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Prince Orlando, Elle (US), December 2003
scan by Elf Lady

Currently beating Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt in the battle for the hearts of American girls, Orlando Bloom has entered the stratosphere of megastar. He's sweet, chivalrous, and oh so hot—and he can act, too. By Rachael Combe

Orlando Bloom wears boxers. This much is clear as the British actor stands by the bed in his Manhattan hotel room, wearing nothing but a black T-shirt and blue-and-white tattersall underwear. His brown hair is rumpled (the neat blond mane of Legolas, the elf prince he plays in The Lord of the Rings, is a wig). His terra-cotta brown eyes gaze earnestly (Legolas' blazing blues are contacts). His 26-year-old stomach is lean and taut with a small, inscrutable tattoo. Though a tangle of lucky charms he's collected on his travels hangs around his neck on threads and leather strings, he's looking decidedly un-elflike at the moment. Unquestionably flesh and blood.

Bloom slides into a pair of YSL trousers, and a bespectacled man runs his hand over one pant leg. He looks up at Bloom: “Is that good?” Bloom studies the hem. “Maybe a bit longer,” he says finally. “I like them to almost touch the floor.”

Bloom is in New York City doing endless round-table interviews to promote LOTR. He's running late and now finds himself in the somewhat compromised position of having me, a reporter, seated on his bed, watching him change in and out of several pairs of black pants as a tailor fusses over their length and waistbands. Still, he shows few signs of strain, fatigue, or ill will, chatting amiably about Tom Ford and munching on an apple.

Eyeing the tape recorder in Bloom's hand and my pad and pen, the tailor asks, “So who do you play for?”

“I'm sorry?” Bloom says.

“Aren't you a musician?”

“No, I'm an actor,” he says politely.

“Oh, I thought you were in one of those boy bands,” the tailor says, shrugging. Bloom raises an eyebrow at me and grins without a trace of “Don't you know who I am?” attitude.

While Bloom gained zero-to-60 fame playing heroic innocents like Legolas and the sinless swashbuckler Will Turner in Pirates of the Caribbean, he is, if possible, even more of a perfect gentleman in person. Colleagues insist it's not an act. “He's an absolute sweetheart,” says Eric Bana, who plays Hector, the brother of Bloom's Paris, in this summer's epic Troy. “Orlando is Orlando effortlessly. He just is. He's always very aware of what's going on around him, how people are being treated, how he's behaving.” Johnny Depp, who worked with Bloom on Pirates, says, “You know what made me happy getting to know him? That he's genuinely that sweet a guy. Not a mean, nasty, malicious bone in his body. That's rare today.” Producer Jerry Bruckheimer, who first cast him in Black Hawk Down and then Pirates, claims that the goodness Bloom projects on-screen is an absolute reflection of what's inside. “There's an innocence about him, a naïveté,” he says. “Actors are what they are. The big screen doesn't lie.”

And the ladies—in particular, those of the pubescent persuasion—like what they see. With only a handful of supporting roles to his credit, Bloom regularly comes up as a favorite guy in teen magazine polls and is surpassing the likes of Leonardo DiCaprio in number of Internet fan sites. His almost-pretty good looks are one obvious reason—“He's adorable!” says Bruckheimer—but Bloom himself theorizes it also has something to do with the roles he's chosen. “Young women, as they're becoming aware of themselves physically and emotionally, like to pin their hopes on the idea of someone,” he says. “I suppose Legolas, being that yogiesque, samurai superhero—the long, blond flowing hair kind of dude—is unthreatening; he's safe. A lot of the characters I've played have been a bit like that…pure-hearted. You know, if I'd started my career as some kind of serial killer, it would be a different story.”

Having just wrapped Troy (with Bana, and Brad Pitt as Achilles) and with the last of the LOTR trilogy out this month, Bloom has his first opportunity to ruminate about his career since graduating from London's Guildhall School of Music & Drama in 1999 and being whisked off to New Zealand to film the Tolkien saga that made him a star. “I'm going to furnish my house [in London] and see what life is like on the flip side. You go into a cocoon when you're working on a movie,” he says. He'll also have more time to worry about what his following will make of Mr. Sugar and Spice and Everything Nice playing Troy's antihero, Paris, who steals a woman from her husband, carelessly starts a war, runs from battle, and then kills Pitt.

