Peter Jackson, director of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, can go on at length about why he had only one actor in mind for the part of Bilbo Baggins, the short, hairy-footed creature at the centre of the movie that opens this week, and in the two sequels.

“Martin Freeman – we always had him in mind for Bilbo. We never wanted anyone else. The part needed a dramatic actor who could do comedy and that is a hard thing to find,” says Jackson, 51, who also directed, co-wrote and co-produced the Lord Of The Rings trilogy.

Director Peter Jackson on why he wants a very English hobbit
Cast members (L-R): Martin Freeman, Elijah Wood, Andy Serkis, director Peter Jackson and Ian McKellen attend the premiere of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey at the Ziegfeld Theatre on Thursday, Dec 6, 2012 in New York. 
PHOTO: EVAN AGOSTINI/INVISION/AP

Both sets of movies are based on the novels of J.R.R. Tolkien and set in the same world of Middle Earth.

The Hobbit or There And Back Again, published in 1937, is a fast-paced, comedy-tinged adventure story for children. It was followed by the three-volume The Lord Of The Rings, starting in 1954. It was a sequel, set 60 years after the events of The Hobbit, and offered a darker, more apocalyptic mood.

There is one more aspect of Freeman that Jackson thinks the actor shares with Bilbo. It is a trait that can be seen in Freeman roles such as Dr John Watson in the Sherlock television series (2010-present), in Tim Canterbury in the award-winning sitcom The Office (2001-2003) and in Arthur Dent in the comedy The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy (2005).

“His Englishness is very much a factor,” says Jackson, who won three Oscars (Best Picture, Best Director and Best Adapted Screenplay) for the last film of the trilogy, The Return Of The King (2003).

The hobbits represented people in rural Victorian England that Tolkien knew about. “It would have been extraordinary for a villager to venture far from home,” says Jackson to the press, gathered here at the storied Waldorf Astoria hotel in New York.

“If you were living in an English village, to have gone to the next village would have probably have been as far as you would go in your lifetime,” says Jackson.

Freeman captures that “slightly fussy, homely, slightly repressed quality”, according to Jackson.

“It’s a bit of a cliche but it’s what we imagine of hobbits and it’s a very English quality,” says the New Zealand-born director, who wanted Freeman so much that he carved out a production hiatus to allow the actor to return to the United Kingdom to film Sherlock.

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey opens in Singapore on December 13, 2012.

This article was first run in The Straits Times newspaper on December 11, 2012. For similar stories, go to sph.straitstimes.com/premium/singapore. You will not be able to access the Premium section of The Straits Times website unless you are already a subscriber.