Orlando Bloom has vanquished the most formidable enemies conceived by Hollywood, from hordes of slavering Orcs to shipfuls of the piratical undead, but he may discover that these beasts are as nothing compared with West End critics and theatregoers.
Although Bloom is currently one of the most recognisable faces in Theatreland, he is also one of the least experienced. His role in Anna Mackmin’s new production of In Celebration – David Storey’s play about a Yorkshire family simmering with repressed fury – is not only his West End debut, but his first stage role as a professional actor.
Bloom’s career path has been vertical since he graduated from Guildhall School of Music and Drama in 1999. Two days after completing his studies he was hired to play Legolas in Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings trilogy and has scarcely been out of work since. In his eight years since graduation, he has appeared in four of the 15 highest-grossing films ever made and is likely to see that figure rise to five with the final instalment of the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise. It’s little surprise, then, that he hasn’t yet found time to tread the boards.
The toughest role
Now that he has, it is a brave step indeed. Bloom says that he took the role of Steven, the youngest child in a family that has begun to break away from its working-class roots, because he wanted to go “back to basics” and have a “completely different experience” from Hollywood. His swashbuckling skills seen on screen will be of no use to him now. Instead, he has to perfect both a Yorkshire accent and the art of brooding.
His role, which was originally played by a young Brian Cox when In Celebration opened at the Royal Court in 1969, is central to the drama, but the character barely says a word beyond the first scene. Steven is one of three brothers who, while visiting their parents to celebrate their mother’s 60th birthday, rake over a long-repressed incident from their youth that threatens to tear the family apart.
Storey himself says that Bloom has taken the toughest role. “It is the most difficult part to play because you’ve got to sustain a great deal of emotion without many lines,” the award-winning playwright and novelist explains. “There is a melancholia at the centre of the piece that revolves around him. Orlando is keen to explore his own abilities as an actor, and it will be very exciting to see if this move takes place. I’m sure it will.”
Brian Cox was also new to the London stage when he created the character, Storey notes, although he had spent years in repertory theatre in Dundee and Birmingham. Lindsay Anderson – who would go on to direct nine Storey scripts at the Royal Court and the National Theatre, and a film adaptation of his first novel, This Sporting Life, starring Richard Harris – asked Storey to interview Cox. “I got a strong feeling about him that he could do the role,” he recalls.
Chemistry & family resonances
Storey’s instinct was spot on. Cox and his co-star Alan Bates, who would both return to their roles six years later in the film version of In Celebration, found a chemistry in the play’s central theme that ensured that the opening night was a Royal Court triumph. Princess Margaret, who had not intended to stay beyond the first act, was so impressed that she remained until the end and requested to see the actors after the curtain call. She invited them back to Kensington Palace, but was rebuffed by both. Storey remembers how the Princess took a shine to Cox first. “She made straight for him. Brian did look good, so perhaps Orlando will have the same thing happen to him.”
Bloom, who is currently single, has never needed to worry about a lack of attention from women. He broke up with Kate Bosworth, the actress best known for her turn as Lois Lane in Superman Returns, last year and, reportedly, has since created a profile on Facebook, the social networking website, to find himself a partner. Readers hoping to email him under his real name will be disappointed, however. He’s apparently using a friend’s name and photograph.
Prospective suitors will have more luck searching for Bloom’s character traits. He was born in Canterbury, Kent, in 1977 and was named after Orlando Gibbons, a 17th-century composer with a fondness for madrigals. He’s a Buddhist, is building an environmentally-friendly house and likes to travel by bus. He also discovered, at the age of 13, that his father was not Harry Bloom, the late anti-apartheid activist, but a family friend called Colin Stone – so the family tensions of In Celebration ought to have some resonances.
“My mother thought that it was the right time to tell us. It was strange, but it was also kind of exciting, because the man who had been acting as my father for all intents and purposes – the guy who I’d hung out with on the weekend – he turned out to be my real dad. I have a great relationship with him, because growing up he was more friend than my father. And now he’s my father.”
Bloom is simultaneously one of the luckiest actors in Britain, with an estimated fortune of £17 million, and the most hapless. He’s broken only slightly fewer bones than Evel Knievel. He cracked his skull and broke his arm falling out of a tree and broke his nose in a rugby match. He broke one leg apiece in a skiing accident and a motorcycle crash and smashed his wrist while snowboarding. He also cracked a rib while falling from a horse during the filming of The Lord of the Rings. But his most spectacular achievement was a mighty plunge from a rooftop that damaged his spine.
“I was in a friend’s apartment in Notting Hill and their roof terrace door had been mangled by the weather,” he once recounted. “I kicked it from the inside, fell out, hung on to a drainpipe until it gave way and fell two storeys.”
The actor was told he might never walk again, but 12 days after surgery, with two plates and six bolts in his back, he left hospital on his feet. It seems apt that his first screen role, in 1994, was as a patient in Casualty.
Will Orlando Bloom, to cite that old theatrical maxim, break a leg when he takes to the Duke of York’s stage? He’s never really achieved critical acclaim during his film career despite affecting performances in Cameron Crowe’s Elizabethtown and his British indie film The Calcium Kid. On the other hand, Daniel Radcliffe and Billie Piper, Bloom’s co-star in The Calcium Kid, have both recently made successful theatrical transitions with far less acting experience.
And when you’ve faced Bill Nighy dressed up as a tentacled Davey Jones, the likes of Charles Spencer from the Daily Telegraph and his fellow theatre critics may not seem all that scary.
In Celebration opens on 16 July 2007 (previews from 5 July) at the West End’s Duke of York’s Theatre. A version of this article appears in the July/August issue of What’s on Stage magazine (formerly Theatregoer), out now in participating theatres. Click here to thumb through our online edition. And to guarantee your copy of future print editions - and also get all the benefits of our Theatregoers’ Club - click here to subscribe now!!