Martin Freeman set to play Bilbo

STACEY WOOD
Last updated 05:00 22/10/2010
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Warner Brothers have announced the cast of the Hobbit, amid confusion over where the film will be shot.

Martin Freeman, The Office star who has long been rumoured as a favourite for the top role, has been confirmed to star as Bilbo Baggins, with Sir Peter Jackson saying he was the only man for the job.

"Despite the various rumours and speculation surrounding this role, there has only ever been one Bilbo Baggins for us," Sir Peter said. 

"There are a few times in your career when you come across an actor who you know was born to play a role, but that was the case as soon as I met Martin. He is intelligent, funny, surprising and brave - exactly like Bilbo and I feel incredibly proud to be able to announce that he is our Hobbit."

Richard Armitage, Rob Kazinsky, Aidan Turner, Graham McTavish, John Callen, Stephen Hunter, Mark Hadlow and Peter Hambleton will also join the ensemble cast.

Sir Peter added: "Richard is one of the most exciting and dynamic actors working on screen today and we know he is going to make an amazing Thorin Oakensheild. We cannot wait to start this adventure with him and feel very lucky that one of the most beloved characters in Middle-earth is in such good hands."

Warner Brothers executives said since The Hobbit films received a green light on October 15, pre-production had been in full swing.

"Set for release in December, 2012 and December, 2013, we can confirm that Martin Freeman (The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, Hot Fuzz) will play Bilbo Baggins, the hero of the story. Richard Armitage (UK TV's MI-5 and soon to appear in Captain America: The First Avenger) is set to play Thorin Oakenshield, the leader of the Company of Dwarves which sets off to reclaim the Lonely Mountain from a thieving dragon."

Rounding out the Company of Dwarves are Aidan Turner (TV's Being Human) and Rob Kazinsky (TVs EastEnders) who play Kili and Fili, respectively.

Sir Peter said Kazinsky was "an extremely talented young actor with a huge career in front of him".

"I'm thrilled that he has agreed to take on the role of Fili.  Besides his talent as an actor, Rob is also a champion sword fighter; I'm looking forward to seeing the damage he can do to a horde of marauding Goblins!"

The remaining dwarves will be played by Graham McTavish (Secretariat and TV's 24) as Dwalin; John Callen (TV's Power Rangers Jungle Fury) as Oin; Stephen Hunter (TV's All Saints) as Bombur; Mark Hadlow (King Kong) as Dori; and Peter Hambleton (TV's The Strip) as Gloin.

Sir Peter said he was thrilled to be working with McTavish and Hadlow.

"I am also proud to announce the casting of New Zealand actors such as Peter Hambleton, John Callen and Stephen Hunter. Fran and I know that they will bring great depth and talent to our Company of Dwarves."

STUDIO LOOKS OFFSHORE

Warner Bros has confirmed it is considering offshore locations for The Hobbit movies.

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In a statement issued on Friday morning, the studio said the actions of unions had caused it substantial disruption and damage and forced it to consider other options.

The statement said reports the union boycott was lifted a number of days ago, and that Warners was asked to delay this announcement, were false.

It was not until Thursday night confirmation of the boycott being lifted was received from the US-based Screen Actors Guild and New Zealand Actors' Equity, it said.

The studio said it was still awaiting retractions from other guilds.

However, Council of Trade Unions president Helen Kelly reiterated today there was no outstanding industrial action and the unions would work with anyone to ensure the Hobbit films were made in New Zealand, on time and on budget.

GOVERNMENT MOOTS LAW CHANGE

The Government may rewrite employment laws and increase the $60 million subsidies available for The Hobbit as it fights to keep the two movies in New Zealand.

Prime Minister John Key said yesterday the Government was concerned the movies might be made overseas, and he offered to meet Warner Bros representatives when they visit next week.

The Government and director Sir Peter Jackson have blamed union actions for the possible loss of the two-film Lord of the Rings prequel, saying the international ban put on the movie during employment negotiations had undermined confidence in New Zealand as a location.

"What they saw as a predictable and settled environment ... now looks, because of the actions of the unions, to be a much more hostile and unpredictable environment," Mr Key said.

"All we can do is to respond to their concerns and give them the assurances they need."

The ban was lifted unequivocally by Actors' Equity yesterday and it said it had also promised there would be no industrial action during filming.

However Council of Trade Unions president Helen Kelly criticised Jackson and suggested Warner Bros may be pushing for increased assistance from the Government, using the union as a scapegoat.

She said that rewriting employment laws to please Warner Bros ran the risk of casualising the entire workforce.

"This isn't about the employment status of these actors it's about whether, as independent contractors, they can collectively bargain commercial contracts, and we say they can and Jackson says they can't.

"All they'll do by changing the law is casualise a whole lot of workers, because they won't just change it for actors, they'll change the definition of employee for all New Zealand workers," Kelly said.

"It's not a surprise to me that this Government leaps at any chance to change employment law against workers' interests. It shows how little they understand this dispute, which is a worry given they're suggesting that they're the ones that are going to resolve it."

The threat of industrial action disrupting The Hobbit had gone and the real issue was Warner Bros' search for bigger tax breaks, Kelly said.

Ms Kelly said she regretted that instead of a resolution "calming the waters", a  "war of words" with Sir Peter had broken out.

"It is inevitable that this has damaged relationships but we are committed to rebuilding those as circumstances allow. The main thing now is to ensure the films are made in New Zealand."

She hoped to meet Warner representatives when they were here next week, but doubted that would happen.

Mr Key said he understood Warners had been concerned about the ban. But it was also worried about a Supreme Court ruling that a model maker on the Rings trilogy, who worked for Wellington production company Three Foot Six, was an employee, not a contractor.

He would seek advice on a possible change that would remove the ambiguity in the law and open the way for the US$500m movies to go ahead.

"That's the area that they have concerns ... and they need to be sure they can make the movie without being injuncted in the courts," Mr Key said.

A source said the law change could be made within weeks.

Mr Key said there were strong reasons for the film to stay in New Zealand. It was a good location, Jackson wanted to do it here, and $100m had already been invested.

Higher subsidies than the 15 per cent on offer had not been discussed with the Government yet.

"Hollywood is always concerned about the bottom line and I think the actions of the unions have led them to start looking at other locations."

It is understood that overseas actors contracted to the movie had tickets booked to fly here and were signing contracts based on New Zealand law.

Finance Minister Bill English said a rough estimate put taxpayer support for The Hobbit at $50m to $60m already. He did not rule out extra assistance, but said the Government had not considered it.

-Stuff and The Dominion Post

- The Dominion Post

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