By CHRIS SULLIVAN
Last updated at 18:22 10 May 2008http://www.dailymail.co.uk/home/moslive/article-563570/Martin-Freeman-life-shouldnt-just-day-office.html
Martin Freeman might play the Office's Tim Canterbury but their personalities are very different insists the outspoken actor
"Unlike Jude Law, who is a heart-throb, I can, and usually do, look like **** on screen.
"Maybe that's why I dress so carefully off camera. You could say I'm a mod, but with a small 'm'; I don't wear a parka, but I do question what I wear and what I listen to, which is what it's all about.
I think there should be a test in school that asks people, 'Do you know why you are wearing that, and what are you trying to say?'"
Martin Freeman appears to pass his own test. He's impressively fastidious about his appearance.
Today, he's dressed in vintage Levi's 501s and a Fred Perry shirt under a short Sixties overcoat. His hair is styled like that of the Small Faces circa 1965.
"Most actors are either a shower of bloody scruffs or think they should dress like Hamlet off stage. There's a lot of billowy shirtsleeves going on. But there aren't many mods.
"Being a mod is more of a sensibility than a style. It's hard explaining something that on the surface is rather silly and inexplicable.
"It's not curing cancer and it's not being Gandhi, but it is important to me, because it's another way of thinking about the world."
What a curious stall to set out; and curiouser coming from the man known to most as The Office's Tim Canterbury, the relentlessly benign foil to Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant's monstrous creations ? nauseating egomaniac David Brent, deluded Gareth et al.
For just as with Gervais and Mackenzie Crook and their persuasive caricatures, it's hard to separate Freeman from his onscreen persona.
"Oh yes ? I meet people and they say, 'Are you Tim from The Office?' And when I say yes, they say, 'Have you done anything else?'
"Some people actually think I was an office worker. But before I did The Office I was seen as a bit edgy.
"I used to go up for parts as gay bare-knuckle boxers and nasty debt collectors. I did a two-part TV drama called Men Only about these five football players who rape a nurse on a ketamine-fuelled, horrible night."
Freeman is decidedly not like Tim, however. His views are unashamedly outspoken.
This emerges when, after running out of time at the Live shoot, he invites me to his house on the outskirts of London, in Hertfordshire, to continue our chat.
He introduces me to his family ? his girlfriend, actress Amanda Abbington, two-year-old son Joseph and dachshund Archie ? makes me a cup of tea and pulls out the biscuits.
Freeman says racism is totally wrong yet insists multiculturism divides rather than unites people
Politely, I comment on his lovely house and the tranquillity that surrounds it.
"When I moved up here this woman I know said, 'Ooh! There are a lot of whiteys up there', and I said, 'I love white people; I've no problem with them at all."
The idea was that I was going to complain because there weren't enough blues dances out here; not enough ragga around. But I'm not bothered by it.
"Multiculturalism hasn't and doesn't help, because rightly or wrongly it polarises people so much," he continues.
"Racism is one thing ? and I don't agree with that in any form ? but noticing that there are differences is normal and fine and to be encouraged.
"We've reached a state now where it's, 'You shouldn't notice. Why are you noticing he's got a bomb and has a beard and is Muslim and wants to kill your family?"
"There is no country in the world like this. If all of a sudden all the traffic wardens in Ghana were Welsh, they'd really notice and might not love it? We give ourselves a hard time in this country in a sort of mea culpa way. But if we were that racist, people wouldn't come. Very simple."
Personally, I wouldn't want Freeman hanged for these remarks. Before he moved north he lived in Crouch End, and before that Bethnal Green.
Of the move he says: "I got out just after the BNP were elected in 1993. That was a disgrace."
Benign Tim Canterbury this is surely not ? a point he's happy to press home.
"A lot of people love The Office, and I am genuinely pleased they like it. I loved playing Tim, but I try not to get too carried away by it ? and the blessing of The Office was also a curse.
"The blessing was that it really helped me; the curse is I'm expected to not do anything else.
