Martin Freeman Recalls His Botched First 'Sherlock' Audition

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Martin Freeman

"My agent told me, 'They kind of hated you; they thought you didn’t want it and were a moody prick.' "

Martin Freeman’s career might have headed in a rather different direction had he not managed to get a second audition to play Dr. John Watson in Sherlock.

Speaking on the second day of the Edinburgh International Television Festival on Thursday, the British actor said that he managed to botch his first attempt at an audition.

“Afterwards, my agent told me, ‘They kind of hated you; they thought you didn’t want it and were a moody prick,’ ” he told a packed auditorium.

“But I did want it, although maybe I was a moody prick. So I went back and did it again with Ben [edict Cumberbatch] and got the part.”

While The Office first brought Freeman to public attention, especially in the U.K. (he said he bonded with Ricky Gervais on set over a mutual love of Spinal Tap), it was Sherlock that gave him widespread international acclaim and heralded future roles in the likes of The Hobbit trilogy and FX’s Fargo TV series.

Freeman acknowledged that, had The Hobbit not come along, he likely would have had to work a lot harder to get the lead role of Lester Nygaard in Fargo.

“Being offered something like Fargo — I’m guessing it wouldn’t have happened as it did, were it not in the midst of the first two Hobbit films,” he said. “I’d have had to jump through some hoops — and actually have auditioned.”

With Freeman not due to return as Dr. Watson until this Christmas for a one-off Sherlock special — shooting for season four isn't due to start until next year — many fans have called for more episodes of the hit BBC drama.

Freeman, however, dismissed the idea and said he was happy to have time for a diverse slate of projects.

“I have a very low boredom threshold. If I was shooting nine months of Sherlock, the first month would be great, and the next eight would be hell,” he said.

The wait between seasons has allowed his co-star Cumberbatch to hit the boards as Hamlet in London’s Barbican — a show Freeman said he recently saw, not that he had to join the hundreds queuing up for tickets (he was invited for free).

“He was very good. He made Shakespeare very accessible in his mouth,” he said of Cumberbatch's performance.

On the currently very topical issue of diversity and opportunities for black actors in the U.K., Freeman recalled a 1998 conversation with Idris Elba — whom he has known since drama school — prior to the actor finding fame on The Wire.

“I remember him telling me he was going to America and that there’s not much else to [do] here,” he said. “There’s definitely a feeling among some actors I know. There's a different ceiling there. But I can’t be any more profound than that.”

The Edinburgh International Television Festival runs through Aug. 28.