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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 bottle...

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 boyish pout.

"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 Level.

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.