By Danny Peary
It’s an amazing statistic. In its first weekend in theaters nationwide, The Hobbit:The Desolation of Smaug bested the second-place movie at the box-office, Frozen, by a whopping $51 million. Among the theaters that contributed to its $73.6 million gross was the UA Southampton 4, where there have been repeat viewers at both its 3-D and 2-D screenings. That nearby theater will surely continue do boffo (an industry word!) business through the holidays. There are many reasons that the second part of Peter Jackson’s adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkein’s marvelous fantasy classic–a prelude to his The Lord of the Rings trilogy–is attracting so many viewers. One reason that is getting little mention is sex appeal. Lost’s lovely Evangeline Lilly has been added to male-dominated cast, playing an alluring elf who is not in the book. And those who look past the nonsexual Bilbo, Gandalf, and Gollum, who are front and center, will notice that several of the male characters, who come in all shapes and sizes, are played by hunks. Several months ago I was sent by the Australian magazine FilmInk to participate in an international press day with three of them: Lee Pace, who plays Thranduil, the Elvenking; Richard Armitage, who plays Thorin Oakenshield, the leader of the dwarves who are on the epic journey to reclaim their fortune and kingdom (which requires they battle the dragon Smaug on the Lonely Mountain); and heartthrob Orlando Bloom, who was so appealing as Thranduil’s elf son Legolas in Jackson’s Rings trilogy that the director inserted the character into his new film although he isn’t in Tolkein’s book. Next time I’ll post the roundtables with Pace and Armitage. The following roundtable was with Bloom, who was rehearsing Romeo and Juliet for Broadway at the time. I note my questions.
Q: So you’re back to play Legolas. Did you expect it or was it a surprise? Did you jump at it? Were you hesitant?
Orlando Bloom: It was all of the above. I sat down with Peter Jackson, and my first thought was, “This is great!” I thought it would be great returning to Peter’s world. But my next thought was, “How will Legolas feature in the story because, of course, he’s not in the book. How’s that going to work?” But Peter had a very clear vision for the elves world and how Legolas’s story would intertwine with the story of Thranduil [Lee Pace], his father. I also was a little apprehensive that it was treading ground previously tread. But that was only a fleeting thought, because I love the character and I love Peter. And I love New Zealand. So those are three pretty big boxes to check. Peter gave me my start in life, you know. He plucked me out of drama school, pretty much, and put me on the map. He gave me the opportunity to play a crazy mad cop in Zulu, which I just did in South Africa, which was amazing for me. He also gave me the opportunity to go to Broadway. In many ways, I’ll always be grateful to him. So if he said, “Just start jumping in a circle,” I’d say, “How high?” So it was: here we go back to New Zealand for eight months, and we’ll figure out how it’s all going to come together. It was exciting and wonderful.
Q: Is that how Peter Jackson typically works, expecting things to come together?
OB: It’s a unique way that Peter makes a film. In his creative process, which involves a lot of preparation, he explores things on the ground and finds more things in the mining and all those things start to move, develop, and grow.
Q: And did things come together with your character to your satisfaction?
OB: Yeah, I had a great time. I wasn’t entirely sure how my character’s and the elves’ stories were going to play out, but ultimately I’m really happy with what we did. The elves of Mirkwood are unique. They’re not run-of-the-mill. I think Tolkien said the elves of Mirkwood are less wise, more dangerous. It’s kind of true. I see them as being militant. Legolas, who is a Mirkwood elf, was always different from the Rivendell elves. He’s got a bit more of an edge. His father Thranduil has an edge, too. They’re not messing around. The journey that Legolas goes on in the second and third Hobbit movies leads beautifully to his journey in The Lord of the Rings trilogy. You can see why he would go on the Rings journey and became a member of the Fellowship of the Rings. The writers and the creators of this world, and Peter as a director, really thought that through. They’ve had one eye on Tolkien and his world and maintained a healthy balance of integrity with that, while taking some creative license to make the story entertaining for a mass audience. I think the second movie is riveting, a really exciting film. If you think of the stories, the three Hobbit movies as one, this is the middle piece that you want to ride to the closing in Part III. I’m excited to see what this second movie brings.
