Orlando’s Magic

Orlando Bloom still blends, especially in the lobby of New York’s mercilessly hip Mercer Hotel, where one would be tempted to hand the young actor some luggage or enlist him to hail a cab. Wearing jeans and a black T-shirt, hair scrunched off his broad forehead, he does not look like the next big thing, and yet that is precisely what he is, a willowy 26-year-old who has risen to international stardom.

“It is incredible,” Bloom admits. “I mean, I’m stumped by it. I moved to London, went to drama school, got Lord of the Rings. I never expected this. I remember seeing myself in LOTR and thinking, I can’t f**ing believe I’m in this movie.”

In the final installment, The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, “Peter Jackson liked the way I slid down the stairs in the second one, all that mad stuff,” says Bloom, “so during reshoots, I spent three days on wires doing all sorts of stunts to create something breathtaking for Leggy. A really big kind of battle finale.” In the new movie, Bloom reports, “Leggy is up to his old tricks, slaying orcs and getting business taken care of. He is the eyes and ears of the Fellowship. The cool water to the fire of the situation. I can’t say much about specific plot points, but I can say the last third of a movie is always the most exciting part.”

Even after three absurdly successful LOTRs, Bloom still sees himself as a student. “With Lord of the Rings, I just watched how other actors were going about what they were doing,” says Bloom. “In a way, it was perfect. It was like a continuation of school. Peter Jackson gave me an opportunity that taught me a huge amount right out of the gate. I got to learn sword fighting, shoot a bow and arrow.”

“It wasn’t like going into a huge, heavy-dialogue role where I could have potentially made a mess of it — you know, by being overly theatrical.”

And he wasn’t. He played it straight, employing earnestness like charm, allowing himself to be discovered. And he was.

Bloom now has more fan sites than Leonardo DiCaprio and was the most searched-for actor on Lycos in 2002. “I still sort of don’t believe it’s all happening,” he says with a laugh. “It’s surreal. The goal was to get paid as an actor. That would have been enough.”

Bloom became friendly with Depp when they worked together on Pirates of the Caribbean. Although the standout role was Depp’s, Bloom managed to create his own indelible impression.

To date, Bloom has made his career playing the other cute guy, the character that sneaks up on you once you tire of watching the assigned leading man. It’s a conservative strategy that has served him well; it has kept him from anchoring a picture prematurely (and being held responsible for its failure) but allowed him ample exposure to industry honchos and ticket buyers. After shadowing Viggo Mortensen in LOTR, he filmed a small role in Ridley Scott’s Black Hawk Down (with Eric Bana), then one in Ned Kelly (with Heath Ledger), did Pirates (with Depp), then Troy (with Brad Pitt — “I got to shoot him in his Achilles’ heel”). In each picture, Bloom plays someone infinitely likeable and slyly engaging, and though he says he longs to let loose, it will probably be quite a while before anyone sees Bloom overact in a terrible movie. Unlike most of his predecessors, Bloom is pretty contained. His appeal is subtle.

There is something old-fashioned about him. He is courtly and sweetly naive. Even his face has the delicate features of a more civilized era. It is no coincidence that out of seven film roles, he has played a contemporary character only once.

“I do feel like I’m from another time,” he says, having given the idea some thought. “I can hardly use my phone. I’m computer-illiterate. I use a pencil and paper. It slows me down, but I really do prefer it.

“The last time I saw Viggo, we were supposed to go to some supercool club, but there was no way I was going to get Viggo to do that, and I couldn’t really be bothered myself. So we went to some dingy little pub, and then we just bought a six-pack and sat in the park and chatted.”

Bloom invites intimacy. He is a question asker, a listener. He has, at his tender age, already cooled down.

“I worry constantly,” he says. “I worry about being a giant success and blowing it all.” He laughs. “Naw, I actually worry more about little things: being on time, what I’m going to wear, sending birthday cards, getting sick, dying.”

Mostly he fears that he will turn into a pud.

“I’m constantly asking myself, ‘Am I making the right choices? Am I thinking about the people around me?’ The worst-case scenario is that I lose touch with my friends and turn into the person I most despite and…” He trails off, his mind searching for some foul personality development.

You start sleeping with strippers? I propose helpfully.

“There’s nothing wrong with sleeping with strippers,” he retorts. “If I were to choose to sleep with a stripper, it would be a choice I made, and I’d learn something from it or I wouldn’t. Thankfully, I’ve got a lot of that sort of stuff out of my system.”