"I made a four-part TV series called Charles II: The Power And The Passion, in which I played Lord Shaftesbury.
"The day after there was a picture of me in a newspaper with the headline, 'Tim in a wig!' And that really got me down.
I thought, "Will I always be Tim in a wig or Tim in a concentration camp or Tim on a horse? So I had to broaden my horizons."
Freeman, whose diction is sharp and precise, his accent neither common nor posh, speaks in long paragraphs such as this, expressing love for something in one breath and derision for something else in the next.
His well-formed sentences are punctuated with expletives ("I swear too much; I ****ing hate it!"), answering any question I ask with refreshing candour.
Freeman, 36, is the youngest of five children, born in Aldershot, Hampshire, to a Royal Navy father, raised in suburban London and schooled at a Catholic comprehensive.
He went on to attend London's prestigious Central School of Speech and Drama.
"I used to watch Sleuth with Michael Caine and Laurence Olivier every day as a kid," he remembers.
"I was 11 and loved it. I thought, 'I could do this acting lark.'"
After theatre, he worked on The Bill, This Life and The Office, and he's now progressed to the big screen.
He has played opposite Jude Law and Ray Winstone in the late Anthony Minghella's Breaking And Entering, starred in Hot Fuzz and appeared alongside Danny Dyer in The All Together ("People thought, 'Danny Dyer and Martin Freeman in a film together ? that sounds good', but actually they hated it").
In The Good Night, just released on DVD, he gets to snog both Gwyneth Paltrow and Penélope Cruz.
His first major and most recognisable cinematic role was that of Arthur Dent, the everyman accidentally embroiled in an intergalactic adventure in 2005's The Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy.
"At first I didn't think I'd get the part," he says. "But when I thought about it, I reckoned maybe I was right.
"Arthur had to be believed and I suppose I have that rooted quality ? someone you can side with ? which isn't a bad thing."
Freeman with Penelope Cruz in The Good Night, directed by Gwyneth Paltrow's younger brother Jake
He points to a picture of the great English character actor Alec Guinness on his mantelpiece. "It certainly didn't do him any harm," he says.
"But I wasn't a huge fan of Hitchhiker's Guide to begin with. And then I had to wear that thick bloody towelling dressing gown all day for weeks on end throughout the summer.
"It was really very boring, very hot and very unglamorous. Mos Def had a nice suit, Zooey Deschanel had a lovely little powder-blue number and I had that. It was ****."
What exactly does Freeman consider stylish, if not a perfectly respectable dressing gown?
"I love that pre-mod jazz look of the late Fifties, the Steve McQueen style that influenced the British modernists. I love all kinds of loafers ? penny, tassel, fringed.
"Loafers have been a staple of my wardrobe since I saw Terry Hall of The Specials in them on the cover of Do Nothing.
"One of my favourite looks is a button-down gingham shirt with a Sixties Levi's jacket, Levi's 501 "XX" jeans and a pair of loafers with maybe a nice little hat. You can wear that all your life.
Freeman rarely uses computers and doesn't drive a car
"I love all that 'Ray Davies circa 1966' style ? sort of English dandy. And I love the cut of Soho tailor Mark Powell's suits.
"Being a mod is about attention to detail and a love for clothes. Mark and I meet on that level and he knows my taste.
"I like really versatile clothing that's not too showy but has nice details ? stealth style.
"But I have to be careful with clothes, because in my mind I'm 6ft 1in ? but really I'm quite short."
Indeed, on the day of Live's shoot we dithered for half an hour as he decided how long his trousers should be, returning to the ironing board twice so the bottoms, in keeping with the suit's immaculate Sixties styling, would fall in exactly the right place.
When did this fascination with the nuances of Britain's subcultures begin?
"It's always the music that's led me," he says. "For other people it was the clothes, but for me it was music.
"The first records I could sing along to when I was five were by the Sex Pistols, The Clash and the Buzzcocks. I had older siblings and that was what I heard all day long.
