Martin Freeman Confronted with Slash: “That’s fine.”

Martin Freeman (right) and Sherlock co-star Benedict Cumberbatch (left)
Martin Freeman (right) and Sherlock co-star Benedict Cumberbatch (left)

There’s been quite a fuss lately about Martin Freeman’s recent interview on Comic Relief during which Graham Norton confronted him with rather explicit John/Sherlock fanart.  Freeman seemed to know where it was going and asked Norton to “keep it clean” at the very beginning of the segment.  His plea was dismissed, however, and they bombarded him with picture after picture of erotic fanart.  It was uncomfortable to watch, not only as a fan of said fanart, but as a fan of Martin Freeman.  This stuff exists, there’s no denying it, but to have that shoved in an actor’s face in public like that?  ‘Uncomfortable’ is an understatement.

Martin Freeman handled the situation beautifully, just as he always does.  He’s well aware of this section of fandom so it’s no surprise to him that it exists, but being forced to look at pictures and comment on them on camera is an entirely different situation.  The first couple of pictures were relatively innocent.  Freeman replied “that’s fine” when the first few pictures John and Sherlock staring at each other longingly or kissing were presented to him.  But the pictures got progressively more graphic.

Graham Norton showing Martin Freeman explicit fanart.
Graham Norton showing Martin Freeman explicit fanart.

“I do like that programme, Sherlock,” Norton said, pretending to be a slash fan.  “How can I show my appreciation? I’ll paint this picture.”  Then he held up an extremely explicit John/Sherlock fanart to the camera.

“I know it.  I’ve seen it,” Freeman says, not judging, but just nodding and smiling.

“It will be in your mind forever,” Norton commented.

“If you’re lucky,” Freeman replied.

Let’s get one thing out of the way.  Yes, I am a fan of slash fiction and art.  And yes, I am aware that sexually explicit fan works are thought of as weird by most people, but we tend to keep these hobbies private.  We post on Tumblr and Livejournal and DeviantART where we know we’re with like-minded individuals. Sometimes it shows up on other social networking sites, but it’s very very rare for it to be presented to the actors or the public outside of our enclosed sphere of fandom (Supernatural conventions notwithstanding, and that could be an entire article in and of itself).  I’m going to go out on a limb and say that Graham Norton isn’t part of our fandom.  I doubt he stumbled across this art casually.  It would have been brought to his attention by the writers of the show with the intention of using it to poke fun at both slash fans and the actors depicted in the pairings.

But Freeman didn’t play ball.  He didn’t make fun of us, even though the entire segment of that interview was set up to do so.  Martin Freeman has an exceptionally good relationship with fandom.  Back when a picture of his kids ended up plastered all around the Internet, we were kindly asked to remove them and fandom took charge and got the deed done.  Blogs that had them posted were bombarded by fans to take them down, and one by one the images were removed from the Internet.  We respect him and he respects us.  In fact, he seems to even support the whole Johnlock endeavour.

In an interview with MTV, Benedict Cumberbatch revealed that Martin was actually the one to introduce the concept to him.  “[Martin Freeman said] ‘Hey, look at this Tumblr.’ And I said, ‘What? Tumblr? What?’ He knows more about it than I do and he was showing me some of them. Some of it is really racy, un-viewable even on MTV. It’s cool.””

Yep, Martin Freeman showed Benedict Cumberbatch Johnlock porn and his response was “it’s cool.”  At least MTV didn’t shove pictures in his face about it like Graham Norton did to Freeman.  Then again, Freeman has probably shown all the best work to him, anyway, so there wouldn’t be much of a shock.  Freeman certainly seemed to recognize the art shown to him on Graham Norton, which is both hilarious and delightful.  I wonder just how much of the art out there that I enjoy has also been seen by Freeman.

Martin Freeman asking Norton to "keep it clean."
Martin Freeman asking Norton to “keep it clean.”

So basically, yes, this was embarrassing for all parties involved.  An entire studio audience was laughing at our little hobby and some were even booing at it.  And Martin Freeman was forced to look at these pictures on camera and comment on them, which is just inappropriate in so many ways.  But he and Benedict Cumberbatch don’t seem upset about it.  To quote Benedict, it’s “flattering.”  And those are the two people I would feel bad about offending, but they are least offended in the sea of people who have had this topic thrust upon them in public.  In fact, they are quite supportive and flattered by it all.

I find the practice of shoving explicit art or fiction at the people who are depicted therein to be highly disrespectful to all of those involved. Imagine having someone come up to you and show you art and fiction where you engage in provocative things with other people. Naturally, celebrities often lose control of their personal image, especially when playing a live action character, so it’s not that I blame people for making these things. It’s just that, when your face is pretty much out there for people to use however they please, do you really want to be confronted with porn of yourself? As a joke?

