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Orlando Bloom, VMan (US), Spring/Summer 2007
scans by ambayuun at Orlando Love and kennethinthe212

British actor Orlando Bloom was the most googled man in the world in 2006. This year's he's trading his reputation as a pretty face for that of a risk-taking actor. Just in case you thought we'd get more than one sentence into this interview without saying it: Orlando Bloom is a gorgeous man.

Yikes! The aquiline nose! Those gentle eyes! If we were pretty, we would be pretty in the way that Orlando Bloom is pretty, and I would encourage people to describe our gorgeousness as they do Orlando's—with envy and thinly veiled contempt (preferably asking, "Is he more than just a pretty face?"). That out of the ay, is Orlando Bloom more than just a pretty face? The 30-year-old actor shot to stardom in the Lord of the Rings trilogy, galloping into fantasy lore on horseback as Legolas, the warrior elf, then slipping into short skirts opposite Brad Pitt and Eric Bana in Troy.

He has just finished shooting the last of the three blockbuster Pirates of the Caribbean films, the second of which was the top-grossing film in the world last year. But despite that success, Bloom's next move is unclear. In 2005, Kingdom of Heaven, a $150 million epic that provided Bloom's first lead role, tanked, as did Elizabethtown, Bloom's first opportunity to use an American accent and rare misfire for Cameron Crowe. The mixed box-office cred has contributed to the emergence of two schools of thought on Bloom: worshipful followers (Teen People, tabloids, LOTR fansites) and dismissive skeptics.

A 2005 profile in The Independent criticized his blankness in interviews and suggested he was just a ghost in the Hollywood machine. A 2006 New York Times article went even further, citing his box-office record as a prime example of Hollywood's inability to manufacture a bankable 20-something star. So it's kind of perfect that the idea of Orlando Bloom, the commodity, may have opened new doors for Orlando Bloom, the actor. In the latest season of Extras, the film-industry satire by Ricky Gervais (The Office), Bloom appeared as an over-the-top version of himself, a good-looking-and-he-knows-it actor who attracts women "like flies on ****," devours tabloid articles in which he's described as "Women's No. 1 Fantasy Snog," and is obsessed with denigrating Johnny Depp's looks. (In real life, the two are friends.) "Look at me," Bizarro Bloom crooned at a woman he wanted to score simply because she wasn't interested. "Feel the attractiveness."

As career moves go, it was one of the best in recent memory: Bloom displayed a sharp and previously untapped gift for comedy and a genuinely appealing sense of humor about himself. Bloom's backstory is also more surprising than most realize. Having grown up in an artistic family in Canterbury, England, he was raised to believe that his biological father was just a family friend (his mother broke the truth to him as a teen). At 16, Bloom moved to London to go to drama school. In 1998, he broke his back in a three-story fall and was told he might not walk again. A year later, he was plucked out of obscurity and into Lord of the Rings, and what he describes as "the roller coaster" started.

In conversation, we found that Bloom had more god humor and intelligence than we've been trained to expect. And in fact, we did not even find him to be all that pretty, but of course the interview was done over the phone. Michael Martin

MICHAEL MARTIN What have you been working on?

ORLANDO BLOOM We just finished up the third in the trilogy of Pirates films, which was fun and amazing. You can't knock being a pirate with that group of people. But I've been doing that for most of my adult life, and now I'm at the point where it's time for a different direction.

MM What's new in the third film? Did you have any scenes with Keith Richards?

OB Keith Richards does make an appearance. I wasn't actually in the scene with him; he appears at a pirate court, at a gathering of all the pirates. The third movie brings all the series together, and you're not sure who to trust. I was glad about that, because one of the things I wanted was for my character to have a bit more of a dark edge.

MM What was it like working with Johnny Depp on this one?

OB He's a great guy, man. There's nothing you can say about Johnny Depp that hasn't been said. He keeps breaking the mold and doing things differently.

MM Has he given you any advice?