"I think I sensed it was naughty. I used to sing them to wind up my dad. But it was 2 Tone that really started me off.
"I thought I looked like one of The Specials, but really I was just this nine-year-old kid who didn't even know that rude boy? was a term for a Jamaican gangster."
Freeman even remembers the first outfit he bought with his own money. "I was 15," he says, "and it was a Prince of Wales three-button mod jacket bought from a local mod shop.
"I had matching trousers from Oxfam, a Ben Sherman shirt, loafers from Hobbs and an umbrella. People used to ask me, 'Why do you dress like that?' They were genuinely puzzled."
He hasn't always been a mod purist. "I did have a hip-hop period," he admits. "I dressed a bit like that in 1990, but after a while I thought, 'Nah, back to the white Levi's.'
"I really liked hip-hop until the gangsta rap took over. I come from a time when not every rap record was 'nigga' this and 'nigga' that; an earlier socially and morally conscious hip-hop sensibility, when it was, 'Don't call people nigga'."
"But now it's nigga, nigga, nigga, and it's not funny or interesting politically, artistically or socially. I really don't like it."
At this point the conversation switches to the youth of today.
"These days, kids avoid stuff because it's old, but why?" he asks. "When I speak to people about music and they say, 'I don't know about that; it was a bit before my time", it really angers me.
"Mozart was before my time, but does that make him irrelevant? I wasn't hanging around with Hitler, but I've heard of him.
"I get really worried about cultural reference points, because I expect people to know when World War II was or that Paris is in France."
Someone who certainly knows his onions, Freeman ? who has recently filled in as a DJ on BBC 6 Music ? is an avid (some might say rabid) collector of classic vinyl.
His pristine record collection is meticulously sorted in alphabetical order in a set of custom-made shelves in his Sixties-inspired living room.
"I love everything about going to a record shop and buying records. There's something really special about that.
"But there's no reason to suppose that old music will be better or worse. It's just from another era, which might be as relevant or irrelevant as what's happening now. So I try to always learn about stuff.
"The one thing I've found is that someone always knows more than you do, including your babies. There are loads of things people presume I know about that I don't."
But after talking with Freeman for a while, one realises he knows rather a lot about quite a variety of things.
Another of his passions is classic British cinema. "The Carry On films are a part of this country's cultural DNA; some are awful, but others are superb," he says.
"If a 16-year-old today loves Catherine Tate, The League Of Gentlemen and Little Britain, they'd love Kenneth Williams and Dick Emery.
"That's where Matt [Lucas] and Dave [Walliams] got all that from ? great British camp, which no other country has."
"Talking of which... 'The funny thing about the acting business is that there are more poofs in it than you can have hot dinners thrown at you,'" he says.
"But no one is out. It's not so bad here, but in Hollywood ? Jesus Christ. Why don't they just admit it? No one cares if they're gay or not. I certainly don't.
In this so-called liberal industry, no one has the guts to come out because of "the box office", but someone has to be the first in the firing line.
"Without the suffragettes a lot of women would have thought, 'Why should we have the vote?' And I think that the same argument exists today. People should stand up and be counted."
Freeman, a pescatarian (he eats fish but not meat) who rarely uses computers, doesn't drive a car and has his scripts sent to him by post rather than emailed, is resolutely individual.
He hates pubs and doesn't feel the need to attend premiere parties or London clubs.
"I don't do any of that ? I'd rather be at home stroking the dog," he says.
"My idea of a good night out is staying in. When The Office came out I got a lot of attention, which made going out hard.
"But you soon realise you should never take that adulation seriously. People called me a legend, but what they really meant was that they'd seen me on the telly."
He adds, "Some people moan about the cult of celebrity ? but get real. If these people don't want to be photographed, then they should stay in.
"And while everyone says they hate it, someone is buying those magazines. It's like finding someone who voted for Thatcher these days ? no one will admit it, but millions did.
"The great thing about getting older is that you learn not to care about being cool. I'm happy with who I am, I know what I like and I can't see myself changing? not for a little while, at least."