Orlando Bloom Wants More
Having skipped straight from drama school obscurity to swashbuckling superstardom, Orlando Bloom is ready for a change of pace
Photography Amanda Friedman
Orlando Bloom is trying to make sense of his unusual career—and eat his lunch. The actor, who turned 40 earlier this year, is most famous for playing two characters a combined total of nine times within the past 16 years. The first of these was Legolas, in Peter Jackson’s epic adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings. Bloom was cast as the platinum-haired elf when he was 22 and just two days shy of graduating from London’s Guildhall School of Music & Drama. The most high-profile project he’d done prior to that was the biopic Wilde, in which he’d very briefly batted his lashes at the lead character.
The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, released in 2001, went on to earn $871 million worldwide. Each successive installment of the trilogy outperformed the last. For Bloom, it was overnight success, writ large. “I kind of thought I’d do what most people do when they come out of drama school, which is some theater, some TV, some low-budget stuff,” he says, eating meatballs and veggies in the leafy backyard of a modern house in Santa Monica’s Rustic Canyon. There are moments when Bloom’s lunch seems almost like a kind of prop: He tends to either preoccupy himself with the meal or stare thoughtfully into the distance while chewing. “You earn your stripes as you go,” he adds. “Sometimes I wonder what my life would be like had I had that kind of trajectory.”
To understand how unlikely Bloom’s trajectory has been, you need only look at his buddy Leonardo DiCaprio, who paid his dues in a number of small-scale, worthy projects before Titanic made him a global heartthrob. Even after he’d slipped beneath the surface of the North Atlantic, DiCaprio attempted to outrun his pin-up status with hefty roles in Martin Scorsese films. Bloom, for his part, simply hopped from one wildly successful franchise to another: Just as The Lord of the Rings trilogy was winding down in 2003, he traded his quiver for a scabbard to play Will Turner in Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl. This month, he reprises his role for the fifth installment of the Disney adventure, Dead Men Tell No Tales.
“It was really after Pirates that things changed,” Bloom says. The tabloids have adored him ever since, but the feeling isn’t mutual. In mid-March, after a year of well-documented frolicking, he and singer Katy Perry announced they’d be giving each other “respectful, loving space,” which sent the gossip columnists into overdrive. As for Bloom, he prefers not to discuss it.
There has also been lively media speculation regarding Bloom’s return to the Pirates franchise after a 10-year absence (he skipped the 2011 installment), with some observers suggesting that his reappearance might pave the way for a subsequent shift in focus away from Johnny Depp’s swaggering antihero Jack Sparrow and onto Turner and his son, played by Brenton Thwaites.
“Honestly, we’re talking about hypotheticals,” says Bloom wearily, but without dismissing the notion entirely. “I got a call from [producer] Jerry [Bruckheimer] and Disney to come back because they wanted this movie to hark back to the first film. It wasn’t a huge amount for me to do—I help them set off on a journey. But they’re interested in how this will impact other things moving forward. If there’s an appetite for it, we’ll see.”
Dead Men Tell No Tales is the first Pirates film that isn’t helmed by a Hollywood heavy hitter—Gore Verbinski directed the first three movies and Rob Marshall the fourth, whereas this one is directed by the relatively unknown Norwegian duo of Joachim Rønning and Espen Sandberg—which may be part of a larger reappraisal of the franchise. “In big special-effects movies, you can sometimes get lost in all that stuff, which I think may have happened in some of the other films,” Bloom says. “They didn’t overdo it this time.”
And while he won’t confirm that he’ll be starring in Pirates films going forward, Bloom doesn’t deny that his career so far has tended to place him in uncannily similar movies—big historical set pieces that require facility with a sword: as Paris in Troy (2004), a 12th-century crusader in Ridley Scott’s Kingdom of Heaven (2005) and an exaggerated villain in The Three Musketeers (2011). “I’ve often wondered why that is,” he says. “I think part of it is I’m pretty handy, physically. And my look kind of lent itself to that.”
