Canterbury Tales

Growing up in the historic English cities of Canterbury and London may explain why dashing young actor Orlando Bloom is so well-suited for epic films like the upcoming Kingdom of Heaven.

by Mark Seal for American Way | | May 2005

Once upon a time, in the verdant county of Kent, in the city of Canterbury, England, a boy was christened Orlando Jonathan Blanchard Bloom, after 17th-century composer Orlando Gibbons. Alas, this Orlando, being from Canterbury, where Geoffrey Chaucer based his famously unfinished tales, would soon take a more dramatic turn with his life. Having excelled in local plays at an early age, he moved to London at 16 to attend drama school, a journey that not only transformed the boy into a man, but also into a star born for epics on the silver screen. In London, he met the wizard behind The Lord of the Rings, who cast Bloom as the elfin Legolas Greenleaf. Soon, our hero was a prince of Hollywood, performing alongside the kings: Viggo Mortensen, Johnny Depp, and Brad Pitt. His next big role may be as the teenage 007 in the upcoming James Bond movie. In the meantime, the 27-year-old sensation can be seen in this month’s Kingdom of Heaven, a typically Orlando-esque adventure about a common man who serves a doomed king, falls in love with a forbidden queen, and rises to knighthood. Herewith, Bloom tells the equally captivating story of his own life in England.

Tale #2: The Lad Leaves Home And Becomes A Londoner

“I moved to London to finish my studies and go to drama school. My dad drove me up, and I stayed with family friends. On my first night, I put on London radio stations. I remember waking up my first morning and thinking about all my friends in Canterbury who were probably at the same boarding school, and, wow, here I was listening to KISS FM. In Canterbury, it was like invective radio. And I remember thinking, Wow, this is cool. I’m in London and I’m listening to great music on London radio. I had dreams of being an actor, and the National Youth Theatre, which is an amateur dramatics company based in London, was something that I joined initially. I also finished my education at the Fine Arts College in North London, did theater, photography, and sculpture — subjects that weren’t available to me at school in Kent. I felt that if I wanted to be an actor, London was the best place to start. I lived there for seven years until I left to do Lord of the Rings.

“I consider London my home. I pine for it. I find myself more often than not in America, predominantly L.A., so I feel homesick for London. I think it’s the energy. It was so liberating. Nobody was judging you. You could dress however you liked. You could really just be essentially who you wanted to be. I remember when I was a child we’d occasionally go up to London on the weekend. We’d go to the theater and grab something to eat, or we’d go shopping on Oxford Street or along the Kings Road. So I had a connection with London, because it’s only about an hour and a half from Canterbury. I remember going to the Tower of London, too, and seeing the Crown Jewels. They’re all there in a case, and then there are the Beefeater men, who are there to guard the jewels.

“When I started drama school, I had a flat in the center of London under the British Telecom Tower, and I always used to think of the tower as my back garden. It was like a beacon for home, because it’s so tall and I could always see it flashing. I lived on Hanson Street, and there was a fantastic little greasy spoon there. In the summer, we’d sit outside under the BT Tower eating eggs and bacon, tea and toast. On the other end of my street is a restaurant called Back to Basics. It’s a small fish place with really lovely waitresses from Sweden or Stockholm or somewhere. The food is fantastic, the fish fresh, really well cooked. My good friend whom I lived with in the flat was Swedish, and he loved the food there and recognized the cooking as a taste from home.”

Tale #3: The Kid From The Country Gets Big-City Style

“I worked at Paul Smith when I first moved to London. It was a great place to work. I got a lot of great clothes from there, and I still do. But back then I got a great discount. It kept clothes on my back the whole way through school. Now I’ll dress in one of his suits or I’ll wear his shirts. Paul Smith’s got great British style. There are little details and things that make his stuff stand out. I think what I learned about style from there is to be individual and not to feel like you have to conform. Just wear what feels good and be a little eccentric if you feel like it.”

Tale #4: A Young Man On The Prowl

“I normally lay low when I get to London these days. But I used to go to a pub, the Old Ship, that has beautiful views of the River Thames. There’s also the Cow, a pub near the Portobello Road market, which is a great place to go on the weekend. The Cow was always good for a pint of prawns or some oysters and a Guinness. It’s got character. When I was younger, I used to go to pubs and bars and hang out with friends and do Soho. But it’s been awhile. That was before I broke my back.”

Tale #5: The Daredevilish Lad Narrowly Escapes Death

“I was visiting friends in Lisson Grove. They had a roof terrace on the landing below their apartment. I got up to the fourth floor and I could see this roof terrace. I could have just jumped straight from the window onto the ledge, but instead I got onto this piece of drainpipe flashing, nothing really substantial, and I fell back and landed on a first floor terrace between some iron railings and an old washing machine. I had a rather miraculous escape from death and the possibility of spending my life in a chair. For four days I contemplated that, having been told by the doctors that I would never walk again. It’s something that’s actually been a very positive part of my life. It made me appreciate life with a fresh set of eyes. Forced me to slow down, look around, and think a little more.”

