If you think all of the amped-up anticipation and feverish speculation surrounding Peter Jackson’s long-awaited return to Middle-earth with The Hobbit has been intense — well, just imagine being Martin Freeman. From the moment he was cast as the reluctant hobbit hero Bilbo Baggins in Jackson’s epic adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien’s beloved children’s book, the British actor has been doing his best to shut out all of the noise for his sanity’s sake. Going on-line to eavesdrop on the fans’ expectations and armchair-quarterbacking of The Hobbit is “a suicide mission,” he tells EW. “If I read one bad thing about me — it can be one person’s opinion in Idaho — I’m like, ‘Jesus, why does everyone hate me?’ ” he says. “If you read four of those, you think, ‘Everyone in the solar system hates me!’ Then even if you read 80 people saying, ‘I think he’s wonderful and I really want to f— him,’ you’re still thinking, ‘But that person in Idaho…’ ” He pauses and adds drily, “In short, I don’t really seek out the Hobbit stuff.”

With the Dec. 14 release of the first installment, An Unexpected Journey, finally almost here, this week’s issue of EW goes deep into “the Hobbit stuff,” exploring the film’s long, difficult road to the big screen and the critical, sometimes controversial creative decisions Jackson has made along the way — most notably, his surprising decision to turn the planned two-film adaptation into a full trilogy. That decision took even Freeman aback at first. “At first, I must say, I was like, ‘Why?’ ” the actor says, adding that he quickly came around. “You kind of think, ‘I’ve already put this much of my life into two movies. What am I going to do now — not put it into three?’ In for a penny, in for a pound.”

Jackson acknowledges that The Hobbit is a far lighter, more slender tale than the sprawling Lord of the Rings trilogy: “The Hobbit is written in a series of chapters that feel almost like they’re designed to be read to your son a daughter at night,” the director says. “It’s got that episodic, rip-roaring adventure quality to it.”

Still, despite some skepticism about whether the story can sustain itself over three films, Jackson firmly believes that, with the addition of some 120 pages of additional material Tolkien wrote in the appendices to The Lord of the Rings elaborating on the story of The Hobbit, he has made the right call. “A lot of the questions I’m being asked are perfectly understandable,” he says. “But I’m confident that when the first movie comes out, people will understand. The Hobbit is a faster-paced film than the Lord of the Rings films. It has more adventure, more action. When people see the first film, those questions will go away.”

Credit: Lewis Jacobs/NBC
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

For more on The Hobbit, including an exclusive first look at the second film in the trilogy, The Desolation of Smaug, pick up the new issue of Entertainment Weekly, on stands Dec. 7.

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