del Toro] and Peter were like, “Well, we want you to do it.” So then I thought: “Well, I suppose I’d better read it.” I was surprised by how humorous it was. I didn’t think it would be as lightly, wryly funny as it is. And I didn’t realise until then how much fantasy literature fiction has come from Tolkien.
What kind of things were you into as a child?
George Orwell and lots of politics – even when I was 11. I was always quite intelligent but I did horrendously badly at school. I was never academic unfortunately. Well, I say "unfortunately," but fuck it, I’m the Hobbit! It’s not held me back frankly. But I can see why it would have been frustrating for my Mum because I was pathologically lazy.
Is The Hobbit the kind of book you would read to your kids? Have you read it to your kids?
Yes it is. But no I haven’t.
This is a Christmas family movie. How will your family be spending your Christmas this year?
Probably just the old-fashioned way: quietly, around the fire while it’s snowing. Last year, the second block of filming The Hobbit finished on December 19 and I flew straight back and I arrived into my house on the December 21. It was pitch black, cold, my dogs ran out, my lovely family was all there, the fire was roaring – honest to God, it meant so much to me after being away for so long.
Did the cast always know there was going to be a third film?
Not until the day of the wrap party for the second film. We’d smelt something in the air. We were thinking: “Is this really going to be the end?” Turns out, it wasn’t.
Going onto a set where so many people know each other already very well from having worked on The Lord of the Rings – did you feel like the new kid at school?
There were me and 13 dwarves who were all new so I didn’t feel like the new boy at school at all. You’re aware that all the crew know each other, and all the head honchos. But by the time Ian came on as Gandalf, we’d already been there a couple of months.
You did know Benedict Cumberbatch very well from Sherlock of course, and he’s playing the dragon. Was that nice to see a familiar face?
Didn’t at all! I’d been home for Christmas and when I came back he was just leaving, so our work didn’t really coincide.
I’ve spoken to some actors who are not fans of shooting in 3D as it takes so much longer. What is your impression of 3D?
The cameras have caught up with the technology now. For the vast majority of the film it didn’t feel any longer because of the 3D. It just feels long because that is the way Pete likes to shoot. Pete is an epic filmmaker and you’re not going to be there five minutes.
Compared to many other characters in the film, you get off quite lightly in terms of make-up and prosthetics.
I have prosthetic feet and a wig and ears. I was in [make-up] for an hour and 15 minutes every day and then when I went down to set, I would put the feet on and that would take another 10 minutes. Compared to the rest of the cast I get off lightly but compared to anything else you would normally do in your life, that’s fucking big.
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey screens from Wed Dec 26.