In the year of event movies, Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings is undoubtedly the main attraction. Likely to even put a spell on Harry Potter's box office performance, The Fellowship of the Ring, the first installment of Jackson's $270 million adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien's epic fantasy novel, is released worldwide next week, with its two sequels due for consecutive Christmas openings. The story of an arduous journey across Tolkien's fantastical Middle-Earth, it's a trek as fraught with danger as the one about to be taken by one of it's stars, British newcomer Orlando Bloom.
Playing blond-haired elf Legolas, one of the nine members of the so-called Fellowship who undertake to destroy the all-powerful Ring, Bloom is about to get his first taste of fame. Joining an international ensemble cast that includes Liv Tyler, Cate Blanchett, Elijah Wood and Sit Ian McKellen, Bloom won the role just two days before he finished his training at London's Guildhall School of Music and Drama. 'It was just bonkers,' he says. 'It was like winning the lottery - or as close as it gets. It was like, "Here, have a life!"'
When we meet - in a converted Camberwell pub, where Bloom (on two hours sleep, and yawning) is preparing for our photo-shoot - he wanders around, slightly wide-eyed, still in a daze at all the attention. 'It's still hitting home, y'know? When I first got out to New Zealand, to work on Lord of the Rings, I got off the plane and it took me four weeks of filming before I realized what I was involved with. It's been like, "Hold on tight for the ride." I'm amazed that things have panned out the way they have. I always say I'm so lucky, though my mum always says, "You make your own luck."
Also with a role in the forthcoming Ridley Scott military epic Black Hawk Down, the 24-year-old Bloom seems pretty good at forging his own good fortune. Relaxed and lacking any pretense, he already seems savvy to the perils of showbiz. 'Whatever level you are in your career as an actor, it doesn't natter how prominent you are, every actor has cycles,' he says. 'Sometimes you're hot, sometimes not. Who knows? You have to keep yourself occupied and constant.'
Lord of the Rings kept him occupied for 15 months, causing him to relocate Down Under while all three movies were shot back-to-back. 'We felt like a family,' he says. 'I think partly because of being on an island in New Zealand and so far a way from the rest of the world. We really felt like we made friends - it was a very special experience.' As the ever-watchful Legolas - 'the eyes and ears of the Fellowship', as he tells me - Bloom had not only to learn horse-riding and sword-fighting, but also how to speak the Celtic-sounding, Tolkien-invented Elvish dialect. 'It's so hard to learn because there is nothing to hold on to with the Elvish language. The way that it flows, it sounds incredibly beautiful but the emphasis it's all so unnatural.'
Informed by Bloom that the elves are not only 'the eldest of the speaking races on Middle-Earth' but also 'have the most beauty', it's easy to see why he was cast. Somewhat obscured by the casual, baggy streetwear he has on, he cuts a fine figure. Of slim build, with delicate, dark features, his hair has grown back since I first saw him at the Cannes Festival earlier this year, when he was sporting 'the Black Hawk Down buzzcut', as he calls it. It gives him a boyish appeal, rather different to his ethereal look in Lord of the Rings. For the record, Bloom's just seen part one and he was blown away.
'I want to see it again and again and again,' he gushes. 'It's covered so many different levels. Pete has created something quite spectacular. It has to be seen to be believed. It's a dark, funny, quirky, epic adventure. It has a bit for everyone. I hope it will hit home.'
Raised in Canterbury, Bloom - whose parents run a foreign language school - was encouraged by his mother to pursue the arts, particularly at the local Kent Festival. 'You do poetry reading, prose, that kind of thing,' he recalls. 'It gave me a sensitivity to language in terms of vocalizing it. I always used to get involved with the school plays. My teacher at school, who would take drama, would always give me interesting roles as a kid. My mum would take us to the theatre, and watching those larger-then-life characters I decided I want to become an actor.'
Studying photography, sculpture and theatre at A-level, Bloom went on to join Guildhall, the former training ground for Joseph Finnes, David Thewlis and Ben Chaplin among others. The college lost no time in adding Bloom to their hall of fame. 'They've got a board somewhere with photos of different people. My sister who's training there now, says I'm up there next to Ewan McGregor!'
Bloom was able to reminisce with fellow alumnus McGregor on the Morocco-based set of Black Hawk Down, his first projects since Lord of the Rings. 'The first scene I shot was with Ewan,' smiles Bloom. 'He was the big name that had come out of school. So we chatted about some of the teachers we had at college.' Th true story of the near-catastrophic Battle of Mogadishu sees Bloom up alongside the likes of McGregor, Josh Hartnett and Tom Sizemore to play a rookie US ranger who breaks his back after falling from a helicopter. 'That's kind of weird,' says Bloom. 'I broke my back four years ago. I fell three floors trying to get on to a roof terrace at a friends house in Notting Hill. I've always been "act first think later". It can lead to an exciting spontaneity - but it was a big wake-up call. I was almost paralyzed.'
Having broken both his legs in the past, fortunately the only injury he sustained on Lord of the Rings was a cracked rib from falling off a horse. Returning to London after the protracted shoot, though, meant he did have time to nurse a broken heart, after he split from his girlfriend, who had visited him on location throughout his time in New Zealand. A professional hazard, Bloom is already learning that the itinerant lifestyle of an actor doesn't always lead to domestic bliss. 'We found it very difficult, so we split up. I think that it's something that you have to learn to manage. The sad thing is sometimes relationships will suffer. It isn't easy to be uprooted from your friends and family constantly, but I love what I'm doing. You have to go whole-heartedly into it. A big reason why it didn't work out with my girlfriend was that it was new territory and we didn't know how to deal with it. In hindsight, there were certain things that I should have done, but you learn as you go."
Yet to choose his next project, Bloom is currently 'young, free and single', as he tells me. He pauses: 'But I sort of feel like I'm married to my career at the moment. I'm aware of just trying to keep my eye on the ball.'