Fantastic Voyage The Face (UK), August 2003
Words Jonathan Heaf
Photography David Slijper
typed by Sophie, scans from Sarah of Heart and Soul
Orlando Bloom used to be just another Nineties London clubber, hanging out at
Billion Dollar Babes and working in Boxfresh. Now he's slipping in and out of
blockbuster film roles, flying private jets with Johnny Depp and loving every minute
of it. How did it happen?
Cruising at 400mph, 38,000 feet above the Atlantic and that's Orlando Bloom over
there, totally pissed, gurgling and mumbling something to Johnny Depp about
getting butt-slapped by the blade of a rapier. With every bottle of red wine
sunk, and then added to the already cluttered cabin floor, the pair's
Colgate-white teeth become gradually blacker. LA is just a dot in the distance.
Boy, this is the only way to fly isn't it? Marlborough Light for you Johnny?
Coffee laced with Baileys for afters, Orlando? Thanks very much, they'll take the
Welcome to the High for Mile club. In a stunt reserved for Hollywood's most
precious cargo, Johnny Depp has chartered a luxury jet to whoosh himself on the
film set of this summer's swashbuckling blockbuster, Gore Verbinski's Pirates of
the Caribbean. The five star air-yacht-cum-six-seater booze cruiser has made the
hop from Los Angeles LAX Airport to ET Joshua Airport, St. Vincent, Caribbean, in
just under five hours. Plenty of time for Orlando, Johnny, Johnny's assistant
Sam, Pirates producer Jerry Bruckheimer (plus wife) to get totally gaga on the
unofficial in-flight entertainment. Plenty of time also for the welcome party -
led by St. Vincent's Prime Minister, Dr.Ralph Gonsalves - to shake'n'vac the red
carpet and stand to attention, brass-polished.
The jet bumps down and fizzes to a halt, right opposite the PM's broad grin. He waits. Clunk. Hissssss! The plane's white cabin door slides open and the air-conditioning fugs out on to the dusty Tarmac. Smiles broaden in
anticipation. Then drop. Johnny comes out singing in Anglo-LA patois, dancing
and hurling his luggage all over the airport: "Ya mon, tis so good to be 'ere in
tha Caribic wid you, mon!" Orlando follows up the rear: crawling, bent double
with laughter, tears streaming down his face, chocolate liquer lipsticking his
"Sounds like movie star Hollywood wank, doesn't it!" grins Orlando, as he
finishes his tale of the Hollywood high-life. Six months on and Orlando has
sobered up and is sitting on a sun-warmed wooden bench in Soho Square, relaying
Hollwood jackanory, with London's finest bare flesh sizzling away in his
graduated brown reflective aviators. Cutler and Gross: expensive. Despite only
having been here for the total of around three months in the past four years, London for OB is home. In fact, after lunching with big sis Samantha he's here
this weekend in June to hitch on the first rung of the property ladder. "I saw
this great place in the estate agent's last time I was over. I really wanted to
but it, although it's stretching the pounds. It's south of the river, mid,
which will make getting a black cab home a fucking nightmare."
But Orlando shouldn't really be here at all. "I should be out there," he says
ruefully, "there" being Malta, where production for Wolfgang Pertersen's (In
the line of Fire; Air Force One; The Perfect Storm) much anticipated Troy is
halfway through filming with Brad Pitt. Ah... there's the explanation for
Orlando's deep Mediterranean tan, his healthy sheen and the golden furs lapping around his forearms. Part boy, part man, part androgynous sex-oozing god, it's
no wonder people are starting to point.
"I can understand why actors like Johnny become such recluses," he muses, while
avoiding the gaze of his admiring fan base now parked all over the grass. "I
was out with Brad Pitt in Malta...now that does sound wanky. We walked out of
this little tavern where we had some drinks and the flashbulbs exploded. He was
swamped. He started a small riot. I turned to Brad and said 'Aren't you a little
worried, mate?' Brad whispered in my ear...'Just keep walking. Smile. Shake
hands. And just keep walking.'"
