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His Blooming Career, The New Jersey Record, July 6, 2003
by Amy Longsdorf

Lest there be any doubt that Britain's Orlando Bloom is primed and ready to begin his conquest of America, just check out his list of upcoming movies. On Wednesday, "Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl" docks in theaters.

In December comes "The Return of the King," the final chapter in the "Lord of the Rings" trilogy. And next year, Bloom plays featured roles in "Ned Kelly" with Heath Ledger and "Troy" with Brad Pitt.

No wonder Entertainment Weekly is calling Bloom one of the "It" Boys of Summer.

"That is a huge honor," the actor says, with his tongue planted firmly in his cheek. "Massive. What is 'It,' though?'"

Whatever 'It' is, Bloom's got it. Right out of drama school, he landed the role of the elf Legolas in "The Lord of the Rings." Afterwards, he was cast in Ridley Scott's "Black Hawk Down" and "Pirates of the Caribbean" alongside Johnny Depp and Geoffrey Rush.

Ready or not, Bloom is about to blossom.

"Orlando is a movie star waiting to happen," says "Ned Kelly" director Gregor Jordan. "He's going to be huge because he's a good actor and he has incredible presence. There's a reason why girls go crazy for him. He's in the long tradition of guys like James Dean and Russell Crowe. There's just something about him that makes people want to sit in the dark and watch him on the movie screen."

Even offscreen, Bloom is a head-turner. But being the center of attention is not his style. You get the feeling, meeting Bloom in New York, that he would prefer to go unnoticed. Soft-spoken and polite, he does his best to hide in plain sight.

For nearly half of an interview, he tries to steer the discussion back to Depp. "He just kind of took a character that reads, on the page, like an average, swashbuckling pirate and creates a magical, hilarious, drunken, sea-legged Keith Richards type," says an admiring Bloom, 26.

"He just amazes me. He was so courageous with that role. It's a Disney movie, and he just put himself out there, do you know what I mean? It could've gone just all wrong, but he bit the bullet and took it all the way home."

The more Bloom raves about Depp, it becomes clear that the young actor's admiration of the former "21 Jump Street" pinup goes deeper than a co-star's respect.

Depp is Bloom's role model. Like Bloom, Depp started out as a teen heartthrob. But once "21 Jump Street" went off the air, he refused to be pigeonholed as a matinee idol and managed to metamorphose into a quirky off-Hollywood icon.

Bloom is hoping to follow in Depp's footsteps. "You know, the heartthrob thing - I hope that it won't stop me from making more interesting choices, because that's what I intend to try and do," he proclaims. "I kind of feel like there's a certain rite of passage that you have to go through like Johnny did with '21 Jump Street.'

"This heartthrob thing was created around him, but now he's able to do whatever he likes, and people love to work with him. I'm hoping that I'll get the same opportunity."

For the time being, Bloom is trying to ride out "the heartthrob thing" with grace and style.

"I talk to my friends and family all the time," he says when asked how he stays grounded. "I try and hold it together. I don't know, man, I'm figuring it all out. It's really hard.

"Sometimes, I still can't quite believe it. It's a weird time for me right now, but I feel really lucky for the opportunity to work, and that's all I really ever wanted to do, just to work."

Bloom calls his decision to participate in "Pirates of the Caribbean" a "no-brainer" even though the movie was based on a Disney theme park ride and was produced by Jerry Bruckheimer, the man responsible for such stinkers as "Armageddon," "Con Air," and "Kangaroo Jack."

Budgeted at $125 million, the Gore Verbinski-directed swashbuckler pits the flashy Jack Sparrow (Depp) and a hardworking blacksmith (Bloom) against a bloodthirsty pirate (Rush) who's kidnapped a comely lass ("Bend it Like Beckham's" Keira Knightley) with an ability to break a supernatural spell.

"I grew up playing pirates in the garden," recalls Bloom. "I'd watch pirate movies every Sunday afternoon on TV, and really enjoy them. I loved the boat-to-boat battles and all the swinging on ropes."

The actor's journey to the big screen began when he left his hometown of Canterbury, England, to attend London's National Youth Theater.

"I realized those larger-than-life actors that I saw on TV, in the movies, in the theater, even street performers, could be multiple characters, and I thought that was just great," says Bloom, whose father, South African writer and anti-apartheid activist Harry Bloom ("Transvaal Episode"), died when Orlando was 4 years old.

"You can be an action hero, you can be a Jimmy Dean, you can be those characters. Already, I've been, like, a pirate, a Ranger, a boxer, and an elf."

After graduation, Bloom joined the well-respected Guildhall School of Music and Drama, where he trained for three years. He had just turned 20 when a careless accident - he was trying to kick open a friend's window while hanging from a drainpipe - nearly paralyzed him.

"I remember I couldn't move," he says. "I didn't know it at the time, but they really didn't think I would walk again."

Bloom bruised his spinal cord and crushed one of his vertebrae. Amazingly, he was able to hobble out of the hospital 12 days after the accident.

"I couldn't remember how to walk," he says. "I literally couldn't remember whether to do toe, ball, heel or heel, ball, toe. It was bizarre."

Bloom remains physically active - he's an avid horseback rider - but he doesn't take any more foolish risks.

"I thought about buying a motorbike recently, and I decided against it. I don't need to break any more bones. It's, like, everything is going great. Why throw something like that in the mix and jeopardize it all?"

Everything has been going great for Bloom ever since he won the role of Legolas in the "The Lord of the Rings" trilogy. About the only downside to the experience was having to eventually say goodbye to director Peter Jackson and members of the cast and crew. Once reshoots for the concluding "Return of the King" were completed, Bloom says there was a celebration to end all celebrations.

"The stunt guys did a hucker, which is a Maori kind of pole dance," recalls the actor wistfully. "Peter said some amazing things. It was really sad and hugely emotional.

"This is going to be the best movie of the three. It's the rounding up, the conclusion. And this is a fantastic story, and it comes to a fantastic conclusion. The work that Peter already put in - he's not letting it slip now."