Orlando Bloom started to read J. R. R. Tolkien's Lord of the Rings trilogy years ago, but then hit a stumbling block of epic proportions. "I was about 14, and I got half way through the second book when I became more interested in women and cars and sports and stuff," admits the 24-year-old British actor. Ironically enough, Bloom now plays Legolas Greenleaf, one of the nine heroes of the Fellowship, in Peter Jackson's big-screen interpretation of The Fellowship of the Ring and its two sequels, The Two Towers and The Return of the King.
"I should really say that I got interested in a girl. I was only 14. But then I picked up the books again as soon as the casting process began on Lord of the Rings, and I read them, a couple of times before the movies started shooting. I wouldn't say I'm an authority on Tolkien, but I felt pretty confident about what I was getting into," Bloom explains. "I had a different experience the second time I read the books, and when I go back to read them again, which I do, I know I'll see other things. At the moment I'm terrified about going back. It's just too much. We've done so much Lord of the Rings, I'm scared that there's something I missed. The pressure of playing one of these characters was very demanding."
Legolas, of course, is the heroic elf who accompanies the story's primary protagonist, Frodo (Elijah Wood), on the quest to rid their world of a ring that corrupts all who possess it. Along the way to Mordor and then Mount Doom, Legolas befriends Frodo's other mates, including Aragorn (Viggo Mortensen) and surprisingly - since Elves and Dwarves pretty much despise each other - the Dwarf Gimli (John Rhys-Davis).
"It's just such a great story," Bloom enthuses. "It's a mixture off races; Elves, Dwarves, humans and wizards all getting together to take on one nasty little ring of power. It's great in terms of the universal idea that everybody must come together to achieve something."
The same could be said of the Rings production itself. Everyone came together, intent on helping Jackson achieve something special and perhaps even as enduring as its source material. Cast and crew spent 15 months in New Zealand shooting the films back-to-back-to-back as well as a lengthy rehearsal period and later reshoots. Everyone sat together at table reads, trained together and, as time tolled by, friendships were formed. It was a tremendous experience for all involved, but especially Bloom, who had little previous acting experience, except drama school and a small role in the film Wilde.
"I studied archery and trained with Bob Anderson," Bloom says, referring to the legendary Hollywood swordsman whose dueling bravura extends from Errol Flynn to Darth Vader and beyond, "He has some stories to tell. He's a genius. I arrived two months before filming started, and I first trained with a bow and arrow, then I had sword fighting with Bo. My character has a couple of knives on his back, which I had to learn to pull out and use. The elven fighting is based on an ancient European style of fighting. I also had to do some horse riding. I rode maybe 20 different horses before I was given the horse I rode in the movies - and I still managed to fall off that horse and break a rib. It was a really demanding two months of preparation. Fortunately, we were a team, sort of a clan, all the actors. The Fellowship was together very often on location. I ended up spending a lot of time with Viggo and John."
Winning the role of Legolas was an epic journey all in its own for the actor. "I had been theater training for three years at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama," he reports, "and then suddenly was given this incredible opportunity to have 15 months of training in front of the camera, working with some of the best people in the business. It took about six or eight months to find out that I had gotten this role. I initially went on tape for one of the other roles, and then met up with Peter in London and did a screen test, which was actually more of a make-up test. And then I got it. It was just a amazing opportunity. I felt incredibly fortunate. Like most actors, I'm very observant. I watch people and see how things work."
Once production started, Bloom made the most of his experience. "It was like a drama school of its own, being on the set," he describes. "Peter is a genius, Ian McKellen [Gandalf] is the greatest theater actor in Britain. He's somebody I look at and say, 'That's what I would like to do.' I had studied videos of his performances, so it was bizarre to be thrown into an environment with him."
Working on a location far from home was a double-edged sword for the Elf warrior. "It wasn't easy being away from my family, but I found a new family in New Zealand. And I loved New Zealand! After all those months, it felt like home. It's so beautiful. The people are incredibly nice and anywhere you go, it's just mind-blowing, dramatic scenery. So I feel very fortunate to have had that time with these people, and to have made some very good friends."
Playing Legolas, notes the actor, was no easy feat. Beyond the physical rigors, dealing with scale sets, riding horses, going mano-a-mano with Uruks unleashed by Saruman the White (Christopher Lee) and other acting obstacles, Bloom had to make his Elf convincing. After all, Elves are the oldest speaking race in all of Middle-Earth, and also possess special powers.
"It was tough to maintain an Elf's focus and centered characteristics," notes Bloom, who was born and raised in Canterbury, England. "Tolkien created the Elves as angelic kind of spirits. The Elves have among the highest status in Middle-earth. They have incredible superhuman strength, amazing speed and great sensory awareness. In my case, it helped to have a long blonde wig, blue eyes and the costume. I spent an hour and a half every day getting the makeup and costume on. All of that helped to create this character and his world."
A world, the actor hopes, that will please the avid fans of Tolkien's trilogy. "So long as you're filling the films with enough of the right energy, all you can do is have faith that you're doing the best job possible so that you can keep everybody - including the fans of the books - happy," says Bloom, who will next be seen in Ridley Scott's contemporary war drama Black Hawk Down, in which he co-stars opposite Josh Hartnett, Ewan McGregor and Tom Sizemore.
"There are obviously going to be some people who have questions about it all," Orlando Bloom realizes, "because when you read a series like Lord of the Rings, you know that Tolkien was a professor of history, that he made the story so detailed, you actually kind of have to create your own world in your head. We're saying, 'This is our interpretation. This is Pete's interpretation. This is as true to the book as it can possibly be.' And, hopefully, that will be enough for people."