Actor of the Year – Orlando Bloom

Skinny’s not the word. Neither’s brown. Nor tousled. And handsome, as a description, really won’t do. Orlando Bloom is thin almost to daintiness but he’s tall, which offsets that. He’s tanned teak. And his cascading curls frame a face to stop female hearts. At 26, GQ’S Actor Of the Year is not only the hottest new kid on the Hollywood block but the boy Bloom is young, rich, successful and – curses – charming, relaxed and scarily well adjusted. And yes, ladies, he really is that good-looking.

As I pull up in my cab he’s sitting slouched in the sunshine on a Clerkenwell kerb, chattering happily into his mobile phone. That’s probably Jerry Bruckheimer on the other end, or maybe it’s Brad Pitt. Perhaps it’s his girlfriend, Californian starlet Kate Bosworth. Most likely it’s just one of his London mates, planning this afternoon’s shopping trip. There’s no time to find out because, almost as trainer meets pavement, Bloom’s cracking a smile, offering a hand and suggesting we go for a walk. It’s such a nice day, after all.

He’s wearing a tight white T-shirt, with aviator shades and a collection of thrift-store trinkets which dangle from his slender neck. His fingers are comprehensively ringed and there’s a small tattoo on the inside of his left wrist, JRR Tolkien’s Elvish symbol for the number 9, which will forever mark him as a member of the cast of the monolithic The Lord Of The Rings trilogy, which shot him to insta-fame two years ago. It’s a look with a lineage that extends back to Keith Richards, but its most notable exponent is Johnny Depp, Bloom’s friend and co-star in Pirates of the Caribbean. One senses that a bit of Depp might have rubbed off on our Orlando, at least style wise, just like a bit of Keith rubbed off on Johnny’s kohl-eyes, sea legged buccaneer in Pirates.

The reason for Bloom’s presence in London- a rare thing these days, despite the fact he’s recently bought a flat here- is that he’s on a break from shooting Troy, filming in Malta with Brad Pitt, Eric Bana and Peter O’Toole. Bloom plays Paris, the pretty prince who sets off the Trojan wars by stealing Helen from Sparta. While the production decamps to Mexico where he’s due shortly, Bloom has time to reflect, at least briefly, on a vertiginous career trajectory.

A Kentish lad, from Canterbury, Bloom won the part of the funky blond elf Legolas Greenleaf in Lord Of The Rings just two days before leaving London’s Guildhall School Of Music & Drama, where Ewan McGregor, Joseph Fiennes and David Thewlis also studied. He spent the next 18 months in New Zealand working on Peter Jackson’s multi-Oscar-winning fantasy adaptation and appears to have loosed enough arrows to pierce the hearts not just of Middle Earth’s scary hordes but also those belonging to a slew of Hollywood casting agents. Plus little girls (and some bigger ones) all over the world.

He’d been working ever since, his profile and reputation increasing with each film. First came Black Hawk Down, Ridley Scott’s terrifying depiction of the US military’s ill-fated 1993 Mogadishu expedition, in which, in a strange echo of his own life, Bloom played a solider who breaks his back. Then the second Lord Of The Rings, The Two Towers, then Pirates…. All critical and commercial success. This month’s he’s in Ned Kelly, an efficient Australian Western, which stars Heath Ledger as the doomed outlaw and Bloom as his sensitive sidekick, Joe Byrne. That will be followed in December by The Return Of The King, concluding Lord Of The Rings movie. Then, proving he’s got the requisite number of strings to his bow, The Calcium Kid, a small British film which gives him his first bona fide leading role, as a milkman with a shot at the world boxing title. And next year comes the epic Troy, which should cement his position as among the most exciting new talents in film- a British Leonardo DiCaprio with his head screwed on tight.

After that he may or may not give a gentle rib to one of his heroes, Daniel Day-Lewis, in Eric Idle’s Spaceballs- style Merchant Ivory spoof, The Remains Of The Piano which stars Patrick Stewart as Obie Ben Kingsley. Hmm. Could go either way, that one. And Bloom’s yet to decide whether or not to hop aboard.

