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Orlando Bloom, melroze.com, April 2005
By Dominic Wills

Orlando Bloom is an extraordinary success story. Has any actor ever been as famous or desired without ever headlining a major picture? And which other actor can boast a US box office average of well in excess of $100 million per movie, even if the calculation includes the films he's made but not yet released? The man's rise has been meteoric, to say the least. And, given the projects he has in the pipeline, it can only continue.

Orlando was born in Canterbury, Kent on the 13th of January, 1977. His mother, Sonia, was a businesswoman and writer, who ran a language school for foreign students, while his father, Harry, was a Professor of Law at the University of Kent. In the eyes of millions, Harry was a hero. A South African, he had spent much of his life battling against apartheid. And he had not done this by penning a few outraged essays while cocooned in some academic safehouse. Harry had been out there on the frontline, working as a lawyer alongside the likes of Nelson Mandela. His first novel, Episode (later titled Transvaal Episode), published in 1956, had described an uprising in a township following the ANC's campaign of defiance in 1952-3. The book had been banned by the authorities who believed it might stir up racial tension and endanger the state. Harry was now a marked man. His second novel, Whittaker's Wife, was written while he was behind bars serving a 3-month sentence.

These were important books. Exported across the world, for many they were the first glimpse of the horrors of South African apartheid. And consequently for many they marked the beginning of the fight to set things right. The South African state knew this and persecuted Bloom without cease. Come 1963, he exiled himself to Canterbury.

Sadly, Harry Bloom died when Orlando was four, leaving Sonia to raise the boy and his sister Samantha, two years his senior. She did a fine job. Canterbury had a strong hippy history and a continuing ken for creative bohemianism, and Sonia fitted in well. She would constantly encourage her children in their artistic endeavours and, by her influence, young Orlando would become fascinated by language, photography, and art. He'd also be an avid horse-rider, something that would stand him in good stead in his breakthrough film role

And, of course, there would be drama. As a kid he would always appear in school plays, his enthusiasm and early abilities usually earning him a plum role. Sonia would take the kids to see plays and musicals whenever possible. Then, at age 12, spending one Christmas in Boston with family, his cousin, an art director working in Los Angeles, rented a heap of videos to watch over the festive period. One of them was The Hustler, Orlando being so impressed by Paul Newman's advanced state of cool that he decided that he, too, would become an actor. Stand By Me, featuring kids of his own age, was another prime influence. Quickly he moved into community theatre, Sonia also getting the kids involved in the Kent Festival where they'd recite poetry and passages from the Bible. The pair were prize winners on several occasions.

Orlando's early teens brought another momentous experience. At 13, while on holiday with the family, he was told that Harry Bloom had not, in fact, been his biological father. His real father was Colin Stone, his appointed guardian and someone he'd known as a friend of the family. It made sense. Harry Bloom would have been 64 at the time of Orlando's birth. Not, perhaps, a responsible age to become a parent.

A cool customer from an early age, Orlando would wander round Canterbury dressed in original Sixties gear borrowed from the collection of a mate's mother. It certainly suited his chiselled Byronic features. But he was also a hard worker, at Canterbury's St Edmund's School earning 8 O-levels and 3 A-levels (he got A-grades at Photography and Art & Sculpture and a C at Religious Studies).

Yet it was acting that fired his blood and, in 1993 at age 16, he went off to London where he spent two seasons with the National Youth Theatre. This gave him a social education, too. Hanging with older kids he gained an early experience of London's clubland. Following this, he won a one-year scholarship to BADA, the British American Drama Academy which had already produced the likes of Jennifer Ehle, Oliver Platt and David Schwimmer. Here he received a crash course in theatre classics, starred in A Walk In The Vienna Woods, and gained an agent. He also made his debut on both TV and the Big Screen. First, in the long-running hospital drama Casualty, he played a kid who mutilates himself to gain attention. Then, in Wilde, he was a rent-boy propositioning Stephen Fry's titular Oscar Wilde.

Though offers for parts were flowing in, Orlando thought it best to continue his education and so signed up for a 3-year course at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama. Reading Shakespeare, Milton, Chekov and Donne, this gave him what he considered to be his first real education. It also helped him with a longstanding case of dyslexia. Onstage, he honed his craft in the likes of Twelfth Night, The Trojan Women, The Seagull, Mephisto and Antigone - there could be few better starts for an actor.

Suddenly, in 1998 when he was 21 and all was set fair, it nearly all ended. While at a friend's apartment for Sunday lunch, the roof terrace door was found to be warped and stuck, and the ever-resourceful, all-action Orlando attempted to climb out of a window and clamber onto the terrace to kick the door in. Unfortunately, when he set his weight on some guttering it came away, with Bloom plummeting three stories and landing on his back between some iron railings and an old washing-machine left out to rust. Taken to hospital, he was found to have one crushed vertebra and three fractured. It was thought that he would never walk again, let alone slide down stone castle steps while shooting Orcs with his trusty longbow.