Q: Has Peter Jackson’s style of directing changed since you last worked together?
OB: No, he’s remarkably the same. Of course the world is bigger–the technology of the world that he’s created down there has advanced at an alarming speed–but in terms of his personal demeanor and character, he’s still very youthful. Peter’s a wonderful man who has a childlike quality, which I think is what you see in his movies. He’s like a big child; he likes things, he collects things. We get on pretty well because he’s got a funny sense of humor that reminds me of my mates at school. We discussed scenes prior to shooting. For big moments, we would always have good conversations before we shot them. There was always an opportunity to bring up what we wanted to change. At times things developed really nicely through conversation. I went back for reshoots and I did a lot of stuff that played interestingly that had come up in conversation.
Q: Would you say you’re a different actor from when you did the Rings trilogy?
OB: I would hope I’m a different actor from the previous trilogy, which I did years ago. I would say that a lot of what I’m doing in The Hobbit is what’s being provided for me.
Danny Peary: In the trailer, you suddenly appear with a bow and arrow. Is that Legolas’s entrance into the movie?
OB: How did you know that?
DP: I guessed. I assumed your character would make a grand entrance.
OB: It’s quite a cool entrance with Legolas confronting Thorin with his drawn. I kind of appear from behind.
Q: Did doing action scenes come back to you easily?
OB: I went back and did some training with the bow and arrow and some movement training, and horse riding. I spent about five weeks doing that. It was great, because it was a refresher and a reminder of what we had done, a great way of getting back into the character. I still have fun with a bow and arrow.
DP: In The Lord of the Rings trilogy, your character reminded me of the supercool, smoothly-moving master swordsman in The Seven Samurai.
OB: Funny you should say that, because that was one of the big influences on the character from the get-go in The Lord of the Rings. I love looking into the movement of elves and how they carry themselves with grace.
DP: Did Peter Jackson ever mention Akira Kurosawa’s film to you?
OB: Yeah, I’m sure he did. We watched movies all the time and we talked about film, and he provided a really great platform to experience and talk about stuff. I can’t remember talking specifically about Seven Samurai but I know I did watch and I wouldn’t be surprised if that had been on his recommendation.
Q: Legolas has a love interest in this film, Tauriel, played by Evangeline Lilly.
OB: She has the responsibility of being the sole female elf, aside from Galadriel [Cate Blanchett]. Tauriel is kind of a rookie elf. She’s a willful and kind of petulant and does what she chooses to do, which is something Legolas is both excited by and annoyed by on some levels. There’s something rather attractive about that quality that she has. I always thought, wow, if you were an elf and lived for eternity, those feelings you have would be very deep and rich, and not as fleeting as ours. It’s a very different kind of thing. I wouldn’t say it’s an elven love story, I’d say it’s an interesting connection between them. There are some complications to it. I think their story along with the father-son dynamic, acted with Lee Pace as Thranduil, plays really well and adds interest to Legolas’s story and the film’s story.
DP: What role does the father-son relationship play in the film?
OB: It helps us see why Legolas goes on to be a part of the Fellowship. That’s important because in those films you wonder why he would leave his elven world and go on the journey. I think the clever way we play out this father and son story explains a lot about who Legolas is and why he would go off. It’s a struggle. I think the father-son dynamic is for most actors, most men, not too difficult. It doesn’t take the greatest leap of imagination. Having the responsibility of my child now has put a lot of life into perspective –it has been a really wonderful thing–but I’m not sure having a son is necessary to understanding fathers.
Q: As an actor, do you still like taking risks, liking starring in Romeo and Juliet on Broadway?
OB: I feel like I’m taking quite a lot of risks, including playing Romeo on Broadway. It’s my Broadway debut, and I’ve never played Shakespeare before. Of course I went to drama school but I’ve never actually mounted a production of Shakespeare and doing it in front of a live audience eight shows a week is, I feel, like climbing Mount Everest on my own. And I’m excited by it. Anything could happen…which is kind of cool. I think that taking risks keeps me young and sharp. I think that pressure is what keeps me going. It keeps me hungry and eager to try different things.