December 15, 2012

Martin Freeman turns The Hobbit into The Moddit with soul and style

So, I've been a fan of the BBC show Sherlock since it first started airing and a Brit friend recommended it to me. It took me a couple episodes before I realized where I knew that Watson guy from. He was Tim on the original British version of The Office. Oh, and he was Arthur Dent in Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy. So, that makes actor Martin Freeman a bona fide movie star. Now I see that he's been tagged by Peter Jackson as Bilbo Baggins in The Hobbit. If he wasn't a star before, he will be from now. Cool for him.

Even cooler for me was finding out today that he's a die-hard mod, a real ace-face and has been since he was just a wee thing. He even tried to insert someof his mod aesthetic into the Bilbo character's clothing and fashion, so much so he and the cast took to calling The Hobbit The Moddit.
Here's my take on a mod Bilbo, less subtle than what Freeman was able to do. just ran a great interview with Freeman. I'll just highlight the relevant parts, but the whole thing is worth reading.

Do you class yourself as a mod?

I suppose so. But it’s a dangerous thing in this environment now, because even the Daily Star has gone modtastic because of Wiggo. He’s the real deal, he’s not a plastic, he’s always been into it. But the trouble is, from a media point of view, as soon as you say that word, everyone starts getting out pork-pie hats and parkas and doing the Lambeth walk. I’ve been into what I’ve been into since I was about nine years old. I started buying 2 Tone records, and from there went that rude boy sort of skin/mod/soul boy route all my life. And I’ve always loved clothes. Even before I had money, I went charity shopping. So I’ve always had an eye for clothes.

Who are your style heroes?

First it would have been Jerry Dammers of The Specials, and then it would be Pete Tosh from The Wailers or Paul Weller. McQueen – Steve, not Alexander. Small Faces. I’ve always liked a certain look. When you say the ‘M’ word, I would say of course I am, but only me and about another 10 other people I know, know what we mean by that. Which is everything from modern jazz from 1957, to 1970 suedeheads. It’s all that and beyond, from football casuals into acid jazz and now through to hip-hop. The truth is, the absolute truth, is that most people have no idea about it. It’s like a cult. It’s like being a Roman Catholic in the 17th century or something. You don’t really know what it is. You’ve heard of it. You think, “Oh, that’s The Jam isn’t it?” Well yeah, it’s The Jam partly, but it’s also 500 other things. It’s a much broader church than most people give it credit for. See, I’m much more animated now talking about this.

So do you worry about a mod bandwagon, where everyone starts buying jackets with targets on from the high street?

If it means a 16-year-old likes a pair of shoes with laces instead of just a pair of trainers, then I’ve got nothing against that. I just get wary of it for my own sake, because I’ve stuck my neck out before on that mod thing. People see me walking around town and I look a certain way. I don’t expect other people to be into it. If everyone became a mod, I would probably become a rocker. Because that’s the mod thing to do. It’s about being an individual. It shouldn’t be about a uniform. There are common denominators, but it should always be the highest, not the lowest. It shouldn’t be lazy f*cking uniform. I can spot it in people a mile off, and it doesn’t have to be telegraphed. It’s the cut of people’s jeans, the shoes, something about the f*cking hair. Things that the editor of The Sun certainly wouldn’t spot.

After reading that piece I Googled up some more comments from Mr. Freeman about his passion for all things mod. Came up with this 2008 article in the Daily Mail, which also has some lengthy and insightful comments from Freeman about his views on mod styles and mod music. Here are a few excerpts from that interview.

‘I love that pre-mod jazz look of the late Fifties, the Steve McQueen style that influenced the British modernists. I love all kinds of loafers – penny, tassel, fringed. Loafers have been a staple of my wardrobe since I saw Terry Hall of The Specials in them on the cover of Do Nothing. One of my favourite looks is a button-down gingham shirt with a Sixties Levi’s jacket, Levi’s 501 “XX” jeans and a pair of loafers with maybe a nice little hat. You can wear that all your life.

‘I love all that “Ray Davies circa 1966” style – sort of English dandy. And I love the cut of Soho tailor Mark Powell’s suits. Being a mod is about attention to detail and a love for clothes. Mark and I meet on that level and he knows my taste. I like really versatile clothing that’s not too showy but has nice details – stealth style. But I have to be careful with clothes, because in my mind I’m 6ft 1in – but really I’m quite short.’


When did this fascination with the nuances of Britain’s subcultures begin?
‘It’s always the music that’s led me,’ he says. ‘For other people it was the clothes, but for me it was music. The first records I could sing along to when I was five were by the Sex Pistols, The Clash and the Buzzcocks. I had older siblings and that was what I heard all day long. I think I sensed it was naughty. I used to sing them to wind up my dad. But it was 2 Tone that really started me off. I thought I looked like one of The Specials, but really I was just this nine-year-old kid who didn’t even know that “rude boy” was a term for a Jamaican gangster.’

Freeman even remembers the first outfit he bought with his own money. ‘I was 15,’ he says, ‘and it was a Prince of Wales three-button mod jacket bought from a local mod shop. I had matching trousers from Oxfam, a Ben Sherman shirt, loafers from Hobbs and an umbrella. People used to ask me, “Why do you dress like that?” They were genuinely puzzled.’


Someone who certainly knows his onions, Freeman – who has recently filled in as a DJ on BBC 6 Music – is an avid (some might say rabid) collector of classic vinyl. His pristine record collection is meticulously sorted in alphabetical order in a set of custom-made shelves in his Sixties-inspired living room.
‘I love everything about buying records. There is something really special about it'

‘I love everything about going to a record shop and buying records. There’s something really special about that. But there’s no reason to suppose that old music will be better or worse. It’s just from another era, which might be as relevant or irrelevant as what’s happening now. So I try to always learn about stuff. The one thing I’ve found is that someone always knows more than you do, including your babies. There are loads of things people presume I know about that I don’t.’

Finally, a nice quip from Freeman in The Belfast Telegraph

The 41-year-old realises he is close to becoming better known for his Mod aesthetic than he is for his acting. "I may as well just wear a pork pie hat with a Union Jack on it," he joked.