What aspects of Bilbo Baggins have you most enjoyed bringing forth across the three films?
I think it was after the time where he turned the corner from being fairly mild and meek to finding a bit more of a backbone. I was always after that, really. I was always saying to Pete [Jackson], ‘Is it now? Surely this is the time where he’s a bit stronger.’ And very often he’d say, ‘No, no, but it is coming, it is coming, not yet.’ You spend so much time playing Bilbo as this reticent person who is just trying to find his voice and trying to find when to speak, just finding permission to breathe almost, that it is really good fun in this film when he does have to find that bit of steel inside himself.
James Bond. And from Bilbo’s point of view, when he thinks he is being really serious, actually the world is going, ‘Prat!’ Because he is puffing himself up in a classically English pompous way.
How do you think Bilbo has changed by this stage in his journey with the Company of Dwarves?
In this film, he really, really has to change; it’s life and death. He comes across situations where, in Mirkwood with the Spiders, for instance, he has to do or die and save his friends.
It’s just great playing the hero. It is a funny, self-fulfilling thing in some ways; people do not always see me as the classic, rugged hero, like Aragorn [the character played by Viggo Mortensen in The Lord of the Rings trilogy], for example, because they have never seen me as that before. How I became famous was from The Office, so that’s sort of what people associate me with. I am not putting myself in the same category as Al Pacino, but Al Pacino’s first scene was Michael Corleone and that casts a long shadow, if that makes sense.
Smaug will be very good, absolutely. Rather like the Gollum and Bilbo stuff in the book, which is lovely-and I think they adapted it brilliantly for the first film.In a way, now that I am thinking about it, you can almost see the first film as an introduction, albeit a fantastic and exciting one. It leads up to what is to come.
There were some terrific set pieces in the first film, from the Stone Giants to the Trolls. What can we look forward to in The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug?
The Spiders are going to be great. I think it is a lovely bit. From my point of view, that is where Bilbo gets to find something else.
Has playing this role made you very popular with the children of your extended family and friends?
Yes, I think so. You are aware of it at school, at picking up time and dropping off time. All the school kids are suddenly looking at you very differently.
What do you regard as the highlights of the time you spent in New Zealand shooting The Hobbit films?
The camaraderie. That was really good. Meeting people who I really liked, great laughs, a very easy, simple, manageable way of life. Wellington is a pretty small place. It’s easy. I mean, I love London more than anything else, but Wellington doesn’t have the stress about it. You can cook, go and see a film. It is great and I really do miss that.