Bloom is still only 26. But the idea of his cruising London, picking up pole jockeys and cavorting with them at a garish hotel suite, seems about as likely as his turning into the wanker he fears. Bloom is not that guy.

“I’m quite sensitive to women,” he admits. “I saw how my sister got treated by boyfriends. I read this thing that said when you are in a relationship with a woman, imagine how you would feel if you were her father. That’s been my approach, for the most part.”

Rumored to be dating Kate Bosworth, Bloom honors his philosophy by refusing to talk about her or any of his past romances except in the vaguest terms. “I think people need to grow. I’m all about growth, so if I can learn from women…”

He fades off. It’s a conversational habit; a keen start gives way to disjointed rambling, which then ebbs to a gentle plea for empathy in the form of a “know what I mean?” or a “wouldn’t you say?” after which he regroups and starts anew.

“My mom pretty much did what the hell she wanted in life, and I intend to do the same.” He chuckles, then backpedals. “You have so many relationships in life, and they’re all hard — with your mother, your friends, your lover, yourself. I’d like to try and master all of them.”

How’s that going for you?

“Oh, not very well. I’m rubbish. I’m out of touch. I don’t know how to love. I randomly start crying for no reason.”

Bloom was raised in bucolic Canterbury, England, by his mother, Sonia, an unconventional woman who ran a foreign language school and loved the arts so much she named her only son for seventeenth-century composer Orlando Gibbons. She enrolled her remarkably handsome boy in kids’ drama and Bible reading classes. He excelled at both and by age 8 found himself performing in local plays.

When Bloom turned 16, he left home and moved to London to attend the National Youth Theatre. Later, studying at the Guildhall School of Music & Drama, where every day he’d walk past the head shot of famous alumnus Ewan McGregor, Bloom was a solid student, popular, with enviable bone structure, and thus already had an agent, who gave his name to the director Peter Jackson, who decided, just two days shy of Bloom’s graduation, that the untested 22-year-old should play Legolas in his trilogy. “I remember meeting Peter Jackson when he came to see me at school and thinking this would be really amazing,” he recalls. “I could feel the mad energy, and I was so excited. And then I went to New Zealand, and it was the trippiest thing I’d ever done.” It was an unbelievable stroke of good fortune that came on the heels of the worst year of Bloom’s life.

“I almost died,” he says softly.

He was 21 and visiting a friend’s apartment when he decided to climb out on a drainpipe. He wasn’t drunk; the pipe was simply there, begging to be scaled, and so he did. That was just the kind of madcap chap he was: wacky, wild Orlando, “always the first on the ledge,” and it was all very amusing until the pipe tore away from the building and pitched him three stories down to earth.

“The doctors said I wouldn’t walk again,” he recalls. “I chose not to believe them. I thought, That’s not me, that’s somebody else.”

After twelve days on his back, Bloom had metal plates bolted to his spine, then underwent intensive rehab to regain the use of his legs.

“I had to wear a brace for a year. I experienced all these weird moments where I was exploring really dark corners of my mind. I was lying there on my back, unable to do anything. You don’t know how you’re going to be under those circumstances.”

“I definitely went through that ‘Why the f** did this happen to me?’ stuff. I’m not some saint. I was really depressed. I was in a lot of pain. I was on a lot of drugs. But I had this one great teacher who came to visit and said to me, ‘This is going to be the making of you.’ And it was.

Bloom decided that maybe there was more in life waiting for him than just being “the first guy to climb the tree and fall out of it.” His temporary paralysis forced him to think, and he figured a few things out, such as it might be time to grow up.

“I was running around like a little lunatic, not really appreciating life or the people around me. I didn’t address the consequences. I would jump ledges, and I never thought about what was on the other side. I just assumed there would be a soft landing.”

He rubs his forehead.

“It’s how you learn the lessons, know what I mean?”

Bloom is speaking now not just of his accident but of another, more complex tutorial, the one in which he discovered that the man he believed was his father was not.

Harry Bloom, a noted South African human-rights activist, died at 64 from a stroke when Orlando was 4. Bloom mourned him as any boy would grieve for his dad and spent the next nine years of his life wishing he had known him better. Then, at 13, Bloom was told that his real father, the biological one, was family friend Colin Stone.

