Biography

From left to right: Martin’s paternal grandparents, Martin’s parents and Martin’s maternal grandparents

Martin John Christopher Freeman was born in Aldershot, Hampshire on September 8, 1971 but raised in suburban London. He’s the youngest of his siblings —Benedict, Laura, Tim, and Jamie. His parents, Geoffrey Freeman, a naval officer, and Philomena Norris, an aspiring actress, married in 1957 but they divorced when he was 1 year old, so he lived with his dad until he died of a heart attack when Martin was 10. As a result, he knew little about his dad’s side of the family. In an episode of the BBC’s show Who do you think you are? he discovered that his grandfather Leonard William Freeman was a member of the Royal Army Medical Corps during the evacuation of Dunkirk in 1940, where he died; and both his great grandparents, Richard and Aida Freeman (née Meldrum), were blind musicians.

Martin attended the Salesian School in Chertsey, Surrey. He was raised as a Roman Catholic, although his family was not strict in their religious practices.

Leonard William Freeman, Martin’s Grandfather

He showed interest in sports from a young age. Despite being asthmatic and having recurrent hip problems, it didn’t stop him from playing football and squash. He was part of the British national squad from 9 to 14 years old, travelling the country and competing in tournaments. His other big passion, music, started from an early age too thanks to the influence of his older brothers. Martin was very young when he was exposed to punk for the first time, the first records he ever bought were by Two Tone, The Specials and Madness. In his family the artistic freedom and expression was always encouraged. He is cousin of the comedian Ben Norris.

At 15 he joined the Youth Action Theatre group where he participated in numerous plays including The Roses of Eyam in 1988 and Our Town, Blood Brothers and Macbeth in 1989. He remains a patron for the YAT. After these experiences onstage he decided to pursue acting as a career, attending the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama at the age of 18. Later, in 2016, he came back to be awarded with an Honorary Fellowship by the institution.

Martin and his dad

In 1995 he played the role of Third Merchant in Volpone and Young Man in Mother Courage and her Children at the Olivier Theatre.

His first professional gig on TV came in 1997 when he appeared in The Bill, a police series, as Alan Reed in the episode titled ‘Mantrap’. Then he did a cameo role as Stuart in the episode ‘Last Tango in Southwark’ of This Life. His next job was the music video of the American band Faith No More for the song ‘I Started a Joke’ in 1998. That same year he was casted as Ricky Beck in the episode ‘She Loved the Rain’ of Casualty; as Brendan in an episode of Picking Up the Pieces and in the short film I Just Want to Kiss You. He  also joined the cast of Cinderella at the Lyric Theatre. In 1999 he appeared as ‘The Car Owner’ in the TV special Exhaust and he returned to the theatre as Azor in The Dispute. It was until the year 2000 when he got roles in higher profile series such as Bruiser and Lock, Stock and in the episode ‘Cooking The Books’ of Black Books. In that same year he returned to the theatre for Jump Mr. Malinoff, Jump, written by Toby Whithouse.

In 2001, he was casted as Solomon in The Low Down; he appeared on several episodes of World of Pub, the short film Fancy Dress and the TV movie Men Only, in which he met the actress Amanda Abbington that would later become his long-time girlfriend. But it wasn’t until he appeared as Tim Canterbury in The Office, which was a success, when his name was finally recognizable in the industry to the point of being nominated for a BAFTA to Best Comedy Performance in 2002.

The Freeman Family

After fame hit, he was casted in a few movies (Ali G Indahouse and Love Actually). He was afraid of being typecasted as a comedy actor, so he returned to the theatre in 2002 to star in Kosher Harry and he took some small TV dramatic roles in Helen West, Linda Green, The Debt, Margery and Gladys, Charles II: The Power & the Passion but soon enough he came back to comedy in Hardware.

In 2004 he made a cameo in the now cult movie Shaun of the Dead, he lent his voice to a lion in Pride and he appeared in a couple of short films (Call Register and Blake’s Junction 7). His next role was as Arthur Dent in the movie adaptation of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, a novel by the famous author Douglas Adams. This was his first major role in a Hollywood production. Although there were rumors of a sequel, it never happened; instead, in 2012 Martin narrated the audiobook for The Restaurant at the End of the Universe, the second novel in the Hitchhiker’s series.

