Thu, Jul 19, 2007 - Page 14 News List

Orlandowants to grow up

Orlando Bloom is putting pirates and hobbits behind him and making his stage debut

By Mark Lawson  /  The Guardian, London

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, beginning a run of Storey hits there that included The Changing Room, The Contractor and Home. Storey's only serious involvement with the cinema was Lindsay Anderson's 1963 movie of his novel This Sporting Life, based on the writer's experience as a rugby league player.

The hero of Lord of the Rings and Pirates 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 theater 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 realized the character was too old, and was persuaded that Steven was a good entry into theater. 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 theater."

Some theatergoers may be disappointed at what they see: one of the Bloom fan sites claimed he would be appearing naked on stage, following Harry Potter star Daniel Radcliffe's stage debut in Equus. 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."

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