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Bloom Time, Culture magazine in The Sunday Times (UK), August 3, 2003
typed by Holly, scans by Katie

Five years ago, he thought he'd never walk again. Now, with two big-budget epics on the way, Orlando can't put a foot wrong, says Jeff Dawson.

Dame Fame can be a fickle mistress. You're Britains most bankable film actor; you're tall, dark and handsome; yet (unless there are rabid Tolkies lurking) you can still take a trip to the corner shop entirely unmolested. "When you're in the environment of going to a premiere or something like that, it gets kinda crazy" muses Orlando Bloom. "Other than that, I've been fortunate to have the blonde wig." Ah, yes, that unbecoming Peter Stringfellow thatch he sported as Legolas Greenleaf in the Lord of the Rings films. It's been quite a salvation. But with the actor an integral component of one of the biggest-grossing film series of all time, it was only a matter of time before Hollywood blew his cover. Two $100m+ epics starring Bloom are on their way. "I mean, that's one part of my life that's really changing now because all of the press, particularly with Pirates. It's my hair, my colouring and everything," he adds, "Just trying to maintain some sense of reality is difficult."

Pirates, to employ the mononymic shorthand beloved of thespian types, or rather Pirates of the Caribbean (or to be completely anal, Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl) is the first to come sliding down the slipway. A giant swashbuckler from Disney, it rights a genre that turned turtle with 1995's Cutthroat Island. The Canterbury-born Bloom plays the romantic lead, Will Turner, callow blacksmith-cum-"good"-pirate under the tutelage of Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) as they take to the high seas against Geoffrey Rush's "bad" buccaneers. "Johnny's funny. He said to me: 'I've made a career out of making movies that are failures," Bloom quips. This time, though, with love interest in the shape of Keira Knightley, and sabre-rattling, plank- walking and timber-shivering aplenty, the omens are good.

If, on paper, a Jerry Bruckheimer film based on a Disneyland theme ride seems doubly appalling, redemption comes in the shape of the writers, Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio, who penned the ingeniously whimsical Shrek. "It doesn't feel like a typical Jerry movie," insists Bloom, stressing this as a plus point. "The supernatural element of his film- the idea that there is a curse on these pirates, that they go skeletal when they pass through moonlight- combined with the love story, the roguery of Johnny and the bad pirates, makes this a really fun film that everyone can enjoy. Which is good, I guess, for a summer film." With a sequel already planned, he's probably not wrong.

The sense that the 26-year-old is on the cusp of something huge is already evident in the publicity machine that's begun to click into gear around him. The solemnity with which his "people" declare that their charge has just flown in from Malta, where he's shooting the sword'n'sandals epic Troy, tempts one to add the vaudevillian rejoinder: "And boy, are his arms tired." sadly, in an overly upholstered parlour at a Covent Garden hotel, Bloom does not seem fully engaged with his chuckle muscle. "It's been such a whirlwind since the release of the first Rings film, and it feels as if it's beginning to catch up with me. I guess the novelty's wearing off- all the travel, all the excitement of doing the press stuff."

He's had three years on the hoof of filming in New Zealand, Australia, Morocco, Mexico, and St Vincent, not to mention promoting his enterprises in Europe, America and Japan, and it's a fair bet to say that it sounds far more exotic than it really is. "I mean, it was great to be in St Vincent (where Pirates was shot), but it was quite grueling, because we were out at sea and the waves weren't particularly helpful." So let's forgive him his whinging for the moment.

Being anointed Orlando, it was probably ordained that he went into the arts, although Bloom was not named, as has been suggested, after the Virginia Woolf novel. "No, I wasn't. I think my mother said something about Orlando Gibbons (a 17th- century composer).....I don't know." His stepfather, Harry Bloom, who died when Orlando was four, was a Jewish South African activist who rote the anti-apartheid novel Transvaal Episode.

Bloom's upbringing was suitably bohemian. As children, he and his sister were enlisted into local poetry and Bible readings. At sixteen, he went off to the National Youth Theatre, then got into the London Guildhall, from where he landed the odd bit of telly- London's Burning, Casualty ("I was a self-mutilator") -and a part in Wilde as a rent boy. He was intent on a theatrical career, but had already been spotted by the casting agents Hubbards, who brought him to the attention of the director Peter Jackson, then plotting his Tolkien adaptation. Straight out of drama school, Bloom breezed off to New Zealand to shoot three films back-to-back. The astonishing response to the first installment, The Fellowship of the Ring, left no doubt as to the hunger for the material. "We did feel it was a very special project to be working on," he says, "but we were thinking more about it being a great film than a film that would do great business or whatever." Either way, it's all academic.

