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Orlando Watches Fame Bloom on the High Seas, USA Today, June 7, 2003
by Susan Wloszczyna

Ruminate, if you will, on the ever-flowering phenomenon known as Orlando Bloom.

The name of this model-handsome British actor, 26, doesn't just suggest a matinee idol in the making. The hothouse handle sounds as if it should come with its own perfume strip: Scratch to release aromatic hints of romance, adventure and, perhaps, superstardom.

That redolent promise of eau de Orlando might come closer to reality when the rollicking vessel known as Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl cruises into theaters Wednesday and provides the rising Romeo with a proper plank to show off his acting skills.

"I think it's going to make a lot of people happy and will put an end to pirate movies that don't work," says Bloom, phoning from Los Angeles during a break from yet another costume spectacle, next year's Troy, shooting in Malta.

It may also silence any speculation that Bloom who broke through two years ago as the golden-tressed elf Legolas in The Fellowship of the Ring, the first of the massively popular Lord of the Rings trilogy is merely a pretty puss framed by a pair of pointy ears.

Pirates, however, takes full advantage of Bloom's bounty of masculine beauty. The actor reclaims his original hair color (think rivulets of rich chocolate) and displays sexy fringes of facial fuzz while unbuckling his swash in the yo-ho-ho Disney romp alongside Johnny Depp and Geoffrey Rush.

It's Bloom's innocent blacksmith, not Depp's sly buccaneer, who gets the girl, Keira Knightley (Bend It Like Beckham). "He has an amazing future ahead of him," she says of her co-star. "He's a very good-looking boy and a lovely person."

Of their onscreen kiss, the 18-year-old boasts, "I'll be the envy of every teen girl." She maintains they kept the smooch "very professional, but we always had a giggle. He was kind enough to make sure he had mints and mouthwash beforehand. I have nothing but good things to say about the kiss."

Pirates producer Jerry Bruckheimer has nothing but good things to say about Bloom. The mogul hired the actor for his 2001 war drama Black Hawk Down even before Rings was tossed into theaters.

"When the camera is on Orlando," he says, "he is so natural. He's got that look, as if he could have come from another time."

Bruckheimer knows Bloom has the power to tempt females to an action flick such as Pirates. When he talks to the teen daughters of friends, "I get the feeling they're dying to see him in this." In test screenings, young girls rated the movie highest 92% described it as very good or excellent.

Bloom already has felt the flame of instant fame, at least as measured in Web shrines. A quick Google click can summon thousands.

Yes, he's an elf in Rings. But what an elf. His ace archer Legolas may be the swift, silent and slightly androgynous type (typical dialogue: "There is a fell voice on the air"). But the sylvan charmer stood out and struck many a female heart in the audience with his arrows.

"The kids dig him," says Aaron Schatz, who tallies entries on the Lycos search engine. "It's amazing how popular he is, considering he's such a newcomer."

It's the mystery factor. As in, what's it all about, Elf-y? Before the Tolkien fantasies (the last, The Return of the King, arrives Dec. 17), Bloom had one small film role, as a "rent boy" in 1997's Wilde.

After Fellowship opened, though, those who were intrigued by his otherworldly charisma rushed to launch Web destinations. No wonder Bloom was the most searched-for actor on Lycos in 2002 and the sixth-ranked male overall. "He was behind four rappers and Osama bin Laden," Schatz says.

For many it was hero worship at first sight and site.

"He had very little screen time in The Fellowship of the Ring, but he has that presence and star was written all over him," says Jasparina Mahyat, 36, of Singapore, who oversees orlandomultimedia.net, which averages 320,000 hits a day. "I knew a lot of people were going to want to know more about him."

A little knowledge proved to be a magnetic thing. "Part of the attraction was that he was new," says Bianca Cassar, 21, of Melbourne, Australia, who helps run full-bloom.net. Her site attracts the core Bloom brigade, girls ages 13 to 21. "Many felt like they had discovered the world's 'next big thing' and were eager to keep abreast of news regarding Orlando. It took some time before magazines started writing about him."

They caught up eventually, although articles tend to focus on two facts. His father, Harry Bloom, was a South African writer and anti-apartheid activist who died when he was 4. "Harry always was a role model for me," he says. "My mother spoke of him so fondly."

The avid athlete also has an unfortunate habit of hurting himself, usually while participating in such sports as skiing and snowboarding. His list of broken bones includes nose, both legs, wrist, fingers, toes, ribs (he tumbled off his horse while filming Rings) and a cracked skull three times. The scariest was in 1998: He fell off a roof, broke his back and was told he would never walk again. Miraculously, he hobbled out of the hospital on crutches 12 days later.

It's a good thing elves are immortal.

In April, Bloom returned to New Zealand, where principal photography took place on all three Rings movies in late 1999, for pickup shots. Director Peter Jackson, who hadn't seen his discovery for two years, was curious whether the attention had changed him somehow. "He was the same guy, fun-loving, enthusiastic and supportive," he notes with pride. "He doesn't buy into the nonsense."

Billy Boyd, who plays hobbit Pippin and is a surf pal, concurs. "Orlando has become a big star quicker than anyone I've ever seen. But because he is so extraordinary looking, people have always noticed him and he's dealt with that. He is just doing it on a world level."

Bloom admits the hunk label "makes me nervous. It's flattering, but it doesn't mean anything to me. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. I'm much more interested in being an actor and growing."

Also growing is the Mount Doom-like pile of fan mail that he can't manage by himself anymore.

Wisely, he takes his cues toward career and celebrityhood from more established players such as Depp. "He's so courageous in how he develops a character and puts himself out there," he says. "He's not afraid to fall on his face."

Hanging with Troy co-star Brad Pitt adds perspective. "We went out in Malta," he recalls. "Saturday night in the heart of party land. That was an experience, to see someone get properly mobbed. The whole town came apart. He was so impeccable with his manner, the way he carried himself. He was very gracious with everyone."

Pitt, who burst on the scene with equal suddenness after 1991's Thelma & Louise, appears envious of Bloom's ongoing honeymoon with moviegoers. "Aw, he's a gem. He's got that pure enjoyment of it all, of the trip he's on. I always had to make things so important."

Bloom is tight-lipped about his personal life, though Kate Bosworth of BlueCrush visited him on the set in New Zealand. "She is a great girl but I don't like to talk about that stuff. It's not necessary. People want to know everything."

For Bloom, it's all about the work and there is more to come. In March, he's an Irish sidekick to Heath Ledger's Aussie outlaw in Ned Kelly. And he has his first lead in The Calcium Kid, a comedy about a boxing milkman. "I make a fool of myself. I relished the chance."

Troy, the sprawling epic based on Homer's Iliad, may be his first post-Rings effort to rival the impact of Legolas. His Paris is a lover, not a fighter, whose adulterous affair with Helen of Troy leads to war. Says Bloom, "He doesn't even try to be a typical alpha male. He's much more romantic. All the other men go out to fight. He stays at home and makes love."

Just call him lord of the ring-a-ding-ding.

Contributing: Ellen Hale in London