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Martin Freeman may play Bilbo Baggins in the Hobbit after all

Despite the apparent best efforts of MGM to kill each and every one of its franchises due to its massive debt (see the aborted Sam Mendes directed James Bond movie that is in limbo), Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit continues to push through pre-production and casting. According to a new report from Entertainment Weekly, the starring role of Bilbo Baggins has been offered to English actor Martin Freeman, and that producers are willing to work with Freeman’s schedule to make it happen.

Freeman, best known for his roles in Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, and as Tim (the English counterpart to John Krasinski’s Jim) in the original English version of The Office, has long been rumored to be in contention for the role of Bilbo.

The British tabloid The Sun was the first to break the news that Freeman had been offered the role, but due to scheduling conflicts he was unable to accept. Freeman is currently under contract to appear as Dr. Watson in a second season of the BBC show Sherlock, a modern day retelling of Sherlock Holmes that just finished its first season to rave reviews. Of course, it is The Sun, so being incorrect is about par for the course. Those familiar with English print journalism have probably long accepted that anything printed in The Sun has the potential to be incorrect, and in some cases, flat out wrong. In this instance though, The Sun apparently had half the story right.

EW is claiming that Freeman is the top choice for the role, and New Line Cinema and MGM have returned to the actor with a schedule that would allow him to appear in both Sherlock and The Hobbit. According to the report, Freeman is interested, and all parties are in negotiations.

Beyond the news that The Hobbit may have its star, it is encouraging to see that the producers are willing to lock in a timetable for the movie. Delays have already cost the movie director Guillermo del Toro, and Ian McKellan, who has said he would like to return to the role of Gandalf, has expressed concern that his schedule may not allow it due to the delays.