Things did not go nearly as smoothly as this rather glib career summation suggests. For in 1998, aged 21, Bloom was involved in an accident that nearly did for him. One afternoon, while mucking around at a friend's house, he climbed out onto a drainpipe. It came away, and he fell three storeys to the ground, breaking his back. For four days, he lay in a hospital bed, trying to come to terms with the devastating diagnosis that he would probably never walk again. After surgery to bolt metal plates to his spine, the most optimistic prognosis was severe neural or bone damage. Yet somehow, 12 days later, in defiance of medical odds, he hobbled home on crutches. "It was kind of the making of me, really," he says, "I feel like it really tested my belief in myself and everything else, because they told me that I'd be in a wheelchair." His voice cracks a little, "It took a while for me to really comprehend what had happened. When I got Rings soon afterwards, I was in denial about it. It was only a few months later that I started to reflect on what it meant. and it's still something, when I talk about it, I get a little bit....it makes me.....you know, it kind of throws me a little bit."

Within a year he was horse-riding through Middle-earth, though not without the help of an on-hand chiropractor to crack him into shape (and who daresay winced through clenched fingers as Bloom fell in one scene, breaking a rib). But, with the embarrassing exception of regularly setting off airport detectors, his life has returned to normal, his mobility evidenced by the swordplay of Pirates- though within the bounds of reason "Johnny taught me a bit as well. He said, 'Look, the stunt guys are paid to do that, they're really good at it, so let them do it. Don't kill yourself for it. You've got your whole career ahead of you.'"

By a curious twist of fate his next film, Black Hawk Down, had Bloom in a small part as a US marine who falls out of a helicopter and suffers a similar injury. That movie saw him stretchered out of the action early, but no such thing applies to Troy. Wolfgang Petersen's detailed reconstruction of the Iliad replete with a 75,000- strong cast and 1,000 ships) has Bloom's Paris absconding with Helen, kicking off the entire Trojan war (and the confrontation between Brad Pitt's Achilles and Eric Bana's Hector). The film should prove essential viewing, if only to witness the extraordinary screenplay credit "David Benioff and Homer". And, assuming you can single out Alexander the Great, Hannibal, a redo of The 300 Spartans and various other classical sagas set by the success of Gladiator, it will most likely supply Bloom with the summer hit of 2004 . Later this year comes a remake of Ned Kelly, with Heath Ledger as the Aussie outlaw, then The Calcium Kid, a low-budget British film in which he plays a boxer with a bone-hard bonce. In the unlikely event that all of the above fail dismally, there is still a sure banker, that third Rings outing- The Return of the King- which will be packing 'em in for Christmas.

You get the impression that, for all that Bloom has on his pate, The Lord of the Rings still runs deep. For most actors, the frustration of location shooting is that it leads to six weeks or so of intense bonding, only for everyone to go their separate ways afterwards. With an 18-month shoot, the Rings cycle was something quite untypical. Bloom rolls up his sleeve to reveal a runic tattoo: "an elvish nine" on his right forearm. Each one of the fellowship has one. That must have been some night out? "Actually, no, it was an idea I talked about with the Hobbits earlier on, and eventually managed to convince everyone," he maintains. (Peter Jackson and the producers each got a "ten" as honorary members.)

With that he's off to catch his plane back to Valletta. Aside from Pitt and Bana, Troy's cast also features Bloom's old mate Sean Bean as Odysseus and Peter O'Toole as his screen father, King Priam. Whichever way you look at it, these are esteemed circles he's moving in. "I suppose I'm getting into that position, which I suppose all actors want to be in, where I have some control over what I'm doing, yet what goes with that is a whole new set of pressures," he reflects. "But everything I've done I've been very pleased to have been involved in, and it's all kind of come together."

On their first night out in Malta, the Troy cast went out for dinner. "We left the restaurant and walked down the street. I was chatting to Brad, and before you knew it, there were flashbulbs. It felt like the whole of Malta was in the street, just screaming and yelling from the rooftops. It was incredible," says Bloom. "I was so impressed with the way he kind of kept his composure. But it's so bizarre to see how one person can have that kind of effect on on that many people just immediately. It was really scary." A blonde wig doesn't work for Pitt. Hopefully, Bloom made a few notes.