A Bloom with a view
ORLANDO BLOOM has a confession to make. When he was first sent the script of the David Storey play In Celebration, he "didn't know who David Storey was". And the ignorance, it seems, was mutual. "No, I'm afraid I hadn't heard of Orlando," the playwright happily confesses.
As Bloom prepares to star in a London West End revival of Storey's work, this parallel blankness is perhaps unsurprising, these two theatrical collaborators coming from contrasting branches of culture. The 30-year-old actor has never appeared professionally on stage, having spent his whole decade as an actor in epic films, including Troy and Kingdom of Heaven, with a special line in high- octane trilogies: as Legolas in The Lord of the Rings, and as Will Turner in Pirates of the Caribbean.
For his part, Storey, 74 on Friday, is a playwright and novelist belonging to institutions and movements (Royal Court Theatre, London/northern realist) that had their peak years before Bloom was even born. In Celebration - in which three Wakefield sons have escaped, in different ways, from the mining life represented by their father, who has spent 49 years down the pit - premiered at the Court in 1969.
Bloom almost wasn't in this revival at all. He celebrated his birthday towards the end of the marathon shoot for the Pirates trilogy: "I reached 30 and thought time was a bit more precious. What did I actually want to do? Since I was 25, I've basically been making Pirates movies. And, because of the success of those films, that has become the focus. 'Oh, he's the guy from the Pirates movies.' And I had to think, 'Is that what I want?'"
Deciding that he "really needed to do some theatre because I was feeling a bit thin", he was offered the part of Steven, the quietest of the three brothers in In Celebration, but initially said no. "I was, like, 'You want me to play Steven? Why? He doesn't say much, does he?' I just didn't get it." He asked for the showier role, Andrew, but realised the character was too old, and was persuaded that Steven was a good entry into theatre. He believes now that the modesty of the role is an advantage. "I saw the potential for a great ensemble play. I was very conscious of not wanting a star vehicle. I wanted to crack this perception of, 'Oh, it's Orl... '" His own name trips him up, as if he's wary of becoming one of those performers who refer to themselves with ease in the third person. "You know, that it's 'Orlando Bloom.'" He completes the name, but with exaggerated distance, as if it were a fictional character "doing some theatre".
Some theatregoers may be disappointed at what they see: one of the Bloom fan sites claimed he would be appearing naked on stage. In fact, the only undressing stage direction to be found in Storey's text is a hospitable invitation to Steven to take off his coat if he's staying. Is it possible that the new staging reinterprets this scene so radically that Bloom keeps on going once he's got his coat off? The actor has bad news for anyone hoping for that: "I heard what they're saying. But you've read the play. Where would I possibly get my clothes off in it? It's bizarre."
The rumour seems most likely to have been wishful thinking by the teeny-screamy element of Bloom's fan club. Does he ever resent such attention? "No," he says. "It was those fans that gave me the chance to star in Kingdom of Heaven."
The new version of In Celebration rehearsed at the National Youth Theatre's rooms in north London, a nostalgic location for Bloom: it was at the NYT that he did his first serious acting, as a spear-carrier in Othello. The story of Bloom's childhood, in Kent, is a familiar one among performers: pretending to be others gave him release from the tensions of who he was. "Drama class was one of the only areas at school I responded to. Until I was 11, I'd struggled at school, and they thought I was just being stupid. But then I had a dyslexia test and it turned out I had a healthy IQ, but had a problem with reading. We found a school that could help me."
Bloom's adolescence was further complicated by the revelation that the man he knew as his stepfather was in fact his father. Given that In Celebration turns on parent-child tensions, was Bloom able to draw on his own upbringing? "Well," he says, "what's interesting about this play is that there's no such thing as a conventional upbringing. The father keeps saying, 'Family, lad, it's about family.' But I think the play is saying, 'What is a family? What do we mean by that?' And I love it for that."
In retrospect, he cringes at his initial cockiness when the role of Legolas in The Lord of the Rings came along: "I remember my first screen test. I did it as Orlando. In costume, with a bow and arrow. But as Orlando. And I was totally at ease, cracking jokes. And I went to see that screen test - the first time I'd ever seen myself on screen - and I freaked out. It was, like, what are you doing? I was devastated. It was so big and I wasn't doing anything. I realised I had to learn how to be an actor for film."Bloom belongs to a new generation of actors whose entire careers are available on DVD. If they wished, they could carry all their work around with them on a video iPod. Is he tempted? "No," he says. "I've never even watched one of the DVDs. I sometimes think it would be nice to show your kids one day. Sometimes I catch a glimpse in hotel rooms or on planes, and think, 'Eurggh, is that what I was doing?'"