Orlando's Magic, GQ (US), January 2004
By Allison Glock
scans by Rita, typed by Rashas
Is it his looks? His talent? His tireless
charm? Or is it just the way the world's most famous elf bounds through life --
and Hollywood -- with hardly a care in the world?</b>
Orlando Bloom still blends, especially in the
lobby of New York's mercilessly hip Mercer Hotel, where one would be tempted to
hand the young actor some luggage or enlist him to hail a cab. Wearing jeans
and a black T-shirt, hair scrunched off his broad forehead, he does not look
like the next big thing, and yet that is precisely what he is -- a global
phenomenon, a willowy 26-year-old who has risen to international stardom,
plucked as he was directly from the classroom to star as Legolas, immortal elf
warrior, in the mother of all epics, the Lord of the Rings
trilogy, and who has subsequently been anointed a potential Hollywood hitmaker
and the preferred fantasy of countless teenage girls, among others. That he
accomplished all this wearing a cape, prosthetic ears and a blond wig strains
incredible," Bloom admits. "I mean, I'm stumped by it. I moved to
London, went to drama school, got Lord of the Rings. I never
expected this. I remember seeing myself in LOTR and thinking,
I can't fucking believe I'm in this movie."
Playing a starring role in the three
Rings films took Bloom from complete obscurity to celebrity
without any of the shameful thespian dues-paying. There were no image makeovers
or embarrassing deodorant ads. Bloom did not have to serve time in a sitcom
with an annoying child or die after copulating in a horror film. He went from
performing for students to performing for millions (of people and pounds). That
he has done so with humility and grace, without suffering a nervous breakdown
or deciding his shit lacks pungency, is no small wonder.
In the final installment, The Lord
of the Rings: The Return of the King, Bloom's cerebral Legolas gets
in touch with his inner elfin badass. "Peter Jackson liked the way I slid
down the stairs in the second one, all that mad stuff," says Bloom,
"so during reshoots, I spent three days on wires doing all sorts of stunts
to create something breathtaking for Leggy. A really big kind of battle finale."
In the new movie, Bloom reports, "Leggy is up to his old tricks, slaying
orcs and getting business taken care of. He is the eyes and ears of the
Fellowship. The cool water to the fire of the situation. I can't say much about
specific plot points, but I can say the last third of a movie is always the
most exciting part."
Even after three absurdly successful
LOTRs, Bloom still sees himself as a student. "With
Lord of the Rings, I just watched how other actors were
going about what they were doing," says Bloom. "In a way, it was
perfect. It was like a continuation of school. Peter Jackson gave me an
opportunity that taught me a huge amount right out of the gate. I got to learn
sword fighting, shoot a bow and arrow."
It helped that Legolas isn't an explosive character.
As an elf, he is non-threatening, virginal, Bambi-like. Bloom was not required
to shed tears or deliver bombastic monologues, sword rattling in hand.
Says Bloom, "It wasn't like going into a
huge, heavy-dialogue role where I could have potentially made a mess of it --
you know, by being overly theatrical."
And he wasn't. Not even when he was reciting
lines such as "This forest is old. Very old. Full of memory. And
anger." He played it straight, employing earnestness like charm, allowing
himself to be discovered. And he was. Crushes formed; Web sites posted Bloom
minutiae ("He has a tattoo on his forearm!" "He lost his
virginity at 14!" "He's dyslexic!"); servers crashed.
Bloom now has more fan sites than Leonardo
DiCaprio and was the most searched-for actor on Lycos in 2002. "I still
sort of don't believe it's all happening," he says with a laugh.
"It's surreal. The goal was to get paid as an actor. That would have been
He now inspires awards at film festivals,
inspires screeching from the masses at premieres and hangs out with people like
Johnny Depp, Viggo Mortensen and Naomi Watts, whom he set up with pal Heath
Bloom became friendly with Depp when they
worked together on Disney's $300 million-grossing Pirates of the
Caribbean, the film that made the people who hadn't seen
The Lord of the Rings sit up, scratch their heads and ask,
"Who is that?" Freed from his chaste, sylvan
costume, Bloom played the upstanding do-gooder who swashbuckled across the
screen, knickers tight and chestnut curls bouncing, and ultimately got the girl
(the ripe rose Keira Knightley). Although the standout role was Depp's, Bloom
managed to create his own indelible impression.
