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Ready to Bloom, The Sun-Herald (Australia), March 9, 2003
By Christine Sams
scans by Clare

There's more than one star of the upcoming Ned Kelly ... enter Orlando Bloom.

The appearance of an unruly, unshaven Irishman wandering the streets in rural Victoria is hardly likely to raise an eyebrow. After all, they pride themselves on the Kelly gang mythology down there.

But when Orlando Bloom was off-duty during the filming of Ned Kelly, he took great delight in wandering through shops and pubs talking in full Irish brogue. He admits he didn't waver from the accent during the entire filming stint in Australia, despite his real-life clipped English tones.

"I loved that Irish accent," he said over the phone from the US. "Yeah, sometimes I'll even use it here in LA when I go out with friends. It's good for a laugh."

In many ways, Bloom resembles a quintessential Irishman. With curly dark hair, pale skin and a glint of mischief in his dark eyes, he could easily claim Celtic ties.

But he was born in England, the son of South African political activist Harry Bloom, and now resides in Los Angeles where he is being lauded as one of the actors who will conquer Hollywood over the next five years.<

Despite all the talk of Heath Ledger and his starring role in Ned Kelly, it's hard to ignore the impact of Bloom's involvement in Gregor Jordan's film.

His role as Kelly's best friend, Joe Byrne, is certain to attract attention among a legion of international fans who follow his career. Many of those fans have never heard of Ned Kelly, but Orlando is a name they can't ignore.

It's four years since Bloom started filming The Lord Of The Rings: The Fellowship Of The Ring and his starring turn as Legolas - the smooth, blond-haired elf - won him millions of fans around the world.

During the making of Ned Kelly, Bloom returned to his own hair colour (dark brown) and threw away the razor. "It was great to work with my own hair," he said with a chuckle.

"And I just loved working in Australia, I really enjoyed the pace of life. It's got so much to offer, it really has."

It's no wonder Bloom is a fan of the southern hemisphere. He scaled peaks in New Zealand for his role in The Lord Of The Rings, and his Hollywood career took on a similar trajectory. After appearing in Ridley Scott's Black Hawk Down, he was wooed by Jordan for the role of Byrne.

"I met up with Gregor in LA and he spoke to me about shooting guns and riding horses in Australia. It sounded fantastic," he said. "But I have to admit, I didn't know a lot about the

real-life Ned Kelly or the members of his gang.

"In the end, it was so rewarding playing a character who was a hero in real life to so many Australians. It was gratifying to discover the historical details, to explore the impact of the Kelly gang and to know the effect those men had on the entire nation. It really moved me."

Even while coping with the juggernaut of The Lord Of The Rings, Bloom was talking excitedly about his "project in Australia". When I interviewed him in Wellington, New Zealand, in late 2001, Bloom was engaging and magnetic as he regaled journalists with tales from the set of The Lord Of The Rings. But his mind was already on the Kelly gang, because he kept referring to a "top secret" project Down Under, and spoke of his determination to spend time working in Australia.

Now the secret is out (with the Ned Kelly marketing campaign in full swing), Bloom admits his attraction to the role of Byrne was instant.

"He was a very different man from Ned Kelly. He was quiet, more thoughtful, and Ned often relied on him for advice. He was definitely his right-hand man. Sure, he smoked opium, but he was generally much more reserved than the other members of the gang. The first time he was arrested it was for the possession of meat. Can you imagine that?"

Apart from his intense fascination with the historical aspects of the story, Bloom became firm friends with Ledger during the making of the film.

And while he didn't spend as much time on set with Naomi Watts, he was pleased to discover the real-life romance between the two. "It was something that developed while the film was being made, it was a lovely thing which arose from that," Bloom said. "They're both really nice people, and they make a great couple."

Plenty of Australian fans are eagerly awaiting a glimpse of the on-screen chemistry between Ledger and Watts. But the presence of Bloom, alongside cast members including Geoffrey Rush, Rachel Griffiths and Joel Edgerton, doesn't hurt the film's sex appeal.

Although first screenings of Ned Kelly won't be held in Australia until next week, insiders are hinting Bloom's character emerges as more glamorous than Ledger's Kelly. But it's only because history paints Byrne as the most fashionable bushranger of them all.

The Iron Outlaw website (which specialises in historical analysis of the Kelly gang) reports that Byrne's sense of style went well beyond homemade suits of armour.

"Joe's high-heeled boots were his trademark, being referred to as larrikin heels during late 19th-century Victoria," reports the website. "Byrne was seen as one of the most glamorous gang members with his handsome, colonial boy charm and his strong opposition to police law and order."

Bloom becomes slightly withdrawn when the issue of being a sex symbol is raised. He acknowledges there could be worse things said about him but he tends to shun the idea of being a "Hollywood hunk".

"I appreciate the compliment," he said, "but it's a secondary thing to me. The primary goal is about choosing roles which affect me, which challenge me personally. That's why the Joe Byrne character meant so much to me - it was about exploring the integrity of the man."

Despite his good looks, there's no denying 26-year-old Bloom has avoided the cliches of a typical Hollywood "youth" resume. Somewhat thankfully, his career is not dotted with gross-out road movies or tacky romances. But he's also not afraid to have a little fun, now he has cemented his reputation.

He is currently filming The Pirates Of The Caribbean in Los Angeles, alongside Johnny Depp and Rush, and he's not averse to donning a pair of knickerbockers for the rollicking flick.

"It's all that fun, swashbuckling stuff, which is a good laugh. I'm loving it," said Bloom, in between takes on the set of the film. "But I'm really hoping to find a gap in my schedule to make it down to the premiere for Ned Kelly. I'd really like to be there."

In many ways Bloom should be considered an action star: his character Legolas was always running in The Lord Of The Rings, he jumped astride horses in Ned Kelly and these days he's indulging in sword fights with Depp. "I'm happy to keep up the momentum," he said, with a satisfied pause. "I'm having a ball."