Martin Freeman On Reuniting With His 'Hobbit' Co-Star Andy Serkis In 'Black Panther' [Set Visit Interview]

Black Panther is a Marvel superhero movie set in an African nation and starring mostly African characters, so that makes Martin Freeman's Everett Ross one of the few white characters in the story. Originally introduced in Captain America: Civil War, the icy CIA operative has far more to do in Black Panther...and it's not initially clear if he's friend or foe to the people of Wakanda.

In our final interview from last year's visit to the set of Marvel's new movie, Freeman talks about what made this set different, playing a morally ambiguous character, and reuniting with Andy Serkis, who he co-starred with in The Hobbit.

Note: This was a group interview conducted in a press conference format with assembled journalists.


So, let's start by asking a bit about Everett Ross in the comics. He's kind of a guy who's perpetually in over his head in dealing with Black Panther and everything. Is that accurate to what you've been doing?

No. No, it's not. It was my desire to not be ... I think we've all seen the idea of the goofy white guy among cool black people going, "What the hell?" I've seen that about four billions times today, so I don't really need to do that again. I had early conversations with Ryan [Coogler] about that. Both of us were very keen that that wouldn't be the case in this. He has moments of comedy, he has moments of levity, and there was humor there. But that's not his purpose in this movie.

How would you describe the direction you're pushing him in?

[Joking] He is the coolest man in the room. He has some authority. He's good at his job. I think we're going as realistic as you can be in a heightened universe. It would be slightly incredible for him not to be good at his job and not to be competent at this position that he's at. He's good at his job. He's well traveled. He's well versed in the ways of the world. Wakanda is gonna be a surprise to him. But in terms of meeting diplomats, kings, that's not particularly fazing to him. He meets superheroes, he meets, you know. So I think some of his humor comes from exasperation, rather than [makes goofy white guy noise] – like that. Do you know what I mean? That's not his function, I guess, in this.

Would you say he's an ally or a threat [to Wakanda]?

That's a good question. I think we, without ruining it for you, I think there's enough ambiguity there for him to be either and both. I think the position that he's in, like, he works for the CIA, he works for the world's only superpower, so like, an undiscovered African country that has all these goodies in it could easily be, "Oh, good, that's payday." Or that could be something that he wants to respect, I guess, and I'll just have to lay the tips in there.

Building off of that, and going through the scene we saw you guys filming today, what's his thought process when he sees Klaue in a room like that? 'Cause we know that T'Challa certainly has something else on his mind when he sees Klaue.

Yeah, I mean, I think Klaue is one of those people for Everett who he wants to keep your friends close and your enemies closer. He wants him definitely on his radar to do future business, because he would rather know where crazy guys like that are in the world than just let him go or have nothing to do with him. That was the interesting thing about playing those things with Andy Serkis. Because normally, I think there's something about our Ross, anyway, that is quite – he has a lot of status in any room he comes in. He assumes that status, I think. And he has no idea how to deal with Klaue, because Klaue is a lunatic. Like, he's insane.

Normally, it might be Ross, I think who's a bit, "Hey!" and a bit like that. But actually, he's coming across someone who's just completely off the map, as far as that's concerned. So for him there, it's just, I just have to kind of contain this. I have to get what information I can, but I want to keep him on my yo-yo, you know? I want him coming back to me as opposed to what T'Challa wants to do with him, which is something else. Because he sees him as a direct threat to his country and [he] has been a direct to his country. Whereas for me, it's interesting, because Klaue keeps me in touch with other bad guys in the world.

That's what I was gonna say is, do you feel like that has a similar sort of relationship to that scene you had with Zemo at the end of Civil War?

Yeah, maybe so. Yeah, maybe so. I mean, I enjoyed both those scenes, but what I like about being on the receiving end of Klaue is that you are on the receiving end of it. Like, he's going to do to you whatever he wants to do. There was no way that either I as Martin, or me as Ross, could top that. Because then you would just have two insane f***ing people going crazy and the scene wouldn't contain it. But Andy is extremely good at that wrong-footing, keeping-you-guessing stuff. I think Ross doesn't like ... he's a pretty powerful guy. He doesn't like being wrong-footed in his own kitchen. And that's kind of what happened with Klaue.

There are so many good relationships of on this movie, whether it's you and Andy or Michael [B. Jordan] and Ryan, who have clearly worked together and formed these relationships. Does that help in an environment like this that might be intimidating or just kind of overwhelming?

Yeah, I think it might do, yeah. Certainly I'm getting on with everyone very well. I think Andy is the only person, really, who I knew. But Andy, he is a friend. He wasn't just someone I worked with, like we became friends. So that's been really nice, having him here as well. I think the few English people have been going, "All right, yeah, right." A couple of the main cast have been English guys and Letitia, the English girl. So yeah, that's been nice too. We're actors, there's always only six degrees of separation from everyone you know. But yeah I think there are, certainly as far as Ryan is concerned, there's a few threads from his previous films as well, which I'm sure they're there for a reason, you know, yeah

I was really interested in the scene we saw today, where we saw two sides of Ross in a split second. You have that realization moment where you're like, "Ah, son of a bitch." and then right after, when the explosion hits, his first instinct is to jump and protect somebody. Tell me a little bit about how those two sides of him.