OB The crux of it is, basically, don't take it too seriously. Take it seriously enough to do what you want. Do things for the right reasons. He always mixes it up: he's a string of successful movies, and then he does smaller films, like The Libertine. He's not caught up in one thing.

MM Pirates II had the biggest box-office gross last year. Has that afforded you freedom, or do you find it constricting?

OB Both. Freedom in that now I can do small movies if I want. I can bring them to the table. But success can also be limited because Pirates and Lord of the Rings are the movies that will stick in people's heads when they think about me. Now it's about breaking out of the pigeonholing.

MM Being drama-school trained, did you ever think you would be in all these epics?

OB No. The normal route is to do some theater in school and then maybe when you graduate try film. I did it the other way round. Lord of the Rings was my first gig. I feel like now I need to do some of the things I didn't do on the way up. I've also got a few ideas for films. I'm going to really sit down and work with some writers and see if I can make things happen.

MM You are the second biggest Google search of 2006, under "Paris Hilton" and just above "podcasting" and "Hurricane Katrina." What does that kind of attention do to you mentally?

OB I didn't know that. Weird. In the past it has done my head in. It all changed dramatically and rather quickly with the Pirates movie—I was more recognizable and the film was widely received and hugely popular. But I've accepted it as part of my job, and I'm not stupid—you can't have one without the other. There's always a price to pay, so I can rationalize it. I'm really happy with my job and the life it's afforded me to live. I'm also completely computer illiterate, so I've sort of been an ostrich with my head in the sand when it comes to reading or knowing anything that's on the Internet. In this day and age, that's pathetic and I'm ashamed to admit it, but I can slightly pretend I don't really know what it's about.

MM Does constantly ranking in hot-guy polls in Teen People make it easier or harder to get out of bed in the morning?

OB It did not improve my confidence. I think it did the opposite. Made me quite shy, really. I didn't know what any of it meant. Johnny Depp told me, "Look, this doesn't mean anything, just get on with it." On the other hand, I really appreciate my fans, because their support gave me the opportunity to be in two trilogies, and in Kingdom of Heaven, which was my first big role. I screen-tested for that and I know that Ridley Scott wanted me, but it helped that there was a fan base already in place. To the people who spend $150 million making a movie, that's important.

MM But the tabloids have really ratcheted up the attention on you lately.

OB Now that is really annoying. I can't step out with anyone without supposedly being in a relationship with them. I'm a very social person and a lot of my friends are women. It's infuriating that celebrity has become such a part of our culture. But at the same time, what can I do? Let them say what they want. I know what I'm about and what I'm trying to do. The older I get, the more I just say, "**** it." I have friends I've had since I was 11 years old. They see the ups and downs and can laugh about it all.

MM How disappointing was the box-office failure of Elizabethtown?

OB Look, I don't do movies because I want them to be a box-office success. There's no recipe for a successful movie, no matter who's in it. It boils down to whether the audience is ready for it. Blade Runner was one of Ridley Scott's least successful movies. When it came out, it was a box-office failure, but years later it was the movie that inspired the MTV generation of directors. Of course, on one level, what happened was disappointing. I worked really hard on Elizabethtown. It was a very personal story for Cameron [Crowe], and I remember reading and loving the script. I have a really complicated story with my father that's been talked about before, and I think that for a lot of men, whether they've lost their father or have a different parental dynamic, it's a really personal story. The letters I get from people say Elizabethtown got them through difficult times in their lives.

MM Do you have interesting run-ins with Lord of the Rings fans?

OB The first time it happened was in Los Angeles. I had a blond wig in that movie and you couldn't really recognize me, which was great, because I had anonymity but was part of something that was a great success. But then I was walking through the supermarket, and this woman sidled up next to me and just sort of whispered, "Are you my elf?" I was like, "Uh...your elf?" and she said "Are you...are you...Legolas?" I just went bright red and said, "Yeah." It was in the middle of the vegetables. Occasionally you'll see somebody dressed up as Legolas, especially in Japan. But that's cool. To go home and make a little Legolas suit and come out in it takes confidence.

MM How'd you get into Buddhism, and what does it do for you?

OB It's not really something I talk about. It's a philosophy, a guide to life and to me it just makes sense. It's been a great anchor. I find myself coming back to the teaching of the Lotus Sutra. It brings you in the rhythm with life.

MM In the Times of London, Courtney Love said you were over at her house doing chants. True?

OB No, not true, actually. A fried of mine is a friend of hers, and I know he was over there doing that. Maybe she was misquoted.

MM What films have you seen this year?

OB I love Blood Diamond. The Departed was brilliant. And Volver—Pedro Almodovar is an amazing filmmaker. Genius. I don't know if it's a European-Spanish thing, but I'm really attracted to his movies. He takes you into a world that's so real.

MM Did you read the New York times article that dissected your career as a case study for Hollywood's failure to find a 20-something blockbuster star?

OB I didn't read it. I heard it was quite slating. You know how I said I was on this roller coaster and felt like I was hanging on for dear life? Maybe the context of the story was that I was being positioned by studios to be the blockbuster boy. But I never thought of myself as that. I've auditioned for all the movies that I've worked on, and I loved the scripts. I just happened to be around when they made blockbusters like Lord of the Rings and Troy.

But criticism just makes me work harder. It's like when I was at school—I've always struggled with dyslexia, and the teachers would give me a hard time. It made me think, Well, **** you, I'll just work harder. One of my drama-school teachers was this Russian director. I remember working with him on time and breaking down, thinking, What am I doing here? I can't act. And he said, "What are you doing? Get the **** out." He wrote me a card at the end of the semester saying, "Orlando, just keep banging your head against the wall, because soon enough it will give in."

And that wall is not just in my career, it's in my heart, my head. I'm not afraid of work, and I'm not afraid of falling. I always want to be better and never think, I'm good now, or I've arrived. I've recently [thought] about going back to school to become better at my craft. That's the only thing that's going to get me through the next thirty years. If I want to have legs—which I know I've got—I've got to keep working on the foundation.

MM You were great on Extras. Why did you want to do it?

OB Ricky Gervais is a fantastic comedian. I loved The Office. I've been away from England, my home, for so long that I wanted to do something British.

MM You hit a perfect tone. Did they take any of your ideas?

OB After I read the first script, we changed it a lot. Originally there wasn't all this piss-taking at myself, and I said, "Look, there's a great opportunity to have a good play at something." We sat down and talked about the movie and I suggested why don't we have a dig at my character, so they came back with this fantastic script.

MM Did you warn Johnny Depp about making fun of him?

OB Before I agreed to do it I sent it off to Johnny to get his approval, and he was, of course, cool with it. He loves British humor.

MM What would you like to do next?

OB To be honest, I need to regroup. I want to get into the control room and decide whether to go fast or slow or what direction to take. I'm even thinking about doing some theater here in England, and, like I said, I'm going to take some classes for sure. I'm excited to play different parts in smaller movies and do some producing—I had this small part in Haven, which I really enjoyed doing. There are a couple of British directors I find interesting and am talking to. I'd love to do a great British film. When we get it right, we get it really right, whether it's something like The Queen or Trainspotting, which is one of my favorite movies. I'd love to start a new wave of British cinema. But who knows?

MM You're smoking in these photos. When do you most feel like having a cigarette?

OB During the photo shoot, I was going through a smoking phase. A smoking phase is when I'm carefree and turning my back on myself. I'll get rip-roaring drunk and smoke cigarettes, and I always feel like I'm letting myself down. Smoking kills you. Who wants to kill themselves? We're all going to die, but it's kind of like, why is that cool today? Why isn't it cool to give back? That leaves a bad taste in people's mouths but people loving watching people drive themselves into walls. I guess it's because we all meet in the dirt.

MM Are you done turning your back on yourself?

OB [Laughs] Well, I'm not smoking anymore. I turned 30, and I said, "No more smoking!" Then I got so smashed at my birthday party.