Martin and his brother Tim

He went back to the theatre one more time in 2005 for Blue Eyes and Heels at the Soho Theatre.

Later he starred the TV series The Robinsons, the short film Round About Five and he appeared in the movies Confetti, Breaking and Entering, Long Hot Summer, and Dedication. He came back to Hollywood for the movie The Good Night and made another cameo in the second film of the ‘Cornetto Trilogy’ Hot Fuzz. In theatre, he had a guest role in The Exonerated at the Riverside Studios. The year of 2006 was also an important one in his personal life: By that time he was already living with Amanda Abbington in Hertfordshire and they welcomed their first child, Joe Freeman.

In 2007 he appeared in the short films Lonely Hearts and Rubbish, in the movie The All Together and he landed one of the most challenging roles of his career as Rembrandt van Rijn in Nightwatching, directed by Peter Greenaway. In theatre he starred The Last Laugh at the Milton Keynes Theatre. The next year he appeared in the TV series Comedy Showcase and in the TV movie The Old Curiosity Shop. He also welcomed his second child, Grace Freeman.

The Roses of Eyam, 1988

In 2009 he appeared in Svengali, Micro Men, the short film HIV: The Musical, he starred as Danny Reed in Boy Meets Girl and as Paul Maddens in Nativity!. Later he starred in the play Clybourne Park at the London’s Royal Court. He also appeared in the movie Wild Target as Hector Dixon and in the short film The Girl is Mime.

2010 was a crucial year in Martin’s career. After an audition that almost went wrong because he was in a bad mood, he got the part as Dr. John Watson alongside Benedict Cumberbatch in Sherlock, a modern take of the Arthur Conan Doyle’s detective stories. Originally a 60-minute pilot, the 90-minute episodes were critically acclaimed. The first one, ‘A Study in Pink’, launched with a total of 7.5 million viewers and series three was declared the BBC’s most watched drama in the UK since 2001. The first three series hold an average 88/100 Metacritic score. So far there are 4 series of 3 episodes each and a Christmas special that was broadcasted in cinemas around the world. His role as John has led to Martin receiving multiple awards: two nominations for the BAFTA’s Best Supporting Actor, winning in 2011; a nomination for the Critics’ Choice Television Award in 2014 and two nominations for the Emmy, winning in 2014 for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Miniseries or Movie.

Our Town, 1989

In 2011 Martin had a small cameo in the Hollywood movie What’s Your Number?, he starred in Swinging With the Finkels and in the Oscar nominated short film The Voorman Problem as Doctor Williams.

He took a few more small roles (in the animated movie The Pirates! In an Adventure with Scientists! and in the short film Animals) until he was casted in The Hobbit trilogy, directed by Peter Jackson. He spent almost a year and a half filming in New Zealand, although they had to accommodate the schedule and stop for a few weeks so he could go back to the UK to film the second series of Sherlock. His role of Bilbo Baggins garnered him the 2013 MTV Movie Award as Best Hero and Best Actor in the 18th Empire Awards, along with worldwide fame.

In 2012, he joined his friend —and godfather of his son— Simon Pegg in the last movie of the ‘Cornetto Trilogy’ The World’s End and he lent his voice to Bernard D. Elf in the animated movie Saving Santa. On October 5th, 2013 he was presented with a fellowship bearing his name by the members of the University College Dublin’s Literary & Historical Society. Afterwards, he did a cameo in the TV mini-series The Life of Rock with Brian Pern.

Blood Brothers, 1989

His next big role was as the insurance salesman Lester Nygaard in the TV adaptation of Fargo, written by Noah Hawley and based on the Academy Award winning movie by the Coen brothers. The first season received acclaim from the critics and holds a score off 85/100 in Metacritic. The A.V. Club named it the 6th best series of 2014. Martin was nominated for a Critic’s Choice Television Award for Best Actor in a Movie or Mini-Series, an Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Miniseries or a Movie (the same year he won for his role as John in Sherlock) and a Golden Globe Award for Best Actor in a Miniseries or Television Film.

In the summer of 2014 he made a triumphal return to the stage with a production of Richard III at Trafalgar Studios. He was recognized with a Mousetrap Award as Best Male Performer from the Youth Members of the Mousetrap Theatre Projects charity.