Kind of what I was alluding to earlier, I think he's very good at his job. Like he is a suit, literally he is a suit, I guess, but he would have been trained. Like everyone in his position would have had field training, and he would have done little bits, I think, in the field, even though he's not an all-action guy. I think he's essentially a decent person who is wanting to save lives where possible, even though that doesn't take up 100% of his day. Most of his stuff, I think, is diplomacy, really. I think if he's dealing with people from other countries, other cultures, I think he's good at making his agenda, the agenda that he wants, on the table, you know. That's it.

I think unless he's hanging out with superheroes, he's pretty high-status guy. Like, he would be the guy in the room, who's like, "Okay, he's here." But the guys he's hanging out with are even more high-status, so. Yeah, I think his job would mean that he has to have both of those things, which again would be kind of different, I guess, from the comics. Like him actually being a physically able person and an intellectually able person and I think morally kind of sound. Like as sound as you can be if you're high up in the CIA. Like, some of the decision you will have to make will not be pleasant and will not be things that we would want to make, but you have to make them. 'Cause he could be the man, and he works for the man, but within that, he's a decent guy, I think.

How active is his role on the ground in the action scenes in this film?

It's kind of there. Again, he's among either superheroes or people who are kind of warriors, like the warrior caste in Wakanda, and he ain't that. I think when push comes to shove and people need every person they can use, then he's happy to help. But he's there. I mean, we haven't filmed a lot of that yet, so it'll depend on the day, I guess. But the plan is he's definitely gonna be involved in fighting, yeah.

Black Panther Lupita Nyong'o Angela Bassett Martin FreemanWhen you were cast in Civil War, obviously you knew you were part of the larger  universe. Did you know you were specifically going to be in Black Panther next?

That was the idea, yeah. As far as I was concerned, that was the idea. I don't think I'm getting killed for that. Yeah, that was my understanding, yeah.

Doesn't it feel liberating to be able to talk about it now? 'Cause when you first got cast they wouldn't say a f***ing word.

Yeah, but then, while I'm talking now, I'm still not quite sure of what I can or I think I can – you know. Yeah, it's always nice to be able to talk about a job, but at the same time, pretty much every job every actor does now is like working for the real CIA. So it comes with that package of, "What did I just say? Am I allowed to say that?" So yeah. You're always walking a tightrope between wanting to talk about this job you're enjoying, but also not messing it up and pissing the producers off.

Well, since this is your second time in MCU, what about this production feels different from other large-scale productions since you've been on set, like that you find very unique to this production?

There are more Black people. That's true, man, that's true.

Thank God for that!

Yeah, that's the first thing that comes to mind. And I'm not just saying that 'cause that was you asked me. No, it's a big movie, but honestly, it's more mixed than anything I've done, I think.

How do you like working on the set?

I hate it. I hate it. It chews me up every day. [Laughs] No, I'm really enjoying it. I like Ryan a lot. I felt – from my point of view, and I hope it's reciprocated – I felt an understanding quite early on with him. Just the way he greets people. It's very friendly. It's very normal. I'm sure he must have some nerves about this, but it's not that kind of nerviness that manifests as a weirdness, or whatever. He's a young guy doing very well, but he's a hugger, you know? So, he's a nice, warm guy.

And I think the Marvel people are good as well, from my time in Captain America. I'm doing more in this than I did in Captain America, so I'm getting more of a handle on it. But everyone here seems very decent. That's the truth of it. It's a big, big film and it's a big, big universe, but people, I think, try to make it as normal and as down-to-earth as possible. I always believe in a trickle-down thing, that the production takes its cues from that, I think. And it does feel quite familial, actually. It does feel quite close. It's really nice.

Let's talk a bit more about the scenes that you were shooting. It's one line of dialogue but it doesn't seem that maybe T'Challa trusts Ross all that much.

Yeah, I think they're both kind of feeling each other out at this point. I think until it really hits the fan and you see what side they're on, they are kind of sussing each other out.

Is part of that just Wakanda being new to the world stage?

Yeah, and I think, again, because of Ross's job – he's not a social worker, he deals on the hawkish side of things by nature – that he doesn't want to particularly give ground. And T'Challa's a king, and he's not used to giving ground. So it's perfect, ripe soil for that thing of people going, "Who the hell are you?" and then slowly working their way towards an understanding.

Being the literal outsider amongst all of the Wakandans, is there anything in particular that you have to do to develop the character, where you're developing these relationships with them as actors, but as characters they are all already over here and you're hopping in?

Yeah. I am the American – you know I'm not American, I'm playing the American in the story. So, I think even more than the racial thing, actually, it's the country thing. I am the Western American CIA guy, and I'm in Africa, in a country that no one else knows about, and it's a very tight-knit, insular community. That's how they've managed to do so well, 'cause they've kept it all to themselves. Which is another kind of interesting part, I think, of the politics of the show. Show? It is a film, isn't it. Is this a series? I can't remember. Episode four.

So I think that's always interesting to be in, because at some point, inevitably, what you're playing feeds back into the dynamic of who's playing it. Suffice to say, I'm not being bullied, it's okay. It's lovely. It's very friendly. But you're always aware that this character is slightly outside of it. He's trying to find his way in without ingratiating himself, without trying to go, "Hey, let me be your friend." Because, again, he's not that guy. He would survive without friends, definitely, but he's trying to understand the world he's in. And they are very, very, slowly, some more than others, very suspiciously letting him in drip by drip. I think when he proves some form of usefulness, of course then that's a quid-pro-quo thing that, you know, he's not a free passenger, that he can actually bring something to the party.