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A British Star In Full Bloom, TIME Europe, August 11, 2003
by Jeff Chu
scan by The OB Files

He's everyone's favorite elf and the hottest young actor in Hollywood. Now here comes the Orlando onslaught: five more films. This pin-up pirate has found the treasure

Orlando Bloom is multitasking. He chomps his way through a green apple, then flosses his teeth and flirts with a makeup artist all while philosophizing about his "craft," noting the absence of reality in an actor's life and lamenting the homesickness that can hit, even here in sunny Malta, where he's filming Troy Wolfgang Petersen's adaptation of the Iliad. Mid-floss, Bloom pauses, cocks his head, smiles and says: "But I'm 26. I'm in the prime of my life. What do I have to complain about?"

Not much. No star is rising faster than his. Of course the boy from Canterbury, England, has worked hard to propel it. He's had a packed shooting schedule during the past two years, as his role as the elf Legolas in The Lord of the Rings has turned him into a teen heartthrob and a sure-fire box-office draw. And in the next nine months, audiences will get to see the latest results of his relentless workload. First up is the well-reviewed Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl, which opens across Europe this month. Then comes the Aussie outlaw-gang flick Ned Kelly at the end of September, followed by The Calcium Kid, a spoofy comedy with Bloom in his first starring role, and one last elfin turn in The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King. Finally, next May, comes Troy. You don't need to be a lovestruck teenage girl to notice that Bloom is one of the hottest talents in the business.

In Pirates he plays Will Turner, who, with his olive skin and wispy goatee, must be the best-looking swordsmith in the West Indies. Fueled by love, Turner sets out with Captain Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) to rescue damsel-in-corseted-distress Elizabeth Swann (Keira Knightley) from dastardly pirate Captain Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush). When you watch Bloom parrying onscreen, you see shades of pirate-movie icon Errol Flynn a natural. But Bloom was actually the last lead to be cast. "We really needed somebody who could hold his own as the love interest-Errol Flynn character, so the audience wouldn't think Keira was going to end up with Johnny Depp," says director Gore Verbinski. Rush, who had also worked on Ned Kelly, suggested Bloom, and Verbinski set up a dinner with him and Knightley. During the meal, Verbinski recalls, "I just kept looking at them across the table and thought, 'This could work.'"

It does on several levels. Bloom and Knightley make a sweet and so gorgeous couple. And Pirates gave Bloom the chance to work with his hero, playing the earnest straight man to Depp's camp, wisecracking swashbuckler: "I can guarantee any actor my age would say Johnny Depp is the guy." Bloom also recognized this as more than just his biggest part so far in a major movie. "I talked to my manager," he says, "about the fact that Pirates would open a bigger door to the American market than other films I'd worked on."

He was right. Pirates' take at the U.S. box office is nearing $200 million. But how big a door does he think he needs? He's already got Hollywood at his service. Troy director Petersen explains Bloom with a single word: "Beautiful." Verbinski thinks the actor's appeal is that he's "beautiful and accessible. As cool as Orlando can be, there is also something there you can relate to," he says. "He has the ability to create characters we love to watch, yet he doesn't isolate us."

And how they love to watch. "Everywhere on the Net, it was, 'Yeah, we love Frodo, but who's that elf?'" says Jasparina Mahyat, 36, a Singaporean wife and mother who spends seven hours a day maintaining Orlando Bloom Multimedia (orlandomultimedia.net). Younger fans paper their bedroom walls with posters. They kiss their Orli pillowcases ($9.99 on eBay) goodnight. And they flock to online message boards like "Orlando Bloom Is 100% Buff" to read and post news. (And gossip is he, like, really going out with Kate Bosworth, that blond girl from Blue Crush? He won't say.) According to the search engine Lycos, Bloom has owned the title of most popular male actor online since January 2002, getting more searches than any other even his Troy costar Brad Pitt. (Bloom still trails Angelina Jolie and Jennifer Lopez in the overall stakes.)

All this attention "makes me nervous," Bloom says, which may explain why he often seems guarded, even overrehearsed, in interview, as if he took a class while studying at London's storied Guildhall called "The Answers a Young Actor Gives Upon Achieving a Measure of Fame." He's tried hard to balance his need for privacy with a desire to please fans at Pirates' European premiere, last month in London, he kept the audience inside the cinema waiting for half an hour while he signed autographs and kissed swooning girls. "Celebrity and stardom are never things I wanted," he says. "To acknowledge that's what's happening is odd. To admit it to yourself, that seems wrong."

But he's hardly unprepared; he had the acting bug since childhood. At Guildhall alma mater of Ewan McGregor and Joseph Fiennes Bloom's focus was stage. He appeared in a raft of productions, including classics like Antigone, Twelfth Night and Uncle Vanya, and says, "I had every intention of going onto the stage."

Lord of the Rings took him onto a much bigger stage than he'd imagined, and Bloom still says that the 15-month shoot in New Zealand was the greatest thrill of his life. But The Calcium Kid "was creatively the most rewarding experience I've had loads of dialogue, exercising muscles that had been lying dormant." It is his first chance to carry a film. He plays a milkman and amateur boxer who finds himself up against the world champion. Bloom is glad that fans like Pirates, but says, "I can only hope the people who write me thousands of letters will go see this. I feel proud of what it meant for me." Each film teaches unique lessons, "and I'm learning a lot about my craft," he says. "To come out of school and to work with the kinds of actors I've worked with has given me a fantastic introduction." His latest challenge is to play Troy's Paris, who steals another man's wife the legendary beauty Helen (Diane Kruger) and sparks a war. It's a nice change to play the bad boy, says Bloom. "Will in Pirates and Legolas, they're obvious hero types. Paris is an antihero, and this is the story of stories."

Look at his projects ancient Troy, the colonial days of Pirates, time immemorial in Rings and one question does come up: Need a reality check? "My realities do blur a little," he says. "This isn't real life. I managed to get home for my best friend's wedding, and I had this real sense of achievement." Earlier this summer, he made a move toward normality by buying his first home, a place in London, partly because "my mum was losing her mind" with all his stuff cluttering up her house. He's barely spent any time at "home" so far, but plans a break after Troy wraps next month.

At the end of The Lord of the Rings' marathon shoot, Bloom was given a ring with the inscription to wherever it may lead. Fans may look at what he's done and what he has planned a possible Pirates sequel, the lead role in the biopic of Dan Eldon, a photojournalist who was killed on assignment in Somalia and marvel at how rapidly his star has risen. Bloom does, too, sometimes. "I don't want to be jaded," he says. But he also knows this acting stuff "is not life or death. You can't take yourself too seriously. The truth is, we're making films. It's playing. It's dressing up." Then, break over, he slips into the finest in Bronze Age breastplate craftsmanship, and steps back onto the road toward Troy and wherever else his blessed path may take him.

With reporting by Desa Philadelphia/Los Angeles