Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman talk Smaug in the new issue of Empire

Out this Thursday October 31 in the UK, the new issue of Empire features a Hobbit special with a choice of four newsstand covers and a special subscriber cover. Inside, a sidebar feature highlights the creation of the iconic dragon Smaug in the second film in the trilogy. Played physically and vocally by Benedict Cumberbatch, the huge creature faces off with Martin Freeman’s Bilbo Baggins in a scene that will likely prove to be very different from the pair’s interactions in Sherlock. Below are selected highlights from the magazine feature.

Benedict Cumberbatch: Playing Smaug was separate from any experience you can ever have as an actor – playing a fire-breathing reptile is quite out there! I just had to dive in at the deep end. I walked out and felt a bit of a prick. But no-one else seemed to notice so that was ok.

Martin Freeman: I was coming back from Christmas and Benedict was leaving. We had a quick cup of tea and he was off and I was on to do the Smaug scenes without him. But Peter (Jackson) played me his demo vocal, and I could hear it very clearly in my head. I was reacting to that and to fuckloads of lighting changes. I didn’t work with Ben at all really. Which was kind of ironic considering Sherlock has been bookending this.

Peter Jackson: We questioned whether we would have the dragon talking. I couldn’t get Sean Connery from Dragonheart out of my head. We did an animation test with some scenes from film two where the dragon is speaking purely psychically. We are hearing it in Bilbo’s head. It felt odd. Once you saw the dragon talking with Benedict’s voice, it was just fantastic. I had no more Sean Connery issues at that point.

Philippa Boyens: He is not anything, except maybe a psychopath.

Fran Walsh: He is quite English!

Benedict Cumberbatch: It’s not the riddles scene. There are similarities, but it’s not the same. There are size issues. Smaug is bigger than the hobbit. Smaug doesn’t engage with the hobbit the same way Smeagol does. Smaug is on much more of an ego trip. He likes to feel dominant at all times.

Phillippa Boyens: The first time I heard Benedict say “I smell you, thief,” it sent shivers through me.

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