Now that The Hobbit has the official green light from the powers that be, fans can actually start looking forward to the first film hitting our screens in 2012. Problems with the Screen Actors Guild aside, things finally appear to be going smoothly for the production of The Hobbit.

One of the most important aspects of The Hobbit is, of course, the casting – and it goes without saying that it’s particularly crucial that they cast the right actor to play the lead role of Bilbo Baggins. There have been a number of names thrown around as possibilities, the latest of which is Martin Freeman (from the British version of The Office), and we’re now hearing word that the actor is very close to signing-on to play the lovable titular hobbit.

Deadline is reporting some casting news/rumors which mentions Freeman being “soon set to play Bilbo Baggins.” Freeman’s attachment to The Hobbit has been pleasing to fans – since he looks the part and has the sort of charisma and “feel” necessary for the role. He wouldn’t be my number one choice (that would be James McAvoy) but he’s a solid one nonetheless.

On top of Freeman, it appears that James Nesbitt (Bloody Sunday) has been offered a part in the film – with David Tennant (Doctor Who) and Michael Fassbender (Inglourious Basterds) being pursued for other roles. You may remember that Tennant was once rumored to play Bilbo so it’s interesting to hear he’ll be starring in the film – but as a different character. For now, Tennant, Fassbender and Nesbitt’s exact roles have yet to be identified.

Not that there was any doubt but the casting update also includes word that both Ian McKellen and Andy Serkis are expected to reprise their roles as Gandalf and Gollum respectively. I’m sure there would have been riots in the streets of the Shire if those two didn’t make a return.

While we wait to hear confirmation, or denial, of the casting reports, we can do only one thing: speculate! Who could Tennant, Fassbender and Nesbitt be set to play?

The Hobbit is expected to start shooting next February under the direction of Peter Jackson. Part 1 is scheduled to hit theaters on December 19th, 2012, with Part 2 following a year later in December, 2013.

Source: Deadline