In the next bed was a young soldier who'd also suffered a paralysing injury (prophetic, considering a part Bloom would soon play himself). Orlando had plenty of time to consider the future he had lost before a deft operation involving pins and plates allowed him to rise up and go home after a mere 12 days. His broken back was just another addition to a list of injuries that would eventually include cracks to his ribs, nose, arm, wrist, finger, toe, both legs and, on three separate occasions, his skull. And they say Steven Seagal is hard to kill.

While he was coming to the end of his three years at the Guildhall, an event took place that excited the students no end. Peter Jackson was coming to town, casting for his highly anticipated Lord Of The Rings trilogy. Everyone and his uncle was up for audition. Orlando did a video audition for the part of Faramir and was pleased when Jackson himself showed up to tape him in the role once more. Then the call came from Jackson. Australian actor David Wenham was to play Faramir. But would Orlando consider playing the juicier role of Legolas? Does the Pope poop in the Vatican? Of course, he would.

Two days after winning the role of Legolas, Orlando graduated from Guildhall as a BA in Drama. At the same time he scored a part in the rural crime series Midsomer Murders where he suffered a pitchfork in the stomach. It was not a fitting end for Legolas Greenleaf, the 2931-year-old Elf Prince of Mirkwood (interestingly, "legolas" translates as "green leaf", meaning Bloom's character is actually called Greenleaf Greenleaf).

Suddenly, in 1998 when he was 21 and all was set fair, it nearly all ended. While at a friend's apartment for Sunday lunch, the roof terrace door was found to be warped and stuck, and the ever-resourceful, all-action Orlando attempted to climb out of a window and clamber onto the terrace to kick the door in.

Unfortunately, when he set his weight on some guttering it came away, with Bloom plummeting three stories and landing on his back between some iron railings and an old washing-machine left out to rust. Taken to hospital, he was found to have one crushed vertebra and three fractured. It was thought that he would never walk again, let alone slide down stone castle steps while shooting Orcs with his trusty longbow.

In the next bed was a young soldier who'd also suffered a paralysing injury (prophetic, considering a part Bloom would soon play himself). Orlando had plenty of time to consider the future he had lost before a deft operation involving pins and plates allowed him to rise up and go home after a mere 12 days. His broken back was just another addition to a list of injuries that would eventually include cracks to his ribs, nose, arm, wrist, finger, toe, both legs and, on three separate occasions, his skull. And they say Steven Seagal is hard to kill.

While he was coming to the end of his three years at the Guildhall, an event took place that excited the students no end. Peter Jackson was coming to town, casting for his highly anticipated Lord Of The Rings trilogy. Everyone and his uncle was up for audition. Orlando did a video audition for the part of Faramir and was pleased when Jackson himself showed up to tape him in the role once more. Then the call came from Jackson. Australian actor David Wenham was to play Faramir. But would Orlando consider playing the juicier role of Legolas? Does the Pope poop in the Vatican? Of course, he would.

On and off, Orlando would spend the next 18 months in New Zealand, learning knife work, canoeing, archery and all the other skills necessary to play the character who is the eyes and ears of the Fellowship of the Ring. There was also the small matter of one of the most gruelling movie shoots in history. Yet Bloom enjoyed it heartily, ever aware of his good fortune at working alongside the likes of Ian McKellen, Ian Holm and Viggo Mortensen. Much spare time was spent with the Hobbit guys, indulging in surfing and extreme sports (Bloom was ever an adrenaline junkie - all the more so since he nearly lost the ability to walk). There was only one bad situation of note. Orlando was at the time engaged to Jemma Kidd, sister of supermodel Jodie, and though she spent 7 months in New Zealand with him, their relationship was not to be. Later rumours would connect him to actresses Kate Bosworth and Joanne Morley.

Come Christmas and New Year of 2001, Orlando took off for a holiday in India with some friends. Consequently he was not aware of the explosive success of the first part of the Lord Of The Rings. On his return he was shocked to discover its enormous popularity, and all the more so by the realisation that, of all the cast, it was he who had risen to heart-throb status. On the Internet, he had entered the Top 20 of the most searched for people in the world. And this with his very first proper role.

Amazingly, there was yet more success to come. Perhaps it was the fact that he'd broken his back that swung it, but he scored a part in Ridley Scott's Black Hawk Down, the true life tale of US special forces coming under horribly heavy fire in Somalia. Bloom played trigger happy Private First Class Todd Blackburn, the first man out of the helicopter in the original assault, who falls 70 feet, cracks his spine and, as the company's motto is "Never leave a man behind", causes all manner of chaos.

