LOS ANGELES — If he’s needed it, Martin Freeman could turn to a lot of source material while working on his most iconic film and TV roles. The English actor had the works of J.R.R. Tolkien to scan through when he played Bilbo Baggins in Peter Jackson’s “The Hobbit” film trilogy. There was even more material at his fingertips when he began playing Dr. John Watson in the British drama “Sherlock.”
Freeman’s again playing a character with a rich print history as he reprises his role of Everett K. Ross in “Black Panther,” the latest offering in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. He originated the role of the Deputy Task Force Commander of the Joint Counterterrorism Center in the 2016 film “Captain America: Civil War.”
Ross was introduced in issue number 17 of the Marvel Comics offering “Ka-Zar” almost two decades ago but quickly became a regular character in the “Black Panther” comics. The character in the comics is known for his unfiltered way at looking at the world.
Freeman has taken advantage of source material for other roles, but in the case of playing Ross, he opted to stay away from the comic books.
“With this one, I just wanted to concentrate more on what we were doing rather than the print background because it’s pretty different,” Freeman says. “I didn’t grow up obsessed with comics. It was too late become an expert in all things Marvel in the run up to ‘Civil War.’ I looked at the comics just to see what the story was all about and what he was all about. But, it ended up more interesting for me to do the movie version of him.”
The movie version of Ross ends up helping T’Challa/Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman), who wants to keep his African nation apart from the rest of the world, make the decision to share his country’s wealth and technology. In the process, Ross gets to use some of his skills as a military pilot to battle a takeover of the throne from T’Challa.
“Black Panther” director Ryan Coogler decided the Ross in the film would be a man who is very educated but also a little blue collar in this thinking. They both agreed Ross shouldn’t just be a comic foil, but a little bit more layered than that. The bottom line was that above all, he’s fearless.
“He’s not an easily intimidated person. He’s not scared at being the only white guy in the room. He’s not scared of being the only American in a room full of people who hate all Americans,” Freeman says. “What he is, is a little dumbfounded. He never expects to find himself in this sort of parallel universe that he finds himself in.”
The role in “Black Panther” is just the latest in the eclectic list of acting roles Freeman has played. Along with being a hobbit and the confidant to a brilliant detective, Freeman’s played: Tim Canterbury in the original UK version of sitcom mockumentary “The Office,” starred in the quirky science fiction/fantasy tale “Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy,” was part of the ensemble cast for the holiday story “Love Actually” and starred as Lester Nygaard in the dark comedy/crime drama cable series “Fargo.”
“Black Panther” has Freeman again working heavily in a green-screen environment where most of the world around him would be added through computers months after his acting work was done. Roles that use a lot of computer-generated elements are not Freeman’s favorite way to work.
“You’re more likely to do terrible acting when you are in a room on your own working in front of a green screen,” Freeman says. “The acting I find most pleasurable is when I am working with another actor and can look into their eyes, whether there is dialogue or not.”