But before all this there’s the small matter of his GQ award, for which Bloom seems genuinely appreciative. “It’s amazing, isn’t it?” he says as we begin our circuitous ramble around London.

“I can’t believe it. I’m very grateful. It’s really lovely.” Bloom describes his life at the moment as both exciting and daunting. “I’m just making the adjustments in my head to cope with all the changes that are happening,” he says. “It’s felt like everything’s been moving quite fast for a while now but its keeps changing gears. When you’ve got a film like Pirates… coming out it changes up another gear, because it’s a big Jerry Bruckheimer Disney production and there’s a lot of money behind it. It really feels like my first big Hollywood experience. There’s a lot of responsibility.”

Bloom in conversation is an engaging combination of touchy-feely street speak and a very British, can’t-quite-take-it-all-seriously unpretentiousness. So while he can talk happily about “keeping it real”, “losing his sh*”, getting “into his flow”, keeping certain areas “on a low pro”, living “a bit more on mellow tip” and “maintaining a sense of self” he also frequently pulls himself up short. And he’s very conscious of not appearing to have lost touch. “Someone wrote in an article that I’ve got an assistant,” he says. “That makes me sound like such a wanker, thanks very much: ‘Ooh, he’s got an assistant now.’ I’ve just got a mate who helps me out. Big deal.

“I always think it’s such crap when you hear an actor talking about what he does,” he says at one point, in answer to an admittedly awful question about the motivation behind Legolas, his character in LOTRs. “Isn’t it sort of wanky?” He’s right, of course. But he instantly comes up with a very persuasive, completely compelling case. “It’s a no brainer,” he says. “An elf! Elves have superhuman qualities, they’re angelic spirits, they’re immortal, they’re ageless, they’re just like these invincible f**ing samurai-esque ancient dudes! Who wouldn’t want to f**ing get in the skin of that?”

Bloom swears a lot, “probably because I’m back in London.” He asks if I can cut some of the expletives out, “because it makes me sound like such a…” But he can’t think of the word without swearing again, so we decide to leave it. “Oh, I don’t care really,” he concedes. It’s not easy, you know, this going-on-the-record business. “I try to be honest,” he says. “What you see is what you get. My cards are on the table and if you want to sniff around you can. I’m not ashamed of anything. I’ve been lucky.”

Luck is a constant theme in Bloom’s story and something he returns to often. But his life, while certainly golden of late, has not been without its complications. He comes from an arty family, hence the wonderfully literary name, courtesy of the Virginia Woolf character. His dyslexia meant he found school “hard graft” but he knew from a very early age- “primary school, probably” – that he wanted to perform, a decision encouraged by his mother, Sonia. He discovered at 13 that the man he thought was his father, the Jewish-South African lawyer and anti-apartheid campaigner Harry Bloom, who died when Orlando was just four, turns out not to have been. In fact, the man he always considered his stepfather is his real dad. He doesn’t want to talk to specifically about his private life- “some things have to be for me,” he says, “at some point you draw a line” – but it must have been a shock.

Then there’s his back, which Bloom says, “still gives [him] gyp.” He broke it, badly, while at college, falling three storeis from a friends’ roof after a drainpipe came loose. “Probably the making of me, that was,” he says. “A wake-up call to life and responsibility and respect for myself. It made me go, ‘You f**ing idiot. How could you even think of doing that? How could you have not think that through?’ For a while I wasn’t going to be able to walk. I wasn’t going to be able to finish my course. I may never have been able to act.” Somewhat miraculously, however, 12 days after having been told he might spend the rest of his life in a wheelchair, the 21-year-old Bloom walked out of hospital on crutches. “The fact that I survived and I’m doing what I’m doing, playing the roles I’m playing, it’s like a whole new lease on life.”

