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Zen and the Danger Man, Sunday Herald Sun Magazine (Australia), December 15, 2002
Typed by Kirby

Two years ago Orlando Bloom was an unknown actor withan odd name and a bent for risky behaviour. But, writes Adam Zwar, that wasbefore he entered Middle-earth and found the Dalai Lama.

Orlando Bloom is not in a talkative mood. Last night he partied with the cast and crew of The Kelly Gang. It’s lunchtime and he can feel a cold coming on. “I’m getting sick,” he says, catching the attention of a passing waitress: “Can I get some water, please?”

Pain is a subject Bloom knows more about than most. He has fractured his skull three times, broken both legs, a wrist, a rib, nose, arm, finger, toe and back in separate incidents. He recounts them with a furrowed brow: “Motorbike crash, skiing, snowboarding, horse-riding. Fell off a roof. I remember that one. For three days it looked like I would never walk again. Then they operated on me, and I got up and walked out. When you’re young you don’t appreciate what you’ve got. Health’s the last thing on the list.”

These days Bloom, who admits to “getting into acting ‘cos of the women”, is a Dalai Lama fan who subsists on a diet of pasta, oatmeal, rice and baked potatoes. Now 25, he has given up smoking, taken up fingernail chewing and, since his turn as the elfin warrior Legolas Greenleaf in The Fellowship of the Ring, us a young pin-up. Since the first instalment of The Lord of the Rings trilogy was released last year, there have been many magazine covers, plum acting jobs and a series of hyperbolic awards such as Best Debut and Sexiest Actor. He has stepped out with the luminescent Jemma Kidd and Christina Ricci and has been taken under the wing of reknowned “shooters” Ridley Scott (Gladiator), Cameron Crowe (Jerry Maguire) and Australian Gregor Jordan (Two Hands).

To say his life has turned since graduating from drama school three years ago is to undersell its seismic shift. Bloom used to love “flying, travel and excitement”. Now, when the cameras are off, he seeks peace. “When I’m not working, I prefer to sit and do nothing,” he says. “Go to a beach. Go for a walk. The simple things have suddenly become more enjoyable.”

It was around the time The Fellowship of the Ring was released last Christmas that a British journalist made the connection that Orlando (whose name was taken from the Virginia Woolf novel) was the son of novelist and South African anti-apartheid figure Harry Bloom. A colleague and friend of Nelson Mandela, he wrote the landmark novels Episode in the Transvaal and King Kong: the latter, about a black boxer, became the first all-African opera. Bloom Snr also delivered books and encouragement to all anti-apartheid prisoners before becoming a political prisoner himself.

The family moved to England before Orlando was born, and the boy was just four when his father died in 1981. “Harry was a great man,” the actor said when the link was made, having kept mum about his family history. “It was as though he’d done his job and he left the world.”

Raised in the English town of Canterbury, the young Bloom decided to become an actor after seeing the movie Superman: “I wanted to be just like Christopher Reeve.”

He started turning in show-stopping performances at Canterbury’s annual Bible-reading competition – the closest he would get to acting until performing in the school play as a teenager. “That’s where I got a real taste for performing,” he says of the readings. “I’d love to stand up and perform and I’d do quite well.”

After completing high school, Bloom moved to London and won the single line role of Rent Boy in Wilde. Despite limited screen time, he was soon flooded with offers to work in film and TV. He accepted none of them. Instead, he chose to train at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama. (His older sister Samantha is now studying there.) Hollywood would have to wait for Bloom – and wait it did.

“I wasn’t influenced (by the offers),” he says. “I always planned to go to drama school. I suppose I could have trained in the industry more. But, instead, I chose an environment that would be more conductive to experimenting.”

Bloom was 48 hours away from concluding his three-year course when director Peter Jackson cast him as Legolas in The Lord of the Rings. “When I found out I had the role it was a surreal moment. Amazing. We weren’t really meant to be auditioning while we were at Guildhall, but I had this great agent who kept pushing me for stuff. She kept the pot boiling, the interest going.”

Bloom says it is difficult for him to view the three Lord of the Rings movies individually because they were filmed out of sequence. “A day on set could be spent shooting everything and anything,” he says. “You never get a sense of each movie because we didn’t shoot them chronologically. It was a big haze. A big blur. The books (by J.R.R. Tolkien) became Bibles to me. They helped me place myself visually when we were jumping between films.”

Despite The Fellowship of the Ring’s popularity and the anticipation surrounding its follow-up, Bloom says the trilogy’s real impact will only be felt after the final instalment is released next Christmas. “I don’t think anyone will get what we are trying to achieve until the third movie comes out,” he says. “On a personal level, the great thing about having done (the trilogy) is that it doesn’t matter what happens between this year and the next. I could do a real howler of a film and it wouldn’t matter. I’ve still got a great film out at the end of the year.”

Over the last three years, Bloom’s life has revolved around learning daredevil skills – not all of them for work. He has pushed his medical history aside and thrown himself into horse riding, archery, sword fighting, gun handling, snowboarding, sky diving, bungee jumping and paragliding. His appetite for adventure is insatiable and New Zealand, where The Lord of the Rings was filmed was the perfect playground.

Black Hawk Down, his other high-profile film, provided little respite for his worried mother. Not only did Bloom have to fall out of a helicopter, he had to attend a notorious Georgian boot camp as well. “Big eye-opener.” he says of the camp. “Those army guys were machines. They deserve all the respect they get. I’m really not an aggressive guy. But I love the outdoors and I love the adventure and all that. It was an interesting experience. But I was ready to finish when we left.”

Bloom could have been forgiven for choosing an urban romantic comedy as his next film, but Sydney director Gregor Jordan lured him to play bushranger Joe Byrne in The Kelly Gang. “He made it sound really great,” says Bloom. “He said the Kelly Gang was basically a bunch of cowboy bushrangers who rode around shooting guns and getting into trouble.”

He read as much as he could about Ned Kelly’s lieutenant, and the more he read, the greater sympathy he had for the “mad” Kelly Gang. “These crazy bastards put themselves in the firing line,” he says. “I have to admire their balls. There you go, I’ve said it. I admire their balls.”

With food in his stomach, it’s a different Bloom that rises to leave the interview. He’s chatty and comfortable. He says he’s coming back to Australia soon: “I love this part of the world. I love the pace of life and lifestyle. And I’ve made a lot of friends.”

But now, there’s a plane to catch and another movie to make. This one’s called The Calcium Kid and the actor plays an amateur boxer with a steel jaw who challenges for the world title. “I know,” he says – aware of the irony. “If only it were true in real life.”