To date, Bloom has made his career playing
the other cute guy, the character that sneaks up on you once you tire of
watching the assigned leading man. It's a conservative strategy that has served
him well; it has kept him from anchoring a picture prematurely (and being held
responsible for its failure) but allowed him ample exposure to industry honchos
and randy ticket buyers. After shadowing Viggo Mortensen in
LOTR, he filmed a small role in Ridley Scott's
Black Hawk Down (with Eric Bana), then one in Ned
Kelly (with Heath Ledger), did Pirates (with
Depp), then Troy (with Brad Pitt -- "I got to shoot him
in his Achilles' heel"). In each picture, Bloom plays someone infinitely
likeable and slyly engaging, and though he says he longs to let loose, it will
probably be quite a while before anyone sees Bloom overact in a terrible movie,
be snapped in a mug shot or pass out in a VIP booth. Unlike most of his
predecessors, Bloom is pretty contained. His appeal is subtle.
There is something old-fashioned about him.
He is courtly and sweetly naive. His lithe body seems built for tights and
ruffs. Even his face has the delicate features of a more civilized era. It is
no coincidence that out of seven film roles, he has played a contemporary
character only once.
"I do feel like I'm from another
time," he says, having given the idea some thought. "I can hardly use
my phone. I'm computer-illiterate. I use a pencil and paper. It slows me down,
but I really do prefer it.
He favors conversations to holding court,
staying home with a few friends to getting his freak on with 200 strangers.
"The last time I saw Viggo, we were
supposed to go to some supercool club, but there was no way I was going to get
Viggo to do that, and I couldn't really be bothered myself. So we went to some
dingy little pub, and then we just bought a six-pack and sat in the park and
Bloom invites intimacy. He is a question
asker, a listener. He has, at his tender age, already cooled down.
"I worry constantly," he says.
"I worry about being a giant success and blowing it all." He laughs.
"Naw, I actually worry more about little things: being on time, what I'm
going to wear, sending birthday cards, getting sick, dying."
Mostly he fears that he will turn into a pud.
"I'm constantly asking myself, 'Am I
making the right choices? Am I thinking about the people around me?' The
worst-case scenario is that I lose touch with my friends and turn into the
person I most despite and..." He trails off, his mind searching for some
foul personality development.
You start sleeping with strippers? I propose
"There's nothing wrong with sleeping
with strippers," he retorts. "If I were to choose to sleep with a
stripper, it would be a choice I made, and I'd learn something from it or I
wouldn't. Thankfully, I've got a lot of that sort of stuff out of my
Bloom is still only 26. But the idea of his
cruising London, picking up pole jockeys and cavorting with them at a garish
hotel suite, while perversely appealing, seems about as likely as his turning
into the wanker he fears. Bloom is not that guy.
"I'm quite sensitive to women," he
admits. "I saw how my sister got treated by boyfriends. I read this thing
that said when you are in a relationship with a woman, imagine how you would
feel if you were her father. That's been my approach, for the most part."
Rumored to be dating Kate Bosworth, Bloom
honors his philosophy by refusing to talk about her or any of his past romances
except in the vaguest terms. "I think people need to grow. I'm all about
growth, so if I can learn from women..."
He fades off. It's a conversational habit; a
keen start gives way to disjointed rambling, which then ebbs to a gentle plea
for empathy in the form of a "know what I mean?" or a "wouldn't
you say?" after which he regroups and starts anew.
"My mom pretty much did what the hell
she wanted in life, and I intend to do the same." He chuckles, then
backpedals. "You have so many relationships in life, and they're all hard
-- with your mother, your friends, your lover, yourself. I'd like to try and
master all of them."
How's that going for you?
