BREAKING: While Peter Jackson and Warner Bros are figuring out where they’ll shoot back-to-back installments of The Hobbit, Jackson and his partner Fran Walsh have begun to set his cast for the ambitious projects that will begin shooting in February for release in December 2012 and 2013. The castings were announced by New Line Cinema COO/president Toby Emmerich, Warner Bros COO/president Alan Horn, MGM co-CEO Steve Cooper, and Jackson. As Deadline told you last week, Martin Freeman is set to play Bilbo Baggins, the adventurous Hobbit whose adventures and discovery of the One Ring leads the story up to The Lord of the Rings. Freeman has appeared in films ranging from The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and Hot Fuzz to Love Actually.
UPDATE: Things must be getting close on The Hobbit, because casting buzz is getting strong in Hollywood. Word is Martin Freeman will soon be set to play Bilbo Baggins, that Jimmy Nesbitt has been offered a role and that Michael Fassbender is being pursued for another as is David Tennant. Ian McKellan and Andy Serkis are expected to reprise Gandalf and Gollum.
EARLIER: While it looks like production on The Hobbit is set to start in February on the pair of films directed by Peter Jackson, there are still a few giant issues standing in the way. The films had to go in early 2011 to make the holiday release date. But even though the production schedule looks locked, there’s still the issue of the loud labor fight happening between Jackson and the unions, which have told performers outright not to work on the film because it’s a non-union production. By agreeing to a detente, the films would indeed get underway in New Zealand in early 2011. The delay has also been caused by all the ongoing problems at MGM, and just this week Lionsgate put forth a merger recommendation which Carl Icahn backs. That would obviously affect the pending Spyglass deal – and add more drama to any major production going forward. (Meanwhile, while MGM goes through all of its tumult, Mary Parent is expectedly in the process of leaving the studio, which she has run for almost three years.)