Martin Freeman calls it his “little Han Solo moment.”
We won’t divulge many details, as it is also a key moment in Ryan Coogler’s mega-budgeted superhero film Black Panther. But it involves Freeman’s dashing CIA agent Everett K. Ross leaning on his training as a fighter pilot for a nail-biting, climatic scene that takes place during the heat of battle in the fictional, technically advanced African nation of Wakanda.
“I was really pleased,” says Freeman. “I thought it was generous on the film’s part. We’re not short of white heroes in movies. So I thought to give one of the two white characters a bit of a heroic moment spoke very well of them.”
As Freeman is quick to point out, Black Panther is not about Everett K. Ross. He is a sidekick in the film, albeit a heroic one who is able to take charge in chaotic situations.
So Freeman was adamant that Ross not be a “schmuck” when interacting with Black Panther’s titular hero and his many heroic cohorts. While the British actor has proven to be an expert at deadpan comedy — check him out in the U.K. version of The Office or his turn as a loyal sidekick Dr. John Watson in Sherlock — he wanted Ross to be more than comic relief.
“We’re not short of white heroes in movies. So I thought to give one of the two white characters a bit of a heroic moment spoke very well of them.”
“In Black Panther he is going to be put out of his comfort zone enough that he doesn’t have to also be goofy,” Freeman says in an interview with Postmedia. “It’s enough that a guy very good at his job with some status is put out of his comfort zone and completely has his mind blown. It doesn’t need to be silly.”
Like the Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman), Ross made his Marvel movie debut in 2016’s Captain America: Civil War. Freeman signed on with the understanding that the character would eventually reappear in some form in the Marvel Universe.
It may seem like an against-type swerve for Freeman, who first gained prominence as the mellow, self-deprecating Tim Canterbury in the original U.K. version of The Office opposite the narcissistic David Brent of Ricky Gervais.
But since then he has shown his range, particularly on prestige television. In Crackle’s thriller Startup, he won good reviews as the corrupt and creepily aggressive FBI agent. In the first season of the Calgary-shot FX dark comedy Fargo, he offered a nuanced turn as a sad-sack insurance salesman who slowly discovers his talents for murder and mayhem.
He has gone heroic before. His Watson in Sherlock is an Afghanistan war veteran and he was believable as J.R.R. Tolkien’s reluctantly heroic Bilbo Baggins in the three-part Hobbit trilogy.
But Freeman’s Ross is much more of a take-charge type of guy who dodges bullets, interrogates baddies and pilots futuristic crafts in Wakanda.
“It feels pretty crazy,” Freeman says about the action sequences. “The shoot-’em-up scene in the Korean casino is just full of very impressive work by stunt people. You see those people really earn their money, taking proper tumbles and dives and falls and just doing lunatic things that I’m glad it’s not my job to do.
“It’s loud, it’s chaotic. It’s an organized chaos, but when the scene is going on and there are squibs going off everywhere and explosions and stunt guys flinging themselves down stairs, you think ‘I’m staying out of the way of that 6’4 guy who is going to fall right next to me.’ “
As for that “Han Solo” moment, much of Ross’s heroics were aided by green-screen technology, which also presented unique challenges for the actor.
“The challenge there is, genuinely, to avoid bad acting,” Freeman says. “Because you are imagining everything. I did that scene several months after principal photography. So you’re getting back into that world of ‘Hang on, who is doing what? Where am I?’ You’re imagining everything you’re seeing because you’re not seeing anything and you are not acting with anyone else.
“It’s all things that are rife for making you do some terrible acting. That’s the challenge for me in scenes like that: not overdoing it, not underdoing it. Yeah, just not being sh-t. That’s the main challenge in all acting. All my work is trying not to be sh-t.”