By Oliver Lyttelton | The Playlist May 23, 2011 at 1:17AM
One of the many, many early difficulties facing Peter Jackson's two-part prequel to his "Lord of the Rings" series, "The Hobbit," was that "The Office" star Martin Freeman, the director's first choice for the lead role of Bilbo Baggins, was committed to shoot a second series of the BBC's hit Arthur Conan Doyle reboot "Sherlock" this summer. If you haven't seen the show, from "Doctor Who" head honcho, and "The Adventures of Tintin" scribe, Steven Moffat, and former "League of Gentleman" member Mark Gatiss, it's pretty ace: there was one duff episode in the first three, but the other two were smart, funny, genuinely thrilling and an entirely successful reinvigoration of one of the most famous characters in popular literature.
Scheduling headaches were worked out, with "The Hobbit" shoot reworked to let Freeman escape back to the U.K. for a few months, and, as it turns out, he'll be bringing someone back with him from the "Sherlock" shoot. Last night saw the TV version of the BAFTAs in London, where "Sherlock" won the Best Drama award, and according to Bleeding Cool, Freeman absent-mindedly let slip that the Holmes to his Watson on the show, Benedict Cumberbatch, star of "Atonement," "Four Lions" and the upcoming "Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy" and "War Horse," would be joining him in Middle Earth.
It was clearly something of a slip up -- according to Digital Spy, Cumberbatch said that his casting was intended to be a secret, while Freeman said "I knew I was a bigmouth, I didn't know how much of a bigmouth, and I've ruined everything. And now I might not have a job to go back to!" But it seems like it's legit, and like the ever-rising Cumberbatch (whose performance as Holmes makes Robert Downey Jr's look amateurish) has landed another big role -- he dropped out of Joe Wright's "Anna Karenina" because of an unknown scheduling conflict, and it looks like we might have found the answer.
It's unclear how major the actor's role will be, or what exactly it'll involve. He certainly appears rather elven, so it's possible that he'll be joining Hugo Weaving, Lee Pace and Bret McKenzie of "Flight of the Conchords" in donning some pointy ears. However, the biggest role yet to be cast, human archer Bard the Bowman (once linked to David Tennant), is also a good fit for Cumberbatch, and we suspect that that's who he'll end up being. At any rate, Cumberbatch is definitely joining Freeman, Weaving, Pace, McKenzie, Ian McKellen, Stephen Fry, Ian Holm, Elijah Wood, Cate Blanchett, Andy Serkis, Richard Armitage, James Nesbitt, Ken Stott and a few dozen others in "The Hobbit," part one of which is set for release in December 2012.