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Elf Assassin, from Starlog (May #298), April 9, 2002
By Ian Spelling
typed by en penumbras from the Orlando Bloom Fan Board

As the eyes and ears of the Fellowship, Orlando Bloom focuses on the mission at hand.

Orlando Bloom knew the instant he read J.R.R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings that it could serve as the basis for some extraordinary motion pictures. "The story has adventure and beasts and goblins," enthuses the actor, who costarred in The Fellowship of the Ring as the heroic Elf Legolas. "There are Hobbits and Dwarves. It has heart. It has magic and love and spirit - a wide range of emotions you can experience. It's so detailed. Tolkien was a professor of history, and he just layered this story with so much [of that knowledge]. You open up the books, take a look at the pages and get lost in this world. That's what's so amazing about it."

While filming in New Zealand, Bloom relied almost as much on the books as he did the scripts by Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens and writer-director Peter Jackson. Everyone - even Jackson - did likewise. "For all intents and purposes, the test was like referring to the Bible." Bloom explains. "It was on hand at all times. I literally went through the books and highlighted all the information I felt I needed to know about my character, about the journey of the Fellowship. I really went through them with a fine-tooth comb to try and absorb everything I could about what it meant for Legolas to be a part of the Fellowship. I wanted to incorporate what was in the books and in the scripts into what I was doing in my performance.

"My place in the Fellowship is that I represent the Elves. I use my Elven qualities, which are my superhuman strength - which doesn't come into use that much - my eyes, my ears and my senses. Legolas seems to know when there's danger around the Fellowship. In the first movie especially, that's his role. You see him with his bow and arrows. He's kind of an assassin. But Legolas is really the eyes and ears of the Fellowship."

Bloom - a young British actor whose only previous credits were small roles in U.K. television programs and a supporting part in the film Wilde - faced a particularly difficult challenge in Rings: Not only is his character tremendously physical, but he's also a touch otherworldly. Such is the nature of Elves, and so Bloom worked out, read up and - through makeup, prosthetics and costuming - transformed himself into Legolas.

"The role of an actor is to make every character believable," says Bloom, who actually perused parts of Tolkien's trilogy as a teenager, but read them in earnest during the several months-long Rings audition process. "And to play and Elf, my way into the character was through his physicality. The first thing they did when I got to New Zealand was put a bow in my hand. Training with the bow, doing swordplay with Bob Anderson, practicing on horseback - all of that really informed what my character was about and how I was going to portray him."

"Obviously, the books are incredibly detailed," he adds, "and there is plenty of information about the Elves in them. The Elves are a very interesting culture, and many people are intrigued by them because they're rather magical and mystical. Tolkien created them as the firstborn race - they're angelic spirits placed on Middle-Earth by the gods - so they have this otherworldly quality to them. I translated that into them always being centered, poised and focused. [You can compare that to today], where people go to yoga classes and meditate and do all sorts of things to try to attain a higher state of mind and living, to center themselves."

"So when I was playing Legolas, if the other Hobbit actors were joking around on set, I would usually be more quite and still, trying to remain as focused and concentrated as I possible could. I wanted that intensity in the character. It's all in the eyes, I think. It's not in what he says, it's in what he does - even if he's not running or fighting or shooting a bow. And if he does speak, it's because there's danger or something important needs to be expressed. He'll say, 'The Orcs are about' or 'There's something unnerving about this situation. We need to move on.' That's his mission, his job."

"For all of us, this was an epic adventure," Bloom attests. "Pete put the responsibility on us to bring something to the characters. We all had to raise our game in order to step up to the plate and meet the challenge. The makeup and prosthetics helped me so much. I spent two hours every morning with the hair and makeup people, and that was fun. It really did help me get into the character. Every morning, slipping into those ears, putting the wig on, I would become Legolas. I looked at those two hours as time I could spend getting into the right headspace, and let me tell you, when you're waking up [that early] in the morning, it can sometimes take two hours."

The Fellowship of the Rings emerged as a huge critical and financial hit upon its release in December 2001, and went on to garner 13 Oscar nominations, including Best Picture and Best Director. Bloom wasn't surprised in the least when he heard Jackson's name announced as a nominee. "Pete is an incredible man," he extols. "He has the heart of a Hobbit, the madness of a wizard and the cool of and Elf. He encompasses all of those races. he's a real centered and focused director, and he had to be. When we were on set, he would say, 'So, Legolas is going to do this,' and he would do the gestures and get in a shooting position and turn his head as if he sensed something. In those small moments, he would crystallize exactly what he wanted. I could just look at him - and I think we all could do this - and he would show us what to do, and them we would do it ourselves."

"We got to know our characters so well over time, and that made for a great working relationship with Pete. We were all on the same page. We all knew what he wanted. It was cool. He would just say one word and it would sum up precisely what I needed to do. he would tell me. 'Just remember, you're an assassin.' and I would think, 'OK, I'm a cool, steely assassin.' I thought of Legolas as a gun and his arrows as his bullets."