As part of the promotional tour for The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies, Martin debuted as host of Saturday Night Live in December 13, 2014. He won the title of ‘Mr. Saturday Night 2015’ as best host in an Entertainment Weekly poll.

Macbeth, 1989

In 2015, he was casted in the BBC TV drama film The Eichmann Show based on the true story of how the American TV producer Milton Fruchtman —Martin’s role— and blacklisted TV director Leo Hurwitz broadcasted the trial of one of the most notorious Nazis, Adolf Eichmann in 1961. Next, he starred in the short film Midnight of My Life as Steve Marriott, the frontman of the legendary band Small Faces; he lent his voice for an episode of Robot Chicken, the animated TV short Stick Man, and he made a small cameo in the TV series Toast of London. In November, he starred in the music video for the Paul Weller’s song ‘Pick It Up.

That same year Martin was induced as a member of the Academy of Motion Picture Art and Sciences alongside his co-star and friend Benedict Cumberbatch. He was also honored at the 45th edition of the Giffoni Film Festival on July 19, 2015 in Giffoni, Italy. He met the young jurors of the committee and was given the Giffoni Experience Award. In August, he was part of the jury of the Raindance Film Festival.

Volpone, 1995

He was then casted as the Scottish freelance photographer Ian MacKelpie in Whiskey Tango Foxtrot, the movie adaptation of Kim Barker’s memoir The Taliban Shuffle. On May 5, 2015, Marvel Studios announced the casting of Martin in a mystery role for Captain America: Civil War. There was a lot of speculation regarding his participation in the movie but it was later confirmed that he would not only play Everett Ross, a member of the Joint Counter Terrorist Centre in Civil War but also in Black Panther, all part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. He filmed for a couple of days days in Berlin for Civil War and later, in January 2017, he filmed for a few weeks in Atlanta for Black Panther.

He returned to the TV in Crackle —Sony’s streaming service— for Start Up, where he played Phil Rask, a corrupt FBI agent. The series has been renewed for a second season and will premiere on September 28, 2017. The first season was filmed in Puerto Rico during the first months of 2016 and the second season in April 2017. He also appeared in Carnage, a mockumentary about veganism in March, 2017.

The Dispute, 1999

He is a man of strong beliefs. He has been a pescetarian since the age of 14, when he decided to give up meat. He participates actively in pro-vegetarianism campaigns, such as Eat Kind of the Humane Society International. He identified strongly with the left and used to sell Militant, a magazine connected to the Socialist Party, on the streets when he was young. He appeared in a Labour Party election broadcast endorsing Ed Milliband for Prime Minister in the 2015 campaign.

Even though Martin is quite reserved in personal matters, in December 22, 2016 in an interview with the Financial Times he revealed that he had broke up with Amanda Abbington, after 16 years of relationship. He also said that in March he had moved out from their home in Hertfordshire to Belsize Park. They both declared to be in amicable terms.

There are currently four projects in Martin’s near future: Ghost Stories, the movie version of the acclaimed play by Jeremy Dyson and Andy Nyman, that premiered at the 2017 BFI London Film Festival in October. Cargo, the feature film version of the Tropfest finalist short film by Yolanda Ramke and Ben Howling, that premiered too in October at the Adelaide Film Festival and will be streamed worldwide by Netflix in June 2018. Black Panther will premiere in February, 2018. Joy a.k.a The Pursuit of Unhappiness was filmed at the end of 2017 in New York. 

Cinderella, 1998

Martin returned to theatre in September for Labour of Love at the Nöel Coward Theatre, where he starred as the Labour MP David Lyons.

He is also involved in the development of a drama series adaptation of John Milton’s poem Paradise Lost by the production company Dancing Ledge, in which he is executive producer. This would be his first time behind the cameras.

In March 2018, alongside his long time friend and DJ Eddie Piller he’s releasing Martin Freeman and Eddie Piller present Jazz on the Corner, a jazz compilation album.

Back in 2005 Martin said in an interview for Spin Magazine “If in decades to come it is [The Office] the only thing people know me for, I’ll have fucked up somehow”. You haven’t fucked up, Martin. Not at all.

Geoffrey, Martin and Philomena