"Oh, not very well. I'm rubbish. I'm out
of touch. I don't know how to love. I randomly start crying for no
He grins, stands up. "I'm busting for a
pee," he whispers, slightly embarrassed. "Do you mind?"
Bloom was raised in bucolic Canterbury,
England, by his mother, Sonia, an unconventional woman who ran a foreign
language school and loved the arts so much she named her only son for
seventeenth-century composer Orlando Gibbons. She enrolled her remarkably
handsome boy in kids' drama and Bible reading classes. He excelled at both and
by age 8 found himself performing in local plays.
When Bloom turned 16, he left home and moved
to London to attend the National Youth Theatre. Later, studying at the
Guildhall School of Music & Drama, where every day he'd walk past the head
shot of famous alumnus Ewan McGregor, Bloom was a solid student, popular, with
enviable bone structure, and thus already had an agent, who gave his name to
the director Peter Jackson, who decided, just two days shy of Bloom's
graduation, that the untested 22-year-old should play Legolas in his trilogy.
"I remember meeting Peter Jackson when he came to see me at school and
thinking this would be really amazing," he recalls. "I could feel the
mad energy, and I was so excited. And then I went to New Zealand, and it was
the trippiest thing I'd ever done." It was an unbelievable stroke of good
fortune that came on the heels of the worst year of Bloom's life.
"I almost died," he says softly.
He was 21 and visiting a friend's apartment
when he decided to climb out on a drainpipe. He wasn't drunk; the pipe was
simply there, begging to be scaled, and so he did. That was just the kind of
madcap chap he was: wacky, wild Orlando, "always the first on the
ledge," and it was all very amusing until the pipe tore away from the
building and pitched him three stories down to earth.
"The doctors said I wouldn't walk
again," he recalls. "I chose not to believe them. I thought, That's
not me, that's somebody else."
After twelve days on his back, Bloom had
metal plates bolted to his spine, then underwent intensive rehab to regain the
use of his legs.
"I had to wear a brace for a year. I
experienced all these weird moments where I was exploring really dark corners
of my mind. I was lying there on my back, unable to do anything. You don't know
how you're going to be under those circumstances."
Bloom massages his knee, wipes a finger under
"I definitely went through that 'Why the
fuck did this happen to me?' stuff. I'm not some saint. I was really depressed.
I was in a lot of pain. I was on a lot of drugs. But I had this one great
teacher who came to visit and said to me, 'This is going to be the making of
you.' And it was.
Bloom decided that maybe there was more in
life waiting for him than just being "the first guy to climb the tree and
fall out of it." His temporary paralysis forced him to think, and he
figured a few things out, such as it might be time to grow
"I was running around like a little
lunatic, not really appreciating life or the people around me. I didn't address
the consequences. I would jump ledges, and I never thought about what was on
the other side. I just assumed there would be a soft landing."
He rubs his forehead.
"It's how you learn the lessons, know
what I mean?"
Bloom is speaking now not just of his
accident but of another, more complex tutorial, the one in which he discovered
that the man he believed was his father was not.
Harry Bloom, a noted South African
human-rights activist, died at 64 from a stroke when Orlando was 4. Bloom
mourned him as any boy would grieve for his dad and spent the next nine years
of his life wishing he had known him better. Then, at 13, Bloom was told that
his real father, the biological one, was family friend Colin Stone.
"My mom was married to one man, but I
was fathered by a second," Bloom says, struggling to explain. "I
think she was waiting for me to be old enough to understand it. But when would
you tell a kid about that stuff? It's very difficult."
Bloom jams a thumb into his thigh and drags
it down his leg, leaving a scratch mark on his jeans.
"I don't know any family that doesn't
have a little story somewhere," he says with a smile. "Besides, if
you didn't have those things in your life, you'd be so bland."
In January, Bloom begins filming
Kingdom of Heaven for Ridley Scott. It will be one of his
first leading roles. "It's about a young man who goes off to the Crusades
and in the process falls in and out of love. I swore to myself I wasn't going
to do another movie with a horse and a sword, but here I am. I'm excited. It's
a really big deal."
