You know you're a star when you have a line of plastic action dolls made in your image. Thanks to his role as Legolas Greenleaf, a princely elf in the film Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, 24-year-old Orlando Bloom has finally arrived. When the film is released in December, you'll be able to get your hands on Bloom action figures - complete with Greenleaf's flowing, platinum hair and a long, straight line of coal-black eyebrows. Not bad for an actor whose only previous screen appearance so far was in Wilde, where he had a one-line bit part as a rent boy who propositions Stephen Fry.
Based on JRR Tolkien's trilogy of novels, The Fellowship of the Ring is the first of three full length features shot back-to-back with an all-star cast including Elijah Wood, Ian McKellen, Liv Tyler and Cate Blanchett. And in director Peter Jackson's native New Zealand, the huge $270 million budget went a very long way. The two sequels are already in the can : The Two Towers, to be released in December 2002, and The Return of the King due on 2003.
In the epic saga, Greenleaf is the eyes and ears of the mystical nine-member Fellowship in their quest through Middle Earth to destroy a ring filled with evil. He carries a quiver of arrows and, for close combat, wields two white knives with the fluid dexterity of a samurai.
Walking into the Manhattan studio where Bloom's photoshoot is taking place, the scruffy fashion-world characters I encounter are worlds away from Middle Earth's Wizards and Orcs. Bloom himself is also far removed from his action-figure alter ego and its oversized pecs and deloids. Lithe and sinewy, nearly six feet tall, with stubby dark hair swept up on both sides of his head into a peak, he's wearing a loud shirt and flares. As he reaches out his hand to shake mine, I notice some running script tattooed onto his forearm. It's an Elvish word, he tells me. After filming, all nine actors of the Fellowship had the word 'nine' electric-needled onto their forearms in Elvish. Eighteen months in New Zealand devoted single project obviously created a very tangible sense of camaraderie.
He ushers me into a room at the back of the studio and we sit at a table laden with laptops. As I lift my copy of the Tolkien trilogy, reprinted to coincide with the film's release, from my bag, Bloom notices his photograph on the back jacket. 'I made the book!' he whoops with infectious enthusiasm. 'Look,' he shouts, waving the book at a friend, 'my picture's on the cover!'
Never mind book covers - Bloom's going to have to get used to seeing his face all over every entertainment medium. Born in Canterbury, Kent, the then 22 year old landed the role of Greenleaf two days before graduating from Black Hawk Down, Ridley Scott's action film about two downed helicopters in Somalia, which is set to confirm Bloom's role as Hollywood's latest heartthrob.
Jeffrey Slinim: You've already had a very theatre-based education so far - the National Youth Theatre, the British American Drama Academy, then the Guildhall Does it feel like you're going to Hollywood now?
Orlando Bloom: No! I'm enjoying learning to work in front of a camera, learning to use it. I feel very fortunate.
JS: Were you always a fan of Tolkien?
OB: I started reading the books as a kid. But I put them down when I became interested in girls. I'd got as far as the middle of the second book, The Two Towers. But I picked it up when the casting process began. Then I read it again in New Zealand. It was our bible, because it described the characters in such depth.
JS: Did anyone become a real Tolkien scholar?
OB: Ian McKellen was quite switched on. But then everyone was, really. What it boiled down to for me was just a very beautiful, simple story. Power corrupts; all the evil of the world is contained in this one small ring, and the smallest of all the races, the Hobbits, carries the weight of all evil. And the Fellowship, a group of Elves, Dwarves, Hobbits, humans, and Wizards - groups who ordinarily wouldn't mingle - joined forces and set out to destroy all the evil of the world.
JS: How did you learn to spin knives so well?
OB: From Bob Anderson, who was our sword master in New Zealand. He's done everything - The Three Musketeers, Star Wars - he even taught Errol Flynn! He's cool. The stunt guys were very knowledgeable about different martial arts; I'd been watching films like The Seven Samurai by Kurosawa and wanted to have that kind of poise and focus. But, foremost, Legolas is an archer.
JS: Is being an expert archer easy to fake?
OB: Actually, I had extensive lessons. I was in New Zealand two months prior to filming, and by the end of my training, he was throwing things in the sky, and I was shooting them out of the air.
JS: Sounds like a medieval boot camp
OB: Not really. I started early with movement training and voice training, and getting the dialect, not to mention working at the gym.
JS: I heard that you had trouble with a few landslides out there.
OB: That's right. I took a car trip down towards the South Island with Sean Bean, who plays Boromir. We were filming down there, but Sean's not into flying. And as we were driving, torrential rain started pouring down. You've never seen so much rain. I was videoing it and thinking, 'This is insane.' It didn't stop for, like, 12 hours. And after nine hours of heavy rain, the roads just started to wash away. Then we saw a massive landslide coming right towards us. We spun the car around, but we ran straight into another one, further up the road. So we pulled into this petrol station where there was already a queue of people. And we managed to find a little cottage, where they let us stay. They had to carry us out in a helicopter, in all this torrential rain, which was kid of hairy. Sean was gutted. He'd done this whole drive just to avoid the flight.
JS: Were the local impressed by the helicopter?
OB: New Zealand is all about choppers. It's just the best way to get around.