Outside his hotel room, people are more up to speed than the tailor on Bloom's identity—a bit obtrusively so—but he's still unfailingly gracious. Bloom was recently voted one of the “worst signers” by Autograph Collector magazine, but the editors had to be referring to his penmanship, not his manners. As we walk across Fifth Avenue toward Central Park, two men—one middle-aged and the other about Bloom's age—come out of nowhere flashing Sharpie markers and glossy pictures of Bloom. He turns them down—but only to be polite to me, he says. And when I note that they seemed like professionals, not fans, and were probably just going to sell the autographs anyway, Bloom gently rebukes me, “Everyone has to make a living.” When we return to the hotel, he signs six autographs—for four tweens, one grown woman who's brought an almost life-size poster of Bloom, and a man who looks suspiciously like the middle-aged man Bloom turned down near the park.

If it weren't for his occasional use of the F-word and his lopey-cool gait, Bloom would seem almost prim. Instead he comes across as something of an old-fashioned movie star: Jimmy Stewart in a La Rocka T-shirt. He's extravagantly nice, not only to reporters who suck up his free time and weird old men who seek his autograph but also to dogs large and small—he pets nearly every one we see in the park and has himself just rescued a mutt he named Guera, which is Mexican slang for “blondie.” He even pinches a baby's cheeks in the elevator. The qualities he looks for in a woman? “Kindness,” he says. “I'm more realistic than I used to be. I don't want an impossible love, I just want someone supportive.” When I ask him to name his poison, he admits—after much protesting that he believes in moderation in all things—“pastries.” Specifically, pain au chocolat and croissants with strawberry jam. Dangerous character, that Orlando Bloom.

The only time he displays anything even tentatively reaching the precipice of mild irritation is when he's asked to talk about the rather large areas he's deemed off-limits: his relationship with Wonderland actress Kate Bosworth (he won't confirm or deny it “for all the tea in China,” he says; and when you mention her in passing, he gives the sort of vague look that, if you hadn't seen pictures of them arm in arm plastered everywhere, would make you wonder if he even knows who she is); his family history (his mother's late husband, Harry Bloom, an antiapartheid writer and activist, died when Orlando was four; it was only later that his mother informed him that her friend Colin Stone, who currently operates a foreign language school, was actually his father. Bloom dubs the one time he discussed this in print “a mistake” and says it's not and never was a big deal in his family); and the impressive list of bones he's broken in his shortish life (his skull—three times, both legs, a finger, a toe, a rib, an arm, a wrist, his nose, and, at age 21, his back. He says he's just sick of talking about it). And while he says he's battled demons—and learned much from suffering—he declines to elaborate. “When I broke my back and they told me I might never walk again, I never actually believed them, but I went to a really dark place,” he says. “And I'd rather not revisit it.”

Yes, Bloom seems to have his sights set on brighter, shinier places. While in his early interviews he used to simply marvel at his good fortune to be working at all, he now admits to ambition. “I always wanted to be the next big something. That's what I put out there for myself, in a way. I wanted to be a great actor. I want to be a great actor. Like Johnny Depp, Daniel Day-Lewis, Paul Newman. Those kinds of cats.” And though you wouldn't necessarily associate the sunny-sweet Bloom with the various tortured souls Depp, Day-Lewis, and Newman have brought to life—think Edward Scissorhands, My Left Foot, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof—no one seems to have any doubt that Bloom's talent will rise to the opportunity when it comes. “He's a bloody good actor,” says Bana. “I felt blessed to work with him.” And, says Bruckheimer, “He's wonderful. He'll age and go through life's trials and tribulations, and that will show on-screen.”

On the walk back from Central Park, a French art deco lamp in the window of a Madison Avenue gallery catches Bloom's eye. He steps in to ask about it and is told it carries the astronomical price tag of $35,000. He nods, seemingly unfazed, and spends some time admiring a few other works in the gallery, including two line drawings by Lucian Freud. But outside the shop, he assures me he will not be dropping 35 G's on a lamp anytime soon. “I'm not there yet,” he says, shaking his head. “Someday, maybe. But I'm not there yet.”