It's the sort of advice Orlando could do with right now. Over the past four
years, his career has been strapped to a flaming arrow and shot into the
stellasphere. And it's still on the rise. OK, there were bit parts on British
TV (the boy next door in Midsomer Murders, a self-mutilator in Casualty, Tony
in The Office) and then a one-line part as a sneering rent boy in Stephen Fry's
Wilde. But the show that launched it all was director Peter Jackson plucking him
out of Guildhall School of Music and Drama two days before graduation and
casting him as the 2,931-year-old immortal elf Legolas Greenleaf, Prince of
Mirkwood. And this summer we'll see him in Pirates swinging from crow's nests,
walking planks and rescuing the governor's daughter from a cursed band of right
old 'me hearties.
Then it's his first lead as steel-jawed milkman Jimmy in The Calcium Kid, alongside love interest Billie Piper. To follow is the role of Colt 32 slinger
Joe Byrne in Ned Kelly, out this autumn. Then it's all back to Mordor in that
blonde wig before Christmas for Jackson's final installment of The Lord of the
Rings. All this and The Illiad- based sword and sandal epic with Pitt as
Achilles and Orlando as the Helen-stealing, war-starting Paris. Not bad for a severely dyslexic kid from Canterbury who got an E in his Theatre Studies A
When Orlando Bloom's mum, Sonia, wasn't riding across Mexico on a donkey for
kicks or helping Russia set up their first PGA Junior Golf Championships, she
was carting Orlando plus big sister Samantha off to The Kent Festival in their
home town of Canterbury. It was his mum, who in fact had a lot to do with how
Orlando's spheres would align. She took Orlando to the theatre regularly,
either to the Marlow in Canterbury or, at the weekends down to London, and
encouraged him to perform in school Nativity plays.
"I never knew who The Spice Girls were or anyone like that," he says. "I used
to get the Beano every week and I used to read a lot of Garfield, watch a lot
of trashy American TV." Still something rubbed off, as by the time he'd joined St. Edmund's school in his early teens he was jumping into roles such as the
sergeant in The Pirates of the Penzance, or as
the dirty old man in Twentie's musical pastiche The Boy Friend.
Until the age of 13, Orlando Bloom believed his dad was Harry Bloom, who died
when OB was four. Harry bloom was a wealthy Jewish Afrikaner lawyer who came
to notoriety in South Africa during apartheid, wrote a novel about the
situation there called Transvaal Episode, and sacrificed his chance of
becoming a judge to devote his time to campaigning against racial segregation.
After spells in jail with Mandela and threats of violence, Harry and his wife,
Orlando's mum, fled South Africa to a more tranquil life in Canterbury.
"When my father died, Colin (Stone) was made my legal guardian. He was always a
close family friend, but I always thought Harry was my biological father."
Then, one afternoon when they were on holiday, Orlando's mum sat him and his
sister down. "I found out that Colin was my real father. Not Harry. But Colin."
That must have been, well, a surprise? "It was, it was..." he hunches up; draws
his arms close. Sharp eyes dart over to the far right hand entrance to the
square. "Look, is that my best mate Chris? No he quit smoking..." He starts to
stare at his left knee, as if shy, or as if it might hold some deflective
answer he can source up from his own body. "It's an unusual story but then, you
show me a family and I'll show you an unusual story. Maybe we should go
shopping, I need a hat for the sun..."
We make our way out of Soho Square. It's the first Saturday of summer proper
and the streets are awash with plastic pint glasses and sun stroked shoppers.
Orlando dives into The Gay Hussar for a piss, the two cups of tea he had for
breakfast are doing some serious sloshing around underneath his T-shirt and
the charms strung round his neck. You can tell he's been hanging out with
Johnny. Long brown fingers with white webs loaded with rings, long tousled
hair, trinkets, navy cheese cloth trousers. The boy's been Deep-utised.
