Orlando, Orlando! Wherefore art thou, Orlando? An English heartthrob who rose to fame in the movies — The Lord of the Rings and Pirates of the Caribbean film franchises — Orlando Bloom makes his Broadway debut as Romeo in William Shakespeare's romantic tragedy Romeo and Juliet, which opens Sept. 19 at the Richard Rodgers Theatre. Directed by five-time Tony nominee David Leveaux, the interracial revival also stars Condola Rashad, a Tony nominee for her work in Stick Fly and The Trip to Bountiful, as Juliet. Finally losing his Shakespeare virginity at 36, Bloom explains why it's never too late to be a star-cross'd lover.
By Brandon Voss
Playbill: You're a 36-year-old man. What are you doing playing Romeo?
Orlando Bloom: Many great actors have played Romeo into their 30s and 40s, but of course there was a moment where I worried, "Am I too old?" Then I thought, "If I'm going to do this, I'd better do it now." This line in the play has really resonated with me: "The time and my intents are savage-wild / More fierce and more inexorable far / Than empty tigers or the roaring sea." That's a critical line for Romeo, as well as for Orlando.
For what it's worth, you don't look 36.
Thanks! I'll take that. Maybe it's because I've lived a very extraordinary, privileged life, which I'm very grateful for, but I'm not a jaded person. I haven't gotten sick of all this. I'm not in it for the money, so I think I still have an innocence that lends itself to the character. You also have to remember that if Romeo and Juliet were teens when they fell in love, that's almost half their lives, because life expectancy was so low. The size and scope of their feelings isn't something a teenager could comprehend today.
How do you make 1590s Shakespeare engaging for today's audience?
Well, ours is certainly not a pretentious revival on a barren stage. It strikes the right balance of absorbing language and powerful imagery that people can viscerally, emotionally connect to. The great thing about Romeo and Juliet is that you can just buy a ticket and take the ride. There's more to it, but there's a beautifully simple love story at its core, and who doesn't want to see two people fall in love? It's amazing to witness that deep open-heartedness. I love a bit of romance.
Theirs is a love to die for. Can you relate? And be warned that your wife, actress Miranda Kerr, might kill you if you say no.
[Laughs] Yes, I can.
To do their love justice, chemistry between the actors playing Romeo and Juliet must be crucial.
I agree. Luckily it's not hard to think of Condola as beautiful and incredible, because she is. She's a fantastic actress and an amazing presence who just lights up the stage. When I met her, we had an immediate connection.
With an interracial couple at its center, this production has been conceived with a black household and a white household. Does that racial divide add tension between the feuding families?
To me, the story is more about two lovers who aren't allowed to be together, so it doesn't matter if they're black, white, or whatever. When I first met with actresses for chemistry reads, I didn't just meet with black actresses. The whole race thing only evolved after Condola was cast.
How does a contemporary setting benefit the story?
It's a great idea, because the play is timeless. It's like holding hands with the past. I told David, our director, "If Shakespeare wrote this for his youth generation, shouldn't we be on Broadway speaking to our youth generation in New York City?"
What's unique about your portrayal of Romeo?
First of all, this is my first Shakespeare play. I was in the midst of rehearsing Orsino in Twelfth Night at drama school when I broke my back, so I didn't get to perform it. I also haven't been overexposed to Romeo and Juliet. I read a few Romeo scenes for a Los Angeles Philharmonic concert series, and I saw the fantastic Baz Lurmann film in the cinema like everyone else, but I didn't study the play at school and I've never seen it on stage. I think my unfamiliarity is a blessing, because I have a blank canvas on which to play and hopefully bring something different, interesting, and exciting.
You'll no doubt have Lord of the Rings and Pirates of the Caribbean fans in