One of Jackson's fellow nominees in the Best Director category was Ridley Scott for Black Hawk Down, and unrelenting, brutal film based on the true events of American's ill-fated 1993 military mission into Mogadishu, Somalia. Bloom played an inexperienced, eager soldier in the picture, and got to act in a cast that included Josh Hartnett, Ewan McGregor, Tom Sizemore and Eric Bana. "It was an opportunity to work with Ridley and [producer] Jerry Bruckhemimer," Bloom says. "You don't turn down a chance to work with those guys. I had no idea, really, what I would be doing, but I knew it was a modern-day military story based on the events that happened in Somalia. My character, Private First Class Todd Blackburn, was the youngest and greenest of the Rangers brought over to fight in Mogadishu. He fell 60 feet from a helicopter at the start of the mission, and that was really the beginning of the end, if you like. But he's alive today. The Ranger's code of conduct is that you never leave a man fallen or down. So this one man fell and needed to be removed from that location. This meant that the other Rangers had to land in an area with the worst open live fire since Vietnam and try to take him out. And it became hellish."

"As an actor, it was a great experience. I didn't have much to do, but I had my moments, and I learned a hell of a lot from working on such a huge machine of a set, which is how Ridley runs things. Lord of the Rings is one of the largest projects ever made because it was three movies filmed at once, but since we were working in New Zealand and with Pete, it felt like a family and smaller set. It didn't feel like a big thing. Whereas on Black Hawk Down, there was no messing around. You had six to eight helicopters in the air, six to eight cameras filming, 600 to 800 people on set. It was a big machine, and there was a different type of approach to getting it on film. I was being baptized by fire, and just trying to hold my own and keep it going."

Bloom played a small but pivotal role in Black Hawk Down, and one could make the same argument for his part in Fellowship of the Ring. Legolas doesn't have that much screen time, but thanks to Bloom's understated performance, audiences really felt the character's presence throughout the picture. It would be easy for Bloom to grouse about deleted scenes and such - some of which will probably turn up on the Fellowship DVD, due for fall release by New Line Home Entertainment - but that isn't the actor's style.

"I think that people will find that I'm more present in the other two films," Bloom says diplomatically, referring to The Two Towers, due out in December, and The Return of the King, scheduled to open in December 2003. "Legolas doesn't really arrive in the Fellowship until Rivendell anyway, although there was other stuff shot for Fellowship that didn't make it into film. But there was more [footage] of every character that didn't make it into the movie. That was purely because the film had to introduce the characters and get on with the story. Rather than let Fellowship run on too long, Pete refined every character right down to their essence.

"To me, when I watched the film, it was about setting up the Ring and its history and introducing the audience to the Fellowship. It hit all the things it had to hit. What is the Ring? Where is the Ring? Who will be the Ring-bearer? Where does it have to get to? Who will help Frodo get it there? Who is good and who is evil? I was all about that. And now that we've seen how these characters joined together on the first part of their journey, there are another two movies which will explore the Fellowship and its role."

As with any journey through life, there are lessons learned and people lost along the way. "By the end of The Fellowship of the Ring, the Fellowship has dispersed," Bloom comments. "We've lost Boromir, and now we'll go on. You'll be seeing some more action - in terms of the big battle sequences to come - and you'll get to know each of the men more, on a personal level. Pete was well aware that he had to introduce a considerable amount of characters in the first film. It was such a huge cast. When I first saw the move, I felt very privileged to have been in it, to have been around these other actors. Pete did justice to all of the characters and to the story and, of course, I wanted more. I'm an actor, and an actor always wants to see more of his character, but I'm actually happy with what's there. You get enough of Legolas, and hopefully you'll get more later on. Even in the book, Legolas is silently present. And that's what I was in the movie."

Right now, Bloom is in the process of dealing with Fellowship's phenomenal worldwide success. He still calls London his home, but has spent most of the last few months on the road promoting the film. He did manage to squeeze in a part in the dark drama Lullaby of Clubland, which follows four Londoners as they wreak all kinds of havoc after they unwisely mix alcohol and acid. The film is set to debut in England this summer, and will probably reach the U.S. by November. And beyond that...

"I have no idea yet what the impact of my being in the Rings films will be," Bloom offers, "So far, just having done it has enabled me to get representation in America. It has opened a whole new area of work, which is very exciting to me. I spent three years at a drama school in London, the Guild Hall, and trained for the theater, which I love. I will always do stage work, but I'm very intrigued by movies. I'm interested in the relationship that I can form, as an actor, with a camera. I like using that and understanding that in order to create a performance on film."

"So, Fellowship has opened a whole new area of thinking for me, which is thrilling. It has also enabled me to travel, both while I was making the film and now while I'm promoting it. I've had a whole series of educational life lessons - whether it was living in New Zealand for 18 months, working with the high caliber of actors and crew on the movie, or speaking with the media about the project and myself."

"There's a whole different kind of headspace you have to get into with something this big and this popular," Orlando Bloom muses. "It wasn't that difficult in this instance, because Fellowship of the Ring was a real labor of love. It's a great movie, and I find that talking about it has really helped me understand who I am and what I've done, and taught me a way to express that."