Martin Freeman is a British actor primarily known for his roles in films aimed at geeks, perhaps most famously as Arthur Dent in the 2005 adaptation of Douglas Adams' The Hitch Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy and as Bilbo Baggins in the 2012-14 film-trilogy adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien's The Hobbit. Both stories involve Martin's character being thrust involuntarily into important situations much broader than he is accustomed to and far beyond his control or understanding.
Martin John C. Freeman was born on September 8, 1971, in Aldershot, Hampshire, the youngest of Geoffrey and Philomena Freeman's five children. His childhood was, by most accounts, difficult—his parents divorced before he was ten years old, followed shortly by the death of his father; he suffered from asthma; he underwent hip surgery to correct a wobbly leg; and he attended a Roman Catholic primary school. His secondary education was attained at the Central School of Speech and Drama in London, which has schooled many actors of great renown, such as Judi Dench, Laurence Olivier, Christopher Eccleston and Rupert Everett, among many others. During the 1990s, he landed a number of guest appearances on television and a single movie role before becoming a veritable mainstay of British sitcoms, appearing regularly or semi-regularly on "Bruiser", "Lock, Stock..." "World of Pub", "Helen West", "The Last King", "Hardware", "The Robinsons", "Boy Meets Girl" and, of course, the original English version of "The Office" before transitioning into a film star and, for the most part, leaving television behind—unless something particularly special comes along, which is (as of this writing) his role as Doctor John Watson on "Sherlock" opposite Benedict Cumberbatch's Sherlock Holmes.
In 2014, he appeared as a series regular on the TV series adaptation of the Coen Brothers' award-winning movie Fargo.
His film career has been rather varied, but almost everything he has appeared in has attracted a cult following due to it being an adaptation of classic geek literature like The Hitch Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy and The Hobbit or just popular with geeks in general, such as his work in the films made by Simon Pegg and Nick Frost. Martin has been a frequent collaborator of Pegg and Frost, appearing with them in all three of the "Blood and Ice Cream" trilogy: Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz and The World's End, and with Pegg sans Frost in The Good Night. Martin and Bill Nighy have teamed up repeatedly, appearing in no less than five films together: Love Actually, Shaun, HHGG, Hot Fuzz and Wild Target. He's also worked with Sacha Baron Cohen in Ali G Indahouse, which I haven't seen and thus cannot comment on other than to say, based on seeing some of Cohen's other works, that you'll either really like it or really hate it.
Other well-received films he's appeared in include:
...Among many others. I'd advise checking out Martin's IMDb listing for a more comprehensive filmography.
Much like Arthur Dent, Martin Freeman exemplifies the British Everyman. His appearance is startlingly normal, if somewhat bookish, with slightly wavy starting-to-grey brown hair, a somewhat plain but still kindly attractive face and an utterly nonthreatening demeanor. I'm of the opinion that he looks more like what a real hobbit might look like than any other living actor (infinitely more so than the baby-faced Elijah Wood, at any rate). Even before The Hobbit films were announced (much less cast), I was saying that Martin Freeman ought to play Bilbo Baggins. I was surprised that he hadn't played a hobbit in the Lord of the Rings trilogy of films, but it's as though he was born to play Bilbo.
As for Martin's life off-screen, well... there isn't much to know. He is, I've read, an intensely private person. Martin and his girlfriend, actress Amanda Abbington (with whom he has lately appeared in "Sherlock"), have two dogs and two children—a daughter (Grace) and a son (Joe). He's a great fan of Motown and soul music and of Nick Drake, who has established quite a celebrity following since his accidental death in 1974. Martin has never learned to drive a car and was on the British National Squash Squad from the ages of nine to fourteen. He's a vegetarian and disdains the trappings of the celebrity lifestyle. Unusually for a film star, Martin doesn't use public social media like Twitter or Facebook; at least, not in any way that fans can see. But almost everybody uses Facebook, so he probably has an account locked down to the minimum of information and made available only to friends.
Though he was raised Catholic and attended Catholic schools, he practices no religion, though he does consider himself a theist in a general sense: "I believe in our answerableness to something else," he has been quoted saying. Sounds closer to deism to me, but what do I know?
Whatever the future holds for the estimable Martin Freeman, he's beloved by a generation of geeks for giving them an Arthur Dent, a Bilbo Baggins and a Doctor John Watson. Whatever your thoughts are on the changes that were made on the journey from book to film, in each case, I think you'll agree that old Martin has done a hell of a job becoming the ultimate everyman, as Arthur Dent; the "most famousest" (and that's sayin' somethin'!) of obstinate hobbits, as Bilbo Baggins; and the incredulous Doctor Watson. Were he not famous, he might be the closest we have to real life personifications of these characters, living a life alongside our own lives.
(Sherlock, by the way, is really fucking good.)
Also, if you haven't seen any of his films, I highly recommend you do so. Particularly those geek films. He also hosted Saturday Night Live in late 2014—but this isn't a prerequisite for watching the geek films. It appealed to me as an admirer of Martin's work but, all told, it was a rather average episode. If you're keen to watch it, Netflix will have it probably next year and it'll be listed in On Demand cable for the current season of SNL, at least until the next season starts in September 2015.