Bloom almost giggles. His joy is palpable. He
knows the film is a test of sorts, that his performance will determine if he
will be the next Russell Crowe or the next Stephen Dorff. He believes he is
ready for the challenge, if not the celebrity. Bloom can still walk around most
towns unnoticed. After this new epic, his Gladiator, the exposure
will be unqualified. Fame frightens him -- all that grasping, all the personal
trivia revealed and passed around like a bowl of chips.
"Fear would say to me, 'Do you really
want to deal with all that?' My career is really at the point that I either
stop now and vanish or I keep moving forward, take the opportunities and make
the most of what's coming. On a good day, I realize I'd be crazy not to."
He stops talking. Takes a minute to consider
the life laid out before him. His mouth drops, then his chin, then his
shoulders. His pep talk to himself has failed. He is too clever for that. There
will be ugliness coming, and he knows it, can smell the invasion around the
corner. He did not chase this dream, did not have years to long for the success
that has fallen on him like a snapped elevator. He has never been desperate,
only lucky, and with luck comes questions.
He wonders: Why him? Then, as quickly: Why
not him? He makes the case for his own integrity, points out
how he remains "grateful," how he hasn't "been sucked into
celebrity yet." His patter quickens; surfer truisms emerge:
"Confronting the fear is the boundary I like to push," he says.
"Life's a highway. You just have to watch out for the little signs."
He is all over the little signs. Bloom will
not be seduced or corrupted or spoiled. "I almost died," he reminds
you. And thus he is forever changed. "I don't want to lose sight of the
important things in life," he says, vigorously pawing at his hair.
Bloom looks across the lounge to where his
maybe girlfriend Kate Bosworth has just sat down to wait for him. She is
wearing jeans and a trenchcoat. Her skin is perfect. She gives a little nod.
And then it hits him more concisely.
"I don't have a regular life," he
says, rising to go, "but what is a regular life, anyway?" He pauses,
leans in close. "Whatever happens in life is fine. Just trust in
Bloom and the Damage Done: A One-Man
Skull and Bones Society
When Orlando Bloom was only a few months old,
his mother cracked his skull against a tree. "It's not nearly as terrible
as it sounds," he says now with a laugh. "She was gathering wood and
holding me, and she bent over and knocked my head."
A few months later, Bloom would topple off a
kitchen stool and fracture his skull again. Then there was the incident
involving his crawling over a rock in the yard, followed by another drama, in
which his toe was crushed by a horse.
"I was an adventuresome baby," he
explains. "As a child I was in and out of hospital so many times that the
staff worried I was being beaten. Obviously, I wasn't."
As Bloom aged, his injuries grew more severe.
He broke his right leg while skiing when he was 11, his nose while playing
rugby at 12, and his wrist while snowboarding at 13. ("It was my first
time and I kind of went at it a bit hard.") At 21 he suffered a fall from
a drainpipe that broke his back and almost left him paralyzed. He's broken
three ribs, the latest while falling off a horse filming Lord of the
"I broke my finger in rugby as
well," Bloom remembers. "It was part of growing up. It was only when
I broke my back that I realized it was a pattern, and I had to readdress the
relationship I had with my own well-being."
The World on a String: Orlando
Explains What Hangs Around His Neck
"I have a lot of these things with me
all the time. I get given some and find others. One was a key ring that Johnny
[Depp] gave me as a wrap gift for Pirates. Here's a piece of
greenstone Billy Boyd gave me. I found this shell on the beach in Thailand.
This is a prayer baton I got in India. I picked up this tiny silver ball in
Tokyo. This is a New York City handcuff key, so if I get into any strife, I can
get myself out. I think I'll hold onto that.
"I've always kept all these funny little
things, even as a kid. But I'm trying to cut it out, become more streamlined.
Otherwise it starts to feel like the things own you. These
things fill up my heart. If I were ever to lose them, I'd be really devastated.
Isn't that pathetic?"
© Gentlemen's Quarterly, 2004.