The Hobbit film trilogy piggybacked off the phenomenal success of Lord of the Rings and made almost $3 billion at the box office - but its star, Martin Freeman, had to be convinced to sign on.

The British actor, 47, played hobbit hero Bilbo Baggins in the iconic series, which was filmed in New Zealand across more than two years.

The actor starred in the series as Bilbo.
The actor starred in the series as Bilbo.

Speaking at his BAFTA career retrospective, A Life In Pictures, Freeman admitted he'd had to be persuaded to join the franchise, which he knew would take him away from his (now former) partner and their two children for a long stretch of time.

"It wasn't an easy 'yes'," he explained.

"I went to New Zealand in January 2011 and my last day was July 2013 - two-and-a-half years between the beginning and the end.

"I was going to be away for a long time and Amanda (Abbington), who I was with at the time, she's an actor, a brilliant actor, and it wasn't the '50s (so) I didn't feel I could say, 'Right, you're coming with me.' She had her own life, her own career."

Freeman was working in New Zealand for more than two years.
Freeman was working in New Zealand for more than two years.

Abbington is also a successful British actor, and even played Freeman's on-screen spouse in Sherlock.

The couple ended their sixteen-year relationship in late 2016 - while they were still playing John and Mary Watson in the BBC series.

During the onstage interview, Freeman described how that situation played out, joking that it was "awful".

"No, it was good. I really love working with her," he said.

"By the time the last Sherlock that we've done (wrapped up) we were sort of in the midst of splitting up, so that wasn't that much fun, but when we weren't in that midst it was great. She was and remains one of my favourite actors, I think she's a fantastic actor."