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No Roles Barred: Orlando Bloom
- By Glenn Waldron
Originally published in i-D magazine December 2001/January2002

A wiry compact figure, a wide-eyed choirboy countenance, a slyly mischievous grin: Victorian rentboy or middle-earth elfin? Both, in the case of Orlando Bloom, a fantastically-named 24-year-old living an increasingly fantastical existence. Which, right now, requires participation in what must surely be the biggest publicity push of the new millennium – promotion for the first installment of Lord of the Rings. A film that even the prospect of wall-to-wall interviews for the next two months cannot dampen the Canterbury lad’s fervent enthusiasm for: “I got to dress up in funny clothes and run around New Zealand with a bow and arrow for 18 months, how bad could that be?”

Orlando (better then calling him ‘Bloom’, I think) was picked to appear in Peter Jackson’s adaptation of the JRR Tolkien trilogy just days before graduating from theatre school. With previous film experience confined to a small part as a male prostitute in 1997’s Wilde (You had to look at Stephen Fry lustfully? “Exactly. It can be done”), the young actor was understandably a little thrown by his sudden change in prospects: “It was like, ‘Oh my God.’ I couldn’t believe I was so lucky. And then I just jumped right in.”

One of the first cast members to arrive at the New Zealand location, he received several months of intense training in horseriding, archery, swordfighting, seemingly all things manly. “By the time shooting was underway, I could fire an arrow whilst riding horseback,” he boasts. “Granted, not a particularly useful skill now.” Certainly now at a time when action heroes (particularly of the Schwarznegger variety) are the last thing anyone wants; something that Orlando is perhaps quietly mournful of. “I like anything dangerous,” he explains. “One day, I did the highest bungeejump in New Zealand. Five times in the space of half an hour! I knew the producers wouldn’t be too pleased about it so I only told them afterwards.”

Filming for over a year and a half in one of the most isolated locations imaginable, Orlando developed string ties with the place and the people. “It really became my home. It was amazing, like the most beautiful parts of England, Ireland, Scotland and Wale all put together on one tiny island; mountains, plains, rolling fields and shit-loads of sheep,” he recalls. “And when you’re thrown together on such a project, you have no choice but to make friends for life.” Today he bears the mark of such camaraderie; each of the nine actors who played the ‘Fellowship of the Ring’ (including Elijah Wood, Sean Astin and Viggo Mortensen) agreed upon a Celtic-like tattoo to commemorate their time together. “Not a ritual that I’ll be repeating for future projects,” Orlando stresses.

One the subject of his own character, Legolas, Orlando could talk for hours, such is his infinite familiarity with the role. Just as well when there are websites dedicated to discussing such nit-picky questions as how old the superhuman elf actually is (2,931 – like you care). Wasn’t Orlando at all unnerved by the extreme fanboy obsessivness surrounding the trilogy? “To begin with I was very anxious but I knew that I had to embrace the whole thing and not be intimidated by it. At certain points you just have to say, ‘Look, I did my best.’ I think people will be pleased with what they see.”

Inevitably at a moment when every aspect of cinema is being re-evaluated, every cultural product rummaged for fresh subtexts, the Lord of the Rings story – of the corruption of good and destruction of evil – will prove a popular and much-discussed allegory for the times (not sure how Harry Potter fits in: Harry equals Dubya, perhaps?). For Orlando and the rest of the cast, however, the experience sounds too much like a enjoyable romp to be viewed strictly on metaphorical terms. “When you look at it in its most basic form, there are parallels to be drawn with the present situation,” he concedes. “But I also think people will watch it just to switch off for a while.”

With a role in Ridley Scott’s latest action-thriller Black Hawk Down already completed, the young actor looks set to build on his Hollywood debut. In the meantime, Orlando is keen to return to the stage. “I don’t rally know what I’m going to do next,” he confesses. “But I like the idea of doing something smaller.” Which, when you think about it still leaves quite a few options.