With the big screen version of The Hobbit finally and fully under way with Peter Jackson at the helm announcements about the production have been coming rapidly. First there was the issue of union disputes which, even though they were resolved, has caused the production to leave New Zealand in favor of being filmed in England. More recently, The Hollywood Reporter broke the story yesterday that the hero Bilbo Baggins has been cast, along with most of the dwarves. The rumored front-runner Martin Freeman has officially been cast as Bilbo, a role portrayed in the Lord of the Rings films by Ian Holm.
Freeman is an English actor best known for his television work in the UK. He had a prominent role in the original UK version of The Office and more recently has been portraying Dr. Watson in the modern day set Sherlock. His commitment to Sherlock had previously put his ability to take the role in doubt. Though Freeman has been cast in The Hobbit it has not yet been made clear if this means future episodes of Sherlock will be on hold or if there was a schedule worked out allowing him to do both. Freeman is a skilled actor and has worked primarily in comedies throughout his career. This might seem like an odd fit to some but given Bilbo’s innocence about the darker sides of the world it makes sense to cast somebody like Freeman. It doesn’t hurt that he’s a pretty good match for a youngerIan Holm.
Also announced were the actors who would portray eight out of thirteen of the dwarves that accompany Bilbo on his journey to the Lonely Mountain. Richard Armitage will play the leader of the dwarves, Thorin Oakenshield. Armitage has had a successful career in British television (playing regulars in shows such as Robin Hood and MI-5) but is unknown to American audiences. Joining Armitage will be Aidan Turner (TV’s Being Human) and Rob Kazinsky (British TV’s Eastenders) will play brothers Kili and Fili. The rest are rounded out by actors with short resumes or also unknown to US audiences. Graham McTavish will play Dwalin, John Callen will portray Oin, Stephen Hunter will be Bombur, Mark Hadlow will play Dori and Peter Hambleton will portray Gloin. This leaves Nori, Ori, Balin, Bifur and Bofur still to be cast at this point.
While the actors listed above are the only ones officially signed it is expected that Ian McKellan and Andy Serkis will return to play Gandalf the Grey and Gollum respectively. The character of Elrond also returns in this story but there has been no solid word as yet whether Hugo Weaving intends to return to the role. There also have been rumors of other actors such as David Tennant (TV’s Doctor Who), James Nesbit (Match Point) and Michael Fassbender (Inglourious Basterds) being in negotiations for unspecified roles. There’s even a rumor of British great Bill Nighy in talks to provide the voice of the dragon Smaug, but that is purely rumor and speculation at this point.
With so much of the script and design work being done while the project was in limbo it’s reasonable to assume that The Hobbit will be able to start production fairly quickly. Now that the production has been established as shooting in England the rest of the cast will likely be announced over the next few weeks. While a firm release date is not yet set the word is that Warner Bros. hope to have the first two films in theaters for December of 2012, with the second part released a year later.