By and large, Martin Freeman is still very much famous for the numerous affable characters he has popularized on big and small screens alike throughout his career. Tim Canterbury in the UK version of The Office, John Watson in Sherlock, and Bilbo Baggins in The Hobbit trilogy are just a few fictional dudes who benefit from the easy-going persona that Freeman effortlessly and memorably portrays.
Yet, we have slowly become more aware that the actor has got some bite to his amiable exterior; something a tad more unnerving rests beneath the surface. Noah Hawley’s FX adaptation of Fargo really sells Freeman as a less-than-savory character who believes he is a much better man than he really is. Similarly, Sony’s web series StartUp is a stark example of Freeman’s ability to go dark and ruthless with just enough self-restraint and calculation to create a perfectly balanced antihero.
Freeman isn’t letting go of such meaty roles by far, no matter if he’s traversing the comedy or drama genre. He has been cast in a couple of new shows that already promise much more than initially meets the eye.
Firstly, Freeman is reteaming with FX to bring a parenting comedy titled Breeders to life. As Deadline reports, Daisy Haggard (Black Mirror) will co-star in the series that aims to explicate the explosively contradictory feelings associated with parenthood. The premise is as follows: children should always be loved, but parents can definitely also become “apoplectically angry” with them simultaneously.
Freeman is set to lead Breeders as a father who presumes himself to have a nurturing parental temperament…until he discovers a problematic side to his childrearing tactics. Satire veterans Simon Blackwell and Chris Addison, both of whom help to produce HBO’s Veep, are the creative brains behind the show. Avalon Television, the production house responsible for the hit British sitcom Catastrophe, is involved in the series as well.
In spite of Breeders’ barebones plotline and potentially tricky subject involving angry parents (I hope we don’t actually see a bunch of adults yelling at or around children all too often), Blackwell and Addison have made some excellent spoofs in the past. Prior to Veep, Blackwell wrote for another politics-driven comedy series, The Thick of It, as well as its spin-off film, In the Loop; both of which star Addison. Additionally, the utter dysfunction of Catastrophe ends up being the perfect mix of darkness and upbeat hilarity.
Altogether, these elements help to foster a more positive impression of Breeders, making its uncanny premise — not to mention amusingly detached title — easily appealing. Couple that with Freeman’s comedic everyman vibe and we can picture him playing any sort of “conventional” father with no trouble, plot twist or not.
Projects ranging from Love Actually to At World’s End and from The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy to Black Panther readily showcase Freeman’s more genial side. However, Fargo provides him with the opportunity to depict a real kicker of a character. The likable shell of Lester Nygaard slowly unspools over the course of the first season until there’s nothing but eerie hollowness left.
I don’t think Breeders sounds too close to that kind of sheer nihilism just yet. Still, the idea of a comedy that could – as Freeman himself says in a statement – unearth “the less-discussed truths and challenges of being a parent” signals something confrontational and multidimensional. Both his skill at being openly charming and secretly volatile would come in handy here anyway.
Comparatively, the Fargo reference is even appropriate as a point of contrast to Freeman’s second project announcement. According to a separate Deadline article, a six-part ITV police procedural has been commissioned with Freeman and Imelda Staunton (Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix) expected to star. Charlie Cooper (This Country) and Siobhan Finneran (Downton Abbey) will also appear. The series, titled A Confession, will be written by Academy Award-nominated Philomena scribe Jeff Pope and directed by Paul Andrew Williams, who notably worked on the third season of the comparable British procedural, Broadchurch.
Based on the true story of the disappearance and murder of 22-year-old Sian O’Callaghan, A Confession will paint a portrait of dogged detective work that is afflicted with more than its fair share of ethical quandary. The feverish search for O’Callaghan, who uncharacteristically vanished in March 2011, was spearheaded by Superintendent Steve Fulcher (played by Freeman). The seemingly isolated series of events eventually point to another missing girl named Becky Godden, who had last been seen alive in 2002.
Fulcher winds up breaching police guidelines on his quest to solve this disturbing double-murder case and put a killer behind bars, and this cost him his career and reputation. Nevertheless, as Pope details when describing his interest in penning A Confession, “[This case] brings into question how we want our police to behave when someone goes missing. Should Fulcher have been praised as a courageous officer fighting for the life of a girl, or lose his career for riding rough shod [sic] over the law?”
In playing Fulcher, Freeman himself seems to lean more toward a heroic, and thus familiar, character of sorts. A Confession certainly asks ethical questions about workplace conduct and Fulcher’s interference with an established justice system. That said, there is nothing particularly morally outrageous or ambiguous about the role, given his determination to uncover the truth regardless of his own personal detriment.
This puts Freeman closer to the straightforward protagonists that make up a chunk of his career. His version of Fulcher could be a more hands-on John Watson-esque role, one that doesn’t need to consult the Holmesian knack for inference and access to a mind palace. What’s more challenging about A Confession is its overall premise. All true crime stories must be handled with care, and A Confession at least thematically reflects the iniquity that has touched Freeman’s more somber onscreen offerings in recent years.
Freeman’s roles in Breeders and A Confession appear simple enough. However, both series have individual ambitions to juggle difficult topics within their set genres, putting extra onus on their (thankfully capable) lead actor to be as nuanced as ever. Still, Freeman’s more off-beat works have primed us to expect a lot from him. These new shows could just be a breeze for him.