On the flipside, the people out there who write stories and make art do it for reasons that are deeply personal to them. Slash fans, and fans in general, are for the most part people who identify with the stories presented to them and like to interpret them in different ways via creative means. To have their work used to embarrass them not just to the general public, but to the people they admire is abhorrent. There are real people behind those works and most of them are decent, innocent people who probably never wanted their stuff to ever find their way into the hands of the celebrities they depict.

Written by Angel with contributions from ToAllThaDreamers

Author: Angel Wilson

Angel is the admin of The Geekiary and a geek culture commentator. She earned a BA in Film & Digital Media from UC Santa Cruz. She’s contributed to various podcasts and webcasts including An Englishman in San Diego, Free to Be Radio, and Genre TV for All. She’s written for Friends of Comic Con and is a 2019 Hugo Award winner for contributing fanfic on AO3. She identifies as queer.


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19 thoughts on “Martin Freeman Confronted with Slash: “That’s fine.”

  1. An exceptionally well-written and thought provoking article! I’m embarrassed for our fandom when things like sexually harassing Misha Collins, or assaulting Nathan Fillion happen: I want the fandoms to grow up and see that there is a difference between a fantasy about the characters and how you should treat the actors. It is a different thing entirely for a comedian to dig into those fantasies, attempting to poke fun at us by embarrassing the actors involved. Way to quickly make me indignant.

    Misha (frequently compared to Martin here, given his take on slash as well) smacked down Tosh 2.0 for trying to slam fans for the cheese dresses. Martin handled this with poise in the face of extremely embarrassing circumstances and attempts to get under his skin. I rather adore these actors for how despite it all they will defend us and our frequently ridiculous ways.

    (Though in the case of the Cheese Dress, entirely Misha’s devising. I think the panel of like-minded individuals who come up with GISHWES tasks may be our other boys, turning to Misha after cons and interviews, going “You know what’d be great…?”)

  2. I have huge amounts of respect for actors and other people involved in canon material (writers, show/game/movie creators, etc.) who are tolerant of Fandom’s pursuits. I rather hope they are the forerunners of the future, where such folk are cordially aware that Fandom is Out There, and Doing Things, and are generally accepting.

    But it’s a two-way relationship. Fandom also respects their right not to have more extreme works shoved at them, and for the most part? I think Fandom does that, Fandom invented the idea long before it started leaking to actors (writers/creators). There’s the occasional fool who goes and shows this stuff to the actors anyway, but for the most part Fandom lives by the unspoken rule: Don’t Bother The Actors With Porn.

    Then third party idiots come in, wanting to upset actors and shame Fandom. That is just insulting. I am glad it was a Fandom-experienced actor like Martin it happened to, instead of someone who might have got more upset.

  3. If you think that Freeman wasn’t fully aware before the interview what was going to be discussed you are extraordinarily naive. Yes, he is undeniably awesome when it comes to his interactions with fans but you can’t seriously believe that these kind of lighthearted chat shows are as off the cuff as they pretend to be. If you do, maybe it’s time to start watching just tiny bit more critically.

    1. Regardless of how “off the cuff” this was or was not, it was incredibly uncomfortable to watch. And if Freeman’s had seen all these pictures before hand and approved each and every one of them, I’m not quite sure why he requested for him to keep it clean, which Norton absolutely did not do. Freeman’s ON AIR REQUEST to keep it clean was ignored. If his ON AIR REQUEST was ignored, that is almost worse than if he’d had absolutely no foreknowledge of what was about to happen. If he knew those pictures were coming and did not want it to happen and Norton ignored his request and mowed ahead anyway, well…. I don’t see how that makes this situation any better at all.

      Also, there is absolutely no need to be so insulting. Damn. :/

  4. Yes. there is many slash fan made for mostly fandom if the story involve males(bromance, etc) interaction.
    I am bit angry with the show above. I dunno. Maybe we can show Norton his own hard fan art(slash)with someone irl(bf or someone)and show it in front his eyes and watch his reaction.

    1. Lol, have you ever watched The Graham Norton Show? He does this kind of thing, regularly, and has for like 15 years. I’m quite certain that not only would he find fanart of himself hilarious, he would feature it in his next episode.

      Seriously, if you want to hate his shitck, fine, to each their own, but don’t pretend he’s somehow ignorant of what he’s doing.