Orlando's no stranger to these streets, these bars and back routes. Aged 16,
he moved to London and joined the National Youth Theatre. "I moved to London
expecting to meet a whole bunch of new mates instantly. But London can be such
a lonely city at first. But soon I got a place just behind the BT Tower and
found my niche: clubbing and clothes! I used to go to all these clubs with
great names like Kooky, Hollywood Babylon and Billion Dollar Babes. It was an
amazing party scene with even more amazingly beautiful women. It was a mixed
gay crowd, transvestites, go-go girls...just a whole load of night creatures.
Everyone forgot about their job and became models or movie stars for the
night...yeah, ironic huh? Trust me, its much easier faking it," he grins.
Hat hunt still on, we amble past Kokon to Zai, a clothes boutique in Soho only
entered on pain of alpha level fashion scrutiny. Still OB is a much-practiced
clotheshorse. Just over six foot, a 26-year-old frame that, although swollen
from working out for roles, is still thin enough to slip into a skinny Heidi
Slimane special. He remembers salivating outside the Soho stores in search of
sneaker rarities just off the ship from Japan. "I could never afford them mind.
I used to go in every weekend and stare them out. I mean I used to work in Paul
Smith, and Boxfresh so I do like fashion. But it was my sister who used to drag
me to Oxfam and throw suede jackets and flared trousers on me."
At 21, Orlando faced the prospect of spending the rest of his life in a
wheelchair. A mate's roof terrace door was warped and it needed someone to climb
on the roof and kick it in from the outside in. Ever the eager, OB volunteered.
All was going well until he realised the drainpipe he thought he had grasp of,
sort of disappeared. "I fell three floors, landed in between some bins and broke
my back. Fucking awful. Imagine having four nurses to move you, wash you, do
everything for you. You lose all your dignity. My mum was so distraught." Twelve
days plus extensive surgery later, he walked out on crutches. "That accident
took me to a dark place." He winces at the memory.
We turn into Shaftesbury Avenue and head for Seven Dials in Covent Garden, where
he's meeting his sister for lunch. He's late. So why has the boy who broke his
back falling off a roof chosen to surf a shield down battlements as a hero-elf
and practice sword-swinging on a pirate ship? "I'm not an adrenaline junkie.
People have this idea that I cruise cities looking for the next building to
throw myself off. It's bollocks. I got it all out of my system in New Zealand.
Johnny Depp's taught me to respect the stunt man. He said, 'Let them get
injured. They're good at it.' And as for the wholesome action hero image I seem
to have earned through The Rings...I'm working on that too."
"I've had enough of being the cool-clean shaven elf; the cool wholesome pirate
slayer. Do I want to be a pin-up? Do I just want to be a poster boy? No I
fucking don't! People turn to me and ask, 'So you only do costume dramas now, do
you?' I'm like 'fuck off'." Truth is, Orlando is in a place in the arc of his
career where he's able to set the records straight, re-align the stars. Despite
the big budget Troy, he sees his role as Paris as a real turnaround: from hero
to anti-hero. Paris steals someone else's woman, starts a 10-year war: all good
baddie stuff. Orlando is relishing being able to depict human weakness, naivety,
cowardice. "There's this one scene we're shooting next week in Malta for
Troy...I'm really anxious about it. I have to confront Menelaus (Helen of Troy's
father played my Brendan Gleeson, last seen in Gangs of New York), scared and
beaten. I'm standing in front of the woman I love, my father, my brothers, my
entire country and I have to run away like a girl. I
mean, how am I going to get away with any dignity?"
We reach the flags fluttering outside the plush hotel where he's based, a
stone's throw from Covent Garden. His sister is there looking down at her
watch. Dover sole on order. "I've kept her waiting. How am I going to pull this
one off?" His sister, the citizens of Troy, London, Hollywood...they're all
watching, time-keeping, pointing. How is he going to pull this one off? Well,
he's a quick learner. Keep walking, OB. Smile. And just keep walking.