It may explain his quite extraordinary level-headedness, considering at the amount of exposure he’s getting. During our walk we stop into a newsagent to buy a bottle of water and there’s Orlando on the magazine stand, gazing out from the cover of teen fashion, The Face. He hasn’t got any money on him so I buy him a copy and we leaf through it. He seems a bit bemused by the pictures but pleased enough. “I used to like The Face when I was growing up,” he says. Then, when we step out into the sunshine again, there he is on the other side of the road, plastered to a bust stop, gazing broodingly from a poster for Pirates…

“I’m not stupid, you know?” he says when I remark on this. “When you start to realise that there’s pressure on you, you have to face up to it whether you like it or not. There’s responsibility. There’s professionalism. There’s integrity towards the work and towards yourself. Sometimes I want to be a kid and go, ‘F** it all!” and run away and bury my head. And then I go, ‘Look, be realistic. You chose this path. So f**ing deal with it. Be a man about it.’ But I do constantly feel like putting the breaks on.”

He’s also conscious of the often-fleeting nature of celebrity. “Look, man, you see it happen,” he says. “It can be there one minute and gone the next. One minute you’re GQ Actor Of The Year and the next minute… I just don’t feel anything in this industry is solid.” He says he’s taken advice from Depp and Pitt and Viggo Mortensen, his Lord Of The Rings co-star, who had “a huge influence on my life.” He admires the fact that all three have found a way to deal with the attentions of fans and the media without withdrawing from the public eye. He tells a story about a night out with Brad Pitt in Malta recently, when the star was mobbed in the street by local well-wishers as well as off-duty US sailors. “He had a bodyguard with him,” says Bloom. “I mean, that’s kind of intense that you need a bodyguard with you. That kind of wigs me out to be honest. But I admired so much the way Brad had grace and composure in that moment. He had a bit of a wild look in his eye because obviously it was freaky, man. But he handled it really well.”

Like Brad and Johnny, Bloom has also had to contend with the strange phenomenon of becoming a pin-up. When I congratulate him on taking some of the pressure off Justin Timberlake, he laughs. “I just wanted to be an actor,” he says. “The fame bit follows.” But he has given it some thought. “The more hectic everything gets the more I come back to the simper things in life,” he says. “I really enjoy just walking the streets like this. I really enjoy taking my mum out for lunch with my gran, or going to see a movie, or having dinner with some mates. I guess the sad thing that dawns on me sometimes is the more I do this [acting] the harder its’ going to be to do that stuff.” For a second, he looks a little baleful and lost. But he’s quickly back into his stride.

“I’ve been doing films that I love and I’ve had some great opportunities. I just happened to be around when they were looking for people who were slightly unknown that they could take and use for three movies. And with Black Hawk Down, I was coming into LA for the first time and that was the first meeting I go after LOTRs. And I got the part, which was just unbelievable. And I hear myself talking about it and I go, ‘F**! Ridley Scott, are you kidding?” And I’m aware that there are hundreds of brilliant actors out there who just need that opportunity. It’s when you get that opportunity, if you can capitalise on it when you can go forward. And the very fact that I got that opportunity is what I’m constantly thanking my lucky stars for.”

He has carefully, and quite deliberately, avoided the celebrity party circuit. “I got a lot of that stuff out of the way when I was younger,” he says, referring to his days on the London club scene in the early Nineties. Now he’d rather spend Saturday night with friends and a bottle of wine. And while he won’t deny enjoying the globetrotting and gallivanting that comes with the movie star territory, he’s looking forward to taking some time off once Troy is finished. “One thing I’ve learnt,” he says, “is I’m not going to be happy just from earning money and making movies.

“It’s weird,” he says. “I’m interested to see how I fare back in the world of normality. Because I haven’t stopped to think about operating in life without work and the structure that creates.”

What will he do? “Drive around the country a bit, maybe. I haven’t even bought a car yet. I fancy reading some books, listening to some music, doing up my place. See my mates, my family. Try and enjoy it.”

And with that he’s off back to his hotel where a friend is waiting. They’re going to the Harrods sale to see if they can pick up some furniture for Bloom’s new place. Who knows- by the time you read this, he may even have found the time to spend a night there.”

This article has been edited for The complete story appeared in GQ UK Oct.2003.

October 1, 2003 | Interview | this post contains affiliate links