Orlando Bloom in In Celebration
(© Manuel Harlen)
Orlando Bloom in In Celebration
(© Manuel Harlen)
(Editor's note: A longer version of this piece can be found on www.whatsonstage.com.)

Orlando Bloom has vanquished the most formidable enemies conceived by Hollywood, from hordes of slavering Orcs to shipfuls of the piratical undead, but he's currently discovering that these beasts are nothing compared with West End critics and theatergoers. His role in Anna Mackmin's new production of In Celebration, David Storey's 1969 play about a Yorkshire family simmering with repressed fury, is not only his West End debut, but also his first stage role as a professional actor.

Two days after he graduated from Guildhall School of Music and Drama in 1999, Bloom was hired to play Legolas in Peter Jackson's The Lord of the Rings trilogy, and he has scarcely been out of work since. In fact, he has appeared in five of the highest-grossing films ever made, most notably the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise. It's little surprise, then, that he hadn't yet found time to tread the boards.

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 are of no use to him now; instead, he has had to perfect both a Yorkshire accent and the art of brooding.

His role 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 in the play. "It is the most difficult part, because you've got to sustain a great deal of emotion without many lines," the award-winning playwright explains. "There is a melancholia at the center of the piece that revolves around him. Orlando is keen to explore his own abilities as an actor."

Bloom 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. "My mother thought that it was the right time to tell us," he recalls. "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 stories." 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 the hospital on his feet. It seems apt that his first screen role, in 1994, was as a patient in Casualty.

Fortunately, Bloom didn't literally break a leg when he first took to the Duke of York's stage last month. And, let's face it, when you've faced Bill Nighy dressed up as a tentacled Davey Jones, theater critics may not seem all that scary after all.