  5. This is a very intriguing and well written post, and I thoroughly enjoyed reading it!

    Whilst I appreaciate and participate in many fandoms, one of which being of Sherlock & Johnlock, I personally think that there’s a difference between a little harmless fun, and a kinda weird/creepy level. I think that true fans would rather respect the actors and directors with a little harmless fun rather than possibly embarassing or even offending them.
    Even though both Benedict and Martin are fine, even ‘flattered’ by this erotic fanart, the creators did not know that this would be their reaction when they made the art, impling that they don’t care.
    Many of you are cussing Graham Norton for showing these pictures and risking Martin being humiliated, yet he is only showing wht is out there. Maybe you should be more offended by the so called ‘fans’ who went too far and made this art which COULD’VE hurt someone.

    By all means, correct me I’m wrong, and no offense to anyone.

    A

    1. I definitely feel that you are wrong on a few points. I find nothing “creepy” or “weird” with erotic fanart. Almost everyone (except for maybe asexuals or people who repress their seuxality (these are two different groups. I am NOT saying asexuals are repressed, mind you)) has sexual fantasies and I’d go out on a limb and say every single celebrity out there has been fantasized about by somebody. A lot of these artists are simply expressing these fantasies through a visual medium to share among other people who share similar fantasies. I see nothing wrong with this whatsoever. What I do find creepy is forcing these celebrities to look at it. This happens a lot in the Supernatural fandom and I find that pretty appalling.

      In short: Sexual fantasy is perfectly natural. Sharing that sexual fantasy among like minded individuals is also natural. Forcing the object of those desires to look at it is wrong.

      Also, saying “so called fans” is very offensive. I know you say you don’t mean to offend, but “true fan” shaming is one of my biggest pet peeves and that is honestly the most offensive thing about your post. Of course these people are fans. They spend hours if not days or weeks on their art. If you count based entirely on hours of devotion to the fandom, fan artists are some of the most dedicated fans in existence.

      1. I actually agree with everything you’ve said.
        I am a huge fan of Sherlock, Benedict and Martin, and to be honest, if anyone called me a ‘so called fan’, then I’d be pretty peeved. I’m sorry because that was v. insensitive!

        About the erotic fanart, so be honest, considering it more carefully, I realise that people are spending a lot of time and proving alot of devotion by creating these pictures, erotic or not. It was wrong to judge these pictures different from any other, and I apologise.

        I think that the real fault here lies with Graham Norton, whom is usually a dickhead anyway;)
        Sorry, A

        Are you excited for next Sherlock series?

        1. Absolutely! I’ve been following the spoilers. If you’re interested there’s a link in the upper right hand side. If you’d prefer to remain unspoiled though I’d avoid that link 😉

  6. Thanks for the article. He is very well written and speaks to me fully from the heart. But I think that producers also promote the idea of ​​a love relationship, especially in Sherlock and Supernatural. I guess, they try to show, thats love between two man or woman is not wrong. Maybe we still experience the era in which a same-sex relationship is completely normal. I am sure that Mr. Freeman and many others have that in mind.(Sorry, my English is so bad)

  7. “abhorrent” is a stretch, as is “deeply personal”, lets not get overly serious and invested in fan made gay porn shall we?

    1. We’ll just have to disagree. For many people their sexual interests are deeply personal. If you are comfortable having it displayed out in the open good for you, but not everyone is. To have people’s interests, which I DO find to be deeply personal, displayed in a manner to mock them is abhorrent in my opinion. But I’m happy for you that if your sexual interests were put on display you’d be comfortable with it. Just remember that that is not the case for everyone else.

      -Admin Angel

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  9. Late to the party, as usual. But who cares?!

    GN went and did the same thing to James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender during the press for X-Man:DOFP. I didn’t know he had a history of doing that. I thought it was fun, and the actors seemed to take it in stride. But one of the authors of a fanfiction that was used on the show was livid about her fiction being made fun of.

    Now, the line I’m drawing is between fictional characters and actors. Fanfiction to me involves fictional characters. I do not write Real Person Fiction, as it is called. But if I did, I would expect to have exactly zero right to complain about my use of someone’s real name and/or likeness being used elsewhere–especially if I put it on the web. It’s not copyrighted. It doesn’t truly belong to you when you are using someone else’s name and you clearly mean for it to be that real person.

    Fanfiction about copyrighted characters is lucky to be able to exist as well. But, I don’t think someone who produces a piece of creativity that is then freely shared on the web has the right to complain if it is used by someone else. Just enjoy the attention since it’s what we all want from our posting of our work anyway, right?

    As for reading out summaries of stories to the actors, I would have been thrilled if one of my fan fiction X-Men stories had been talked about. Even if they never asked permission beforehand. It’s out there for others to enjoy. So enjoy.

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