Martin Freeman of "Sherlock" on acting with humanity

Martin Freeman

CBS News

When it comes to building a cult following, actor Martin Freeman always seems to find himself in just the right places -- be it Middle Earth in “The Hobbit,” Fargo, North Dakota, or working alongside the original Michael Scott in a U.K. “Office.”
“Is there a difference in the way that Americans and Brits understand humor, in your experience?” “CBS This Morning: Saturday” co-host Alex Wagner asked him.

“A little bit I think. I mean, bearing in mind-- you know, like a lot of British people, much of our favorite comedy and humor is American. It just has been,” Freeman said. “It’s more likely for an American to straight-facedly say, ‘That’s hilarious. That-- that’s so funny.’”
Perhaps his biggest success to date has been “Sherlock,” where he plays Dr. Watson alongside Benedict Cumberbatch as the famed detective Sherlock Holmes.
“Certainly in the U.K., it hit immediately. And it was like sort of a band coming in straight in at number one, sort of thing. People loved it,” Freeman said. 

John Vs. The Hound - The Hounds of Baskerville - Sherlock - BBC by Sherlock on YouTube

He can play a huge range: from sweetly endearing to downright awful.
“How do you approach roles of otherwise despicable people and get to a point where you can imbue them with some kind of pathos?” Wagner asked.
“I think when I was younger, when I would hear actors say, ‘You should never judge your character.’ But I think it’s your job as an actor to give your character the best shot they can have rather than underselling them,” Freeman said. “That’s my thing always is play people with some humanity. Because every single person has it.”

This range comes not just from the scripts themselves but from Freeman’s wellspring of emotion within.
“I read an interview,” Wagner told Freeman. “You said once, ‘Nice, decent guy casts a long shadow,’ talking about I think in the years after ‘The Office,’ perhaps, and yet other interviews describe ‘an air of simmering discontentment’ and ‘very angry man.’ Someone that has these emotions are underneath the surface, you know, as they are with us all.”

“Yeah, but for me they’re not even beneath the surface. I mean, a lot of the time, they’re the surface. That’s the surface. You know, the top, the middle and the bottom,” Freeman said. “Same as everybody else, I guess, but I know even more so than a lot of people. I do have quite a well of anger and discontent. And that’s not something I say glibly or lightheartedly. I sort of wish I didn’t have that. But I know it goes into work somewhere. I know for whatever strengths I have or don’t have as an actor, that’s in there.”

But as he begins the year with a new season of “Sherlock,” Freeman is feeling one thing most of all: fortunate.

“Like most people would say, if you are lucky enough to work in something that you would do for free and have done for free and will do for free again, if you are paid handsomely to do the thing that you love -- well, you know, you better not complain too much about stuff,” Freeman said.

“Sounds like a good gig,” Wagner said.

“It is a good gig. It really is,” Freeman said.