Black Hawk Down was hailed as the best war film in years and was the movie that finally knocked The Lord Of The Rings from the top of the box office charts, Orlando thereby replacing himself at Number One. 2002 would, of course, bring more glory with the release of the second Rings epic, The Two Towers, Legolas joining the human heroes in the extraordinary battle for Helm's Deep. He'd also appear alongside Kate Beckinsale in a Gap ad directed by Cameron Crowe. Bloom, that is, not Legolas.

2003 would be the biggest year yet, quite outstanding in terms of exposure and success. Bloom would begin with Pirates Of The Caribbean: The Curse Of The Black Pearl where, with the help of Johnny Depp's Keith Richards-inspired Jack Sparrow, he would attempt to prevent Geoffrey Rush's undead buccaneer Barbossa from sacrificing his young lover, Keira Knightley. Many believed the film would go the way of Renny Harlin's Cutthroat Island. Few expected its sudden surge through the $200 million barrier. Orlando had struck gold again.

Naturally, it had to get smaller for a while. Next came an Australian production, Ned Kelly, where Bloom played Joe Byrne, the smartest member of Kelly's gang, who briefly romps with Rachel Griffith but spends most of his time persuading the fiery Kelly to keep cool. Geoffrey Rush would appear once more as the fearsome Superintendent Hare, charged with bringing the gang to justice. After this came Orlando's first headlining role, in Brit flick The Calcium Kid. This, a mockumentary action comedy, saw him as a young milkman and amateur boxer who somehow finds himself fighting for the world title.

The end of 2003 would bring The Return Of The King, the final part of The Rings trilogy. Many who'd found fame with the movies would now see their time at the top ending. Orlando, though, just kept going.

2004 would see him starring alongside Brad Pitt and Eric Bana (his co-star in Black Hawk Down) in Wolfgang Petersen's epic, Troy. Those Byronic looks would stand him in good stead once more as he played Paris, the poet and lover who stole Helen from King Menelaus and thus caused the 10-year siege. His fight sequence with Pitt's Achilles, where he flees in the face of certain death, thereby shaming and demoralising his countrymen, was one of the film's more inflammatory scenes. After this, he'd join Geoffrey Rush yet again in Eric Idle's Merchant-Ivory spoof The Remains Of The Piano. Then would come Haven, a thriller set on the Cayman Islands. Here Bill Paxton would play a dodgy businessman who flees to the islands with his ill-gotten loot as the movie flashes back and forth over a four month period to tell a tale of criminal gangs, robbery and revenge. Orlando would play a man in love with a local gangster's daughter who's seeking vengeance after the girl's bad-ass brother throws acid in his face.

2005 would prove a busy year. It would begin with Bloom splitting from Kate Bosworth who he'd been seeing for two years (for the first year in relative secrecy). Onscreen, he'd star in another epic, this time Ridley Scott's Kingdom Of Heaven where he'd play a humble blacksmith and heir to an estate in the Holy Land, who rises to knighthood and leads his people against Saladin's mighty army in the siege of Jerusalem in 1187. He'd also engage in an onscreen affair with Eva Green, playing the young wife of Baldwin, the city's leper king. Following this would come Cameron Crowe's Elizabethtown where he played an industrial designer on the verge of suicide after a product launch loses millions. On the way home to his southern patriarch father's funeral, he meets airline stewardess Kirsten Dunst and she, along with the wacky characters he meets back home, leads him back to love-filled sanity. It was a role Bloom nearly missed due to scheduling problems but, once replacement Ashton Kutcher had tested badly with Dunst and the project was delayed, he was able to come back onboard. In the pipeline would be the second and third installments of Pirates Of The Caribbean, due to be filmed simultaneously and guaranteed to keep his fame at at a high ebb for years to come.

Of all the film stars you hear claiming to be grateful for their success, Orlando Bloom is perhaps the most believable. After all, he could have been sat in a wheelchair watching someone else play his parts in Black Hawk Down, Pirates Of The Caribbean, Troy, Kingdom Of Heaven and The Lord Of The Rings. Really, you can only feel happy for the guy.

After discovering that his dad was not his dad, then nearly being paralysed in a terrible fall, Orlando Bloom has faced his share of troubles. Then again, having appeared in Black Hawk Down, Pirates Of The Caribbean, Troy and The Lord Of The Rings, he's had his good times, too. His success has been little short of miraculous - as the short but hit-packed list below reveals.

Pirates Of The Caribbean 3 (2007)
Pirates Of The Caribbean 2 (2006)
Elizabethtown (2005)
Kingdom Of Heaven (2005)
Haven (2004)
Troy (2004)
The Calcium Kid (2004)
The Lord Of The Rings: The Return Of The King (2003)
Ned Kelly (2003)
Pirates Of The Caribbean: The Curse Of The Black Pearl (2003)
Lord Of The Rings: The Two Towers (2002)
Black Hawk Down (2001)
Lord Of The Rings: The Fellowship Of The Ring (2001)
Midsomer Murders (TV series, one episode) (2000)
Wilde (1997)
Casualty (TV series, one episode, as himself) (1996)