“My mom was married to one man, but I was fathered by a second,” Bloom says, struggling to explain. “I think she was waiting for me to be old enough to understand it. But when would you tell a kid about that stuff? It’s very difficult.”

Bloom jams a thumb into his thigh and drags it down his leg, leaving a scratch mark on his jeans.

“I don’t know any family that doesn’t have a little story somewhere,” he says with a smile. “Besides, if you didn’t have those things in your life, you’d be so bland.”

In January, Bloom begins filming Kingdom of Heaven for Ridley Scott. It will be one of his first leading roles. “It’s about a young man who goes off to the Crusades and in the process falls in and out of love. I swore to myself I wasn’t going to do another movie with a horse and a sword, but here I am. I’m excited. It’s a really big deal.”

Bloom almost giggles. His joy is palpable. He knows the film is a test of sorts, that his performance will determine if he will be the next Russell Crowe or the next Stephen Dorff. He believes he is ready for the challenge, if not the celebrity. Bloom can still walk around most towns unnoticed. After this new epic, his Gladiator, the exposure will be unqualified. Fame frightens him — all that grasping, all the personal trivia revealed and passed around like a bowl of chips.

“Fear would say to me, ‘Do you really want to deal with all that?’ My career is really at the point that I either stop now and vanish or I keep moving forward, take the opportunities and make the most of what’s coming. On a good day, I realize I’d be crazy not to.”

He stops talking. Takes a minute to consider the life laid out before him. His mouth drops, then his chin, then his shoulders. His pep talk to himself has failed. He is too clever for that. There will be ugliness coming, and he knows it, can smell the invasion around the corner. He did not chase this dream, did not have years to long for the success that has fallen on him like a snapped elevator. He has never been desperate, only lucky, and with luck comes questions.

Bloom will not be seduced or corrupted or spoiled. “I almost died,” he reminds you. And thus he is forever changed. “I don’t want to lose sight of the important things in life,” he says, vigorously pawing at his hair.

Bloom looks across the lounge to where his maybe girlfriend Kate Bosworth has just sat down to wait for him. She gives a little nod. And then it hits him more concisely.

“I don’t have a regular life,” he says, rising to go, “but what is a regular life, anyway?” He pauses, leans in close. “Whatever happens in life is fine. Just trust in that.”

Bloom and the Damage Done: A One-Man Skull and Bones Society

When Orlando Bloom was only a few months old, his mother cracked his skull against a tree. “It’s not nearly as terrible as it sounds,” he says now with a laugh. “She was gathering wood and holding me, and she bent over and knocked my head.”

A few months later, Bloom would topple off a kitchen stool and fracture his skull again. Then there was the incident involving his crawling over a rock in the yard, followed by another drama, in which his toe was crushed by a horse.

“I was an adventuresome baby,” he explains. “As a child I was in and out of hospital so many times that the staff worried I was being beaten. Obviously, I wasn’t.”

As Bloom aged, his injuries grew more severe. He broke his right leg while skiing when he was 11, his nose while playing rugby at 12, and his wrist while snowboarding at 13. (“It was my first time and I kind of went at it a bit hard.”) At 21 he suffered a fall from a drainpipe that broke his back and almost left him paralyzed. He’s broken three ribs, the latest while falling off a horse filming Lord of the Rings.

“I broke my finger in rugby as well,” Bloom remembers. “It was part of growing up. It was only when I broke my back that I realized it was a pattern, and I had to readdress the relationship I had with my own well-being.”

The World on a String: Orlando Explains What Hangs Around His Neck

“I have a lot of these things with me all the time. I get given some and find others. One was a key ring that Johnny [Depp] gave me as a wrap gift for Pirates. Here’s a piece of greenstone Billy Boyd gave me. I found this shell on the beach in Thailand. This is a prayer baton I got in India. I picked up this tiny silver ball in Tokyo. This is a New York City handcuff key, so if I get into any strife, I can get myself out. I think I’ll hold onto that.

“I’ve always kept all these funny little things, even as a kid. But I’m trying to cut it out, become more streamlined. Otherwise it starts to feel like the things own you. These things fill up my heart. If I were ever to lose them, I’d be really devastated. Isn’t that pathetic?”

This article has been edited for girlsspeakgeek.com. The complete story appeared in GQ Jan.2004.

January 1, 2004 | Interview | this post contains affiliate links