JS: I ran into Liv Tyler when she'd just got back from filming out there. It must have been a totally relaxing shoot because she was so honest and open, it was as if she'd forgotten what a journalist does
OB: Liv's completely adorable. She was one of the few women on set, so everyone was telling here, 'You're not the only woman on set, but you're our princess.'
JS: Were many of the creatures computer-animated?
OB: Certain elements were, yes. There was this sequence with a cave troll that was compyter-animated. So I was dodging and ducking in front of a big ball with a cross on it. They had a sort of cutout where the troll was going to be painted in later. But the reaction shots were difficult, because they had small explosives blowing s**t up all around me.
JS: Did you learn anything at Guildhall that helped you with movie work?
OB: Just the etiquette of working with other actors, listening, and being present. In school, I learned a lot about my physicality, my movements, my voice, about my composure. And I had to tone all that stuff down for Legolas. Elves have superhuman reflexes and awareness. It was quite exhausting, maintaining the focus and composure.
JS: And do you know which of the three movies you're in most?
OB: I'm afraid not. We'd shoot a scene from the third movie in the morning and one from the first movie at he end of the day.
JS: How did you feel about sporting Legolas's mane of blonde hair?
OB: Those wigs were incredible. They're made of real hair, and they're worth, like, 15 grand. I tore the wig of Viggo [Mortensen, who plays the human warrior Aragorn] one time, in a scuffle. That really stressed out his make-up artist.
JS: While you were shooting on location, what did you do for a break?
OB: I liked to surf with the Hobbits. Billy, Dom, Nigel, Nigel, Elijah Wood, Sean - we all had surfboards.
JS: I heard that you also went snowboarding in your time off.
OB: Yeah, I love it. I did so much cool stuff in New Zealand: snowboarding, skydiving, bungee jumping - which is a lot more intense than skydiving. The rush you get from skydiving only comes when you're free falling for about 30 seconds. But to throw yourself into the air with only something attached your feet is a different head space all together. I went off at the highest bungee jump in New Zealand, 134m, like, six times!
JS: You've got a thing for leaping from great heights - didn't you once break your back that way?
OB: Yes, when I was 21. I was trying to get onto a friend's roof terrace. It was a meter and a half from the window, but I landed on a drainpipe and fell back three floors. I was unconscious for a couple of minutes. They tried bringing a helicopter in to rescue me, but it couldn't land. Then they used a crane to winch over a fireman. At the hospital, they did a neuroscan and operated. They said I was going to be in a wheelchair, but I walked out of the hospital 12 days later.
OB: Yes. We were doing this scene with 30horses lined up. We had to shoot, like, five times. We had to ride up over this mound and down into a gully; and then there were rocks and a sheer drop. Well, horses are pack animals, man. And when that many horses get going, they're really going. On the last take, the director said, ' now imagine the Orcs coming up from behind.' So I had my bow up, but the horses just weren't going to stop. Gimli fell, he landed on top of me, and I landed on a rock. I cracked a rib and Vig cracked his tooth.
JS: Was it strange working with such well-known actors?
OB: Well, when I was at drama school, Ian [McKellen] was somebody we all looked up to.
JS: Where did you sleep?
OB: We didn't always. One night, me and Gimli stayed up all night. We'd been working till about 11pm, and we wanted to get the red dawn in the morning. So we stayed up. We brought our trailers around in a circle, like covered wagons, and lit a campfire in the middle, where we cooked sausages. And we stayed up the whole next day.
JS: Did you party at night?
OB: We went out for drinks to local bars and pubs. It was kind of crazy, because we'd have all these props from Lord of the Rings at our parties. Even at Cannes, they flew over half of the set and installed it in a chateau.
JS: After 18 months on location, were you dreaming about Hobbits and Dwarves?
OB: Constantly, of corse. I could never let it go. Just keeping in touch with the script and the book, and know where your character was going - it was all-encompassing.
JS: Tolkien's descriptions were amazingly thorough.
OB: He could describe a tree for more than two pages. It's taken special effects technology 50 years to catch up with his imagination.
JS: I see even now you're wearing a ring with an Elvish inscription on it. What does it say?
OB: 'To wherever it may lead,' which was one of my first lines in Elvish. It was given to me by my make-up artist.
JS: Did you find it difficult to speak Elvish?
OB: It has a kind of Celtic/Welsh vibe. We had this incredible American guy who actually learned the language. So if we wanted to say something like 'Watch your back,' we'd have to write it down, and then it would be sent off to him, and he'd tell us how to say it.
JD: Any pet phrases on set?
OB: Vig used to call me 'elf boy', and I'd call him 'filthy human'. As an Elf, I never got a scratch on me, never got dirty. And Vig would come out with blood and swear all over him. And he'd say to me, 'Oh, go manicure your nails.;
JS: Did you find the prospect of kids playing with toys that look like you strange?
OB: It's crazy. They keep sending these dolls to me to approve. They're great! All I've asked for is to change a few colours and expressions on my face. I can't wait to pick one up myself.
JS: And when you saw yourself for the first time in the segments in Cannes, how did that feel?
OB: Amazing. We were all so excited to see it all come together, with the music and the monsters, we asked to see it again and again and again.