Pretty Vacant: Let’s Talk About Orlando Bloom
Hollywood and the entertainment industry can be very insistent in its eagerness to craft a celebrity. A remnant from the studio days, where an actor’s image was essentially their property, publicists work hard to ensure the omnipresence of the latest hot new thing when the occasion calls for it. Sometimes the results stick, and other times the process never fully takes shape, leaving a poor soul lost in the liminal space between fame and nothing. Everyone knows the Andy Warhol ethos of having one’s fifteen minutes of fame, but nowadays it feels like that time has been decreased to fifteen seconds. Not only that, but the nostalgia cycle has greatly shrunk, with a mere decade ago being considered far away enough to warrant fond recollections and yearning.
All of that feels especially potent now that Orlando Bloom is back in the spotlight. For a while following two of the most profitable franchises in film history, the British heartthrob was utterly inescapable. From The Lord of the Rings to Pirates of the Caribbean, Bloom’s star shone brighter than arguably any other actor of his age in the early 2000s. To American audiences, he was a welcome combination of charm, looks and Britishness, particularly the refined upper class white English Britishness that has come to dominate the acting scene: A classic kind of beauty that’s both handsome and pretty. During the height of both films’ popularity, crossing over at around 2003, Bloom’s presence as a fandom staple was cemented, thanks to the above qualities and his willingness to play along with the shipping friendly elements of the promotional trail, such as cosying up to Viggo Mortensen. Before social media fervour and the Buzzfeed age, Bloom was the A-List heart-throb of the moment. It almost didn’t matter that he wasn’t much of an actor.
Bloom’s work in The Lord of the Rings, his first role out of drama school, is minimal but effective. His Legolas ethereal, with that stunning long blonde hair, moves lithely and with grace, but retains his humour, especially in scenes with Gimli. Bloom himself knew the role was rather thin and joked about his over-the-top facial expressions in the background of certain scenes, eager to make some sort of impact. He had freedom to do this since Legolas is a relatively minor character in the ensemble of the Fellowship, and he’s exactly the kind of figure that fandoms hunger for. Then came Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl, a big-budget Summer film based on a theme park ride that was a major risk by Disney standards, especially following the end of the 90s animation renaissance. Few critics expected the film to be as great as it was, and Disney themselves were fearful that the entire project had “flop” written all over it, yet $4bn and 4 sequels later, it’s the ninth highest grossing film series ever, and it helped to form the foundations of the multi-part expanded universe post-trilogy franchise model that now forms the spine of the industry.
Bloom as Will Turner, ostensibly the true protagonist of the first film, is intended as an Errol Flynn style swashbuckler, but with more sensitivity. He’s a romantic hero by way of the golden age of adventure serials, but he’s also the straight man to the shenanigans of Johnny Depp’s Jack Sparrow, who redefined the show-stealer for the modern Summer movie age. While he’s better in the role than often remembered - there’s a certain joy to watching him roll with the madness with decreasing patience - but he’s also easy to ignore should you wish to, even as his role in the series becomes bigger and is fleshed out with back-story involving his father. Like The Lord of the Rings, his presence is not a crucial element of the franchise’s success. As infamously noted by critic Mark Kermode (who nicknamed him Orloondo Bland), his acting could be “positively teaky”, akin to garden furniture.
Bloom’s best quality is his self-awareness. He spoke frequently about the rut of blockbuster fame and how quickly both actors and fans become sick of it, and he could be immensely charming on chat shows. That charisma sadly never transferred to his acting work, and his choice of non-blockbuster projects sparked little enthusiasm. Outside of the Pirates franchise, starring roles were thin on the ground, and what he was offering didn’t inspire critical adoration. He’s easily the worst thing in Kingdom of Heaven, Cameron Crowe’s Elizabethtown is a cringe-inducing mess now best known for inspiring the Manic Pixie Dream Girl trope, and Troy made a lot of money but that was more down to the clout of Brad Pitt at his leading man peak. It’s one thing to support; an entirely different prospect to lead. Post-At World’s End, the roles dried up, and Bloom consciously focused on lower stake indie projects, which isn’t necessarily a bad move but none of these projects made a real impression (did you know Bloom was in Mark Ruffalo’s directorial debut?). An attempted return to blockbusters in Paul W.S. Anderson’s The Three Musketeers failed, and a Broadway run in Romeo and Juliet fizzled before closing at a loss. While his Pirates co-stars’ fortunes flourished, Bloom fell behind.