Tale #6: The Student Discovers Stillness And Drama

“It’s always great to see Buckingham Palace. Really, if you only have one day in London, for my money, you should walk through Hyde Park or Green Park and then walk down to Buckingham Palace. The Tate gallery is great, too. Very inspired. Madame Tussauds wax museum was always an interesting place to go. I went there when I was very young. They have a planetarium there, as well. And there’s the London Zoo. I actually studied animals at the London Zoo. It was part of a course. We had to go there every weekend, study the animals, come back, and mimic the animals’ behaviors. I studied all these fantastic animals, like apes and lions, but I ended up being a lizard. The teacher felt that stillness was something that would be of great use to me later in my career. She said, ‘It’s a lizard for you, young man.’ I have to tell you, it was fantastic studying lizards. I learned stillness, composure. You don’t have to be doing something to be doing something. Sometimes you can do too much.

“I spent three years at the Guildhall School of Music & Drama. That’s where Ewan McGregor studied, and David Thewlis, who is in Kingdom of Heaven. And Joe Fiennes. You can go and see the third-year performances there. It’s a great school. I had three fantastic years there. It’s next door to the Barbican. The Royal Shakespeare Company had productions going on at the Barbican, and we would go and see productions there. But we had our own productions at school. That was where I learned it was something I really loved. Acting and learning about Shakespeare.”

Tale #7: The Artist Learns The Art Of High Tea

“Tea at Fortnum & Mason is great. You get great fresh tea there. When I say fresh, what I mean it’s loose tea or tea bags. My cousin’s got a big thing for the tea at Fortnum & Mason, so we go and grab tea there and bring it back to L.A. They also have Marmite and bangers and mash and fish and chips. Fortnum & Mason is very English. Just the packaging of the teas or whatever you’re buying and the shop itself is very old-school English.”

Tale #8: The Budding Thespian Meets The Lord Of The Rings

“The Hubbards, who cast The Lord of the Rings, were the first casting agents I met. I remember Ros Hubbard said something that has stuck with me. She’s Irish, a beautiful, lovely woman, and she said, ‘I have a feeling you could do anything you put your mind to.’ And it just gave me such confidence, her saying something as simple as that to a young actor. Then I met Peter Jackson. It was at this little place on Whitfield Street, like a church hall. I remember walking into the room and seeing him and Fran and thinking what an amazing energy they had. They had come over from New Zealand and were probably very jet-lagged, but they were just amazing, so friendly and so encouraging.”

Tale #9: The Artist Returns Home

“I do go home. I still have family there. But I don’t go back as often as I’d like. When I’m there, I try to go to Café des Amis, a Mexican restaurant. I guess I was 16 when we started going there. It had just opened. And I’m 27 now. The food is outstanding. The best Mexican food you’ll eat. Honestly. I’ve traveled around Mexico, and I still find Café des Amis to be a pretty good match to anything I’ve had in Mexico. It’s in an old building overlooking the river and the West Gate Towers, which are the gates to the city. It used to be a store where they sold odds and ends, brass objects and things. There’s also Papa’s Fish Bar in Canterbury. I remember that place. They have great white bread. I remember that loaf called Mother’s Pride, with Marmite. I had dinner recently with Ridley Scott in London at Cipriani, a great little restaurant. We were there for Ridley’s birthday and the waiter came over and said, ‘Ah, we had your friend Johnny Depp here last night.’ It was one of those funny stories, ships passing in the night. I think he was there shooting Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Another place I went to once is the Wolseley. It has really good food. More recently, when I’ve been popping back, I’ve been having nice meals at J. Sheekey, in the West End. Fantastic fish.

“Often, I’ll dream of walking through streets in England that I used to walk through. When I was in New Zealand, I had very vivid dreams of all these different streets I used to walk through, particularly in my hometown. St. Thomas Hill in Canterbury is one that was locked in my head. It actually led to my old school, and I grew up on that hill. We had a house on St. Thomas Hill. But growing up in Canterbury, the cathedral was always right in my backyard, and for different school functions we would go to the cathedral. And at Christmas my mom loved for us to go and sing carols at the cathedral. I think that sort of space instills a sense of awe and history and imagination. All of the history that went along with Canterbury, being brought up there, it became a part of who I was. I’ve never really thought about it like this, but I suppose it may have had some lasting impression that has inspired me to do the historical, epic kind of stories.”

This article has been edited for girlsspeakgeek.com. The complete story appeared in American Way, May.2005.

May 1, 2005 | Interview | this post contains affiliate links