Right now, dressed in an oversized gray hoodie, jeans and tan Nikes, with his dark hair stylishly trim, Bloom more closely resembles the best-looking guy at a beachside bonfire. But swap in his frequently shaggy ’do and some armor and he’s onto something. “Also, I grew up in a very historic town,” he adds.
“I don’t know whether that just seeped into the core of my being.”
Bloom and his older sister were raised in the English cathedral city of Canterbury, a biographical detail that could hardly be more fitting had he participated in local poetry, prose and Bible-reading competitions, which he did. As a teenager, he generally landed character-actor parts in school plays: a “dirty old man” in The Boy Friend, say, or the Sergeant of Police in The Pirates of Penzance.
Bloom considers the time he spent in New Zealand shooting the Rings trilogy—18 months in all—to have been an integral part of his education. “When you’re on set with Ian McKellen, who just has to wiggle his little finger to steal the scene, and Viggo Mortensen, who goes to sleep with his sword, and Elijah Wood, the kid who had done so much …” With this he trails off, as he occasionally does, then adds: “There was something very nurturing and magical about the making of those films. My life didn’t change that dramatically. I had money going into my bank account, but it was right-out-of-drama-school money.”
What came next, says Bloom, were his “crazy years.” In 2003, six months before the last Rings film hit theaters, he appeared in the first Pirates installment. He hesitated before taking the role. “I was shooting this gritty Irish movie Ned Kelly in the Australian Outback with Heath Ledger when I got the call. I said to my manager, ‘Why would I want to do that?’” The answer came from Geoffrey Rush, who had a role in Ned Kelly and had signed up for Pirates. “He said to me, ‘You should really take this seriously. It’s going to be a great movie and a great part for you.’” When Depp took the role of Jack Sparrow, it sealed the deal. “Anything to work with the man.”
Around the same time, Bloom was dipping his toe into smaller, more off-beat projects. In 2004, he starred in Haven, an indie film about forbidden love that he remains especially proud of, and the following year, he replaced Ashton Kutcher as the lead in Cameron Crowe’s Elizabethtown, a film in which he debuted his American accent. It was a box-office flop, and the toe-dipping didn’t go too much further. “It would have been great if I had people—if things had been structured slightly to allow me to make those mistakes,” he says. “It would be great if I had more of those risky roles.” His rising profile, meanwhile, caused difficulties off-screen, too.
“I probably felt overexposed with Will,” he says, referring to his role in the original Pirates film. “We did the first, which was great. And then of course they wanted to do two and three, which turned into this other thing. There was a lot of … noise around that whole time in my life.”
Bloom admits that he didn’t always handle the attention well. “I remember when I was in Australia with Kate Bosworth, whom I dated for four years through a really stressful time in my life,” he says. “I stole a camera off a paparazzi who was photographing us. I didn’t steal it—he was trying to pretend he wasn’t there, and I saw him hide it in a bin, so I went into the bin, pulled it out and locked it in my car. I just wanted to have an afternoon in a park with my girlfriend and make out. And, yeah, I gave him back the camera. But that’s the thing about me. I’ve always been human. I’ve always wanted to be human.”
After the release of 2007’s Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End, Bloom stole away to Antarctica for three months. He was without access to phone or email; it was just him and the emperor penguins. Upon his return, he credits his Buddhist philosophy with keeping him out of trouble. He soon met, married and had a child with Victoria’s Secret model Miranda Kerr. “I wanted to live a little,” he says. “I’m very grateful to say I have a beautiful son, and a great relationship with my ex.” (The couple split in 2013, and Kerr is now engaged to Snapchat CEO Evan Spiegel.)
Lately, Bloom has popped up in the kind of left-of-center projects he pined for earlier in his career. In 2015, he had a role in Drinking Buddies director Joe Swanberg’s Digging for Fire as a handsome stranger who gets cozy with a married woman. Swanberg is known for his improvisational approach, and Bloom was granted some creative control, which he took as an opportunity to lean into a more contemporary heroism. “I told Joe I’d like to be a chivalrous guy in a bar situation. Maybe I get into a fight to protect her honor. And then cook a meal for her. I’d like to ride a motorbike. I’d like to get stitched up by a woman, because obviously that’s kind of cool.” Bloom also appeared in an episode of Swanberg’s Netflix relationship drama Easy. “I went back to do independent stuff,” he says, “and kind of retrace the steps that I felt like I’d missed.”
Bloom will soon test his comedy chops playing a character very loosely based on famous Italian cyclist Marco Pantani for the HBO movie Tour de Pharmacy, a mockumentary directed by Jake Szymanski and starring Andy Samberg that deals with a doping scandal in the same over-the-top way as their 2015 tennis spoof, 7 Days in Hell.
“We knew for this character we wanted someone who was traditionally thought of as a leading-man hunky dude that you hadn’t seen do a lot of comedy, and his name immediately came up,” says Samberg, a die-hard Lord of the Rings fan. “When you’re dealing with [serious] actors, it can be funny in unexpected ways because they commit so wholly to a ridiculous character. Orlando really dove in. You could tell he worked on it. He was really fluid in his accent, which was hilarious. And it turned out he’s super into cycling! The footage of him looks very legit.”
Other than an episode of the Ricky Gervais comedy Extras, in which Bloom played an absurdly narcissistic version of himself, audiences haven’t had the chance to witness his funny side. He regrets that he turned down Saturday Night Live when he was asked to host about a decade ago. “I wasn’t able to step outside of myself to laugh at it all,” he says. “When you’re young and you take yourself so seriously, that can happen.”
His stints in comedy and indie drama notwithstanding, Bloom has no plans to ditch big-budget spectacles entirely—but even here he seems to be moving in a more unorthodox direction. S.M.A.R.T. Chase, the film for which he briefly sported a shock of blond hair, is an action thriller comprised of a mostly Chinese cast and crew. “It will really play for the youth culture in China,” he says. “I think it will go beyond that, but it was targeted at that market. In the next couple of years, that box office will surpass the domestic one.”
Bloom also appears to have become more comfortable with the attention he receives. Last fall, he made his Instagram account public. Fans can now find photos of him promoting his work with UNICEF, but also cuddling with his micro teacup poodle, Mighty. “For my generation, anything like this was a no-no,” he says, the poodle at his side. “It feels too self-promoting and calculated. Now, it’s like gathering the reins a little bit. The way celebrity gossip stories can be perpetuated—it’s like if you’re completely stoic and silent about things, people will just make up nonsense. It’s the opportunity for some counter-narratives, and also just a little bit of humanity.”
This sounds like a veiled reference to his relationship with Perry, which was the source of a lot of media nonsense even before the split. A month prior to their breakup, the “Roar” singer threw a 40th birthday party for Bloom in Palm Springs, where guests posed next to an oversized photo of an infamous tabloid moment: a nude Bloom ferrying Perry on a paddleboard. “I wasn’t seeking that kind of attention,” he says, smiling but concentrating on the remains of his lunch. “I have a great sense of humor about it, but that should never have been captured.”
Is he enjoying being single? “I’m enjoying being me,” he parries, smiling again. He is also enjoying the stage he’s reached in his career—in Hollywood, four decades deep is not a bad place for a guy to be. “Most actors get better with age in terms of performance and everything else,” he says. He pauses to take a phone call from Kerr, who’s calling to make sure Bloom is going to pick up their six-year-old son from school. He assures her that he is. “I’m excited about the next 10 years,” he says afterwards. “I wanted to make sure that my son’s at a great school, and he’s solid. And his mum is in a great relationship, and they’re solid. So I’m free to …” he trails off again and shrugs. “You know.” And with that, he’s gone.