In his personal life, things remained low-key. His marriage and child with model Miranda Kerr, following a long-term on-off relationship with Kate Bosworth, were mostly kept out of the press, and even their divorce was amicable, with the family appearing in public together soon after the split was announced. This is the sort of relationships gossip mags like but don’t love - two pretty people who seem satisfied, settled and separate from drama, even when it all ends. And then Bloom took a swing at none other than Justin Bieber. Post-split, rumours swirled that Kerr had hooked up with the other Canadian Justin, who was at his most publicly scorned, which led Bloom to get into a very public fight with the singer in a restaurant, where diners allegedly cheered him in his endeavour, even though the reports are mixed on whether or not it landed on Bieber’s face. Public bust-ups are always messy, but if one is to retain a degree of relevance and public goodwill, they should at least have the decency to finish the job.
Thankfully for Bloom’s career, he was able to return to playing Legolas for the wildly bloated Hobbit saga, which provided a return to the major stage, albeit one with less public enthusiasm. Yet he wasn’t fully back in the cultural conversation, even as his acting got better (like Tom Cruise and Leonardo Dicaprio, Bloom is at his best when playing, for lack of a better term, raging dicks, such as The Three Musketeers). Bloom may not be the star he once was, but close proximity to another star would prove beneficial.
It can be easy to forget just how famous Katy Perry is. As one of the biggest selling music artists of our time, she’s seldom out of the press and commands immense fan and industry loyalty. Even during this new confused era of “purposeful” pop and sexy food puns, she’s a conversation starter, for better or worse, so of course getting together with an early 2000s heart-throb would prove a hot topic. Then came the dick pics.
The paddle-boarding photographs are revealing in more than the expected manner: They’re of exceptional quality, taken by a paparazzi photographer who sold them to the New York Daily News, and it’s clear a certain level of posing is taking place. Who paddle-boards with their dick out? A guy with a good publicist. Even if you never saw the uncensored pictures, you knew what you were getting: Why would he let it hang out if he didn’t know it was pretty impressive stuff? It certainly made Perry look great too - the photos show her serenely sitting cross-legged ahead of him as he paddles forward like her eager manservant. Whether or not these photos were a set-up (spoiler alert: they totally were), they could not help but evoke memories of another high profile romantic situation at the time involving a pop megastar and British actor of lesser fame. Taylor Swift and Tom Hiddleston should have taken notes - this is how you exploit your personal life for publicity, no tank-top needed.
The visibility of being with Perry brought Bloom back into relevance, as he accompanied her to major events including Democratic Party fundraisers with Hillary Clinton present. It was undeniable that Bloom was the plus-one, but the image of the pair possessed a kind of old-school celebrity romance appeal. Well, for the most part. The relationship was also plagued by rumours of Bloom’s cheapskate ways, with Perry allegedly footing the bill for everything, and photographs of Bloom getting cosy with the much younger Selena Gomez in Las Vegas evoked discomfort. Their split was no surprise, and newly single Bloom went full dirtbag so quickly that none of us noticed. He was photographed at Coachella, surrounded by younger woman and apparently in the company of Leonardo Dicaprio, a man who considers partners over 25 too old for his interest. Recently, a gossip story developed that a one-night stand with a waitress led to her getting fired. Regardless of the veracity of that claim, it helped to perpetuate the Bloom as playboy image, one that evokes entirely different vibes from a 40 year old former idol than a 20 something rising star.
Now, Bloom is back as Will Turner in the fifth Pirates movie, and his presence on the promotional trail has proved helpful to Disney as they try to avoid placing all the duties on the shoulders of the increasingly erratic and loathable Depp. He’s an affable presence on talk shows, but then again, he always has been. His Instagram is practiced but charming, with cute dog photos, charity plugs and nothing but praise for his ex-wife. His upcoming projects aren’t noteworthy but the work is still there. That may be the best way to describe him - he’s still here.
There’s an inherent problem with being the subject of teen idolatry - your shelf life is set in stone, and you need a back-up plan. Ultimately, Orlando Bloom, for all of his decent qualities, just isn’t a good enough actor to encourage longevity in the industry on either a mainstream or indie level. He’s not the worst thespian out there, and he seems aware of the limits to his range, but when the field is saturated with better, cheaper and younger options, even the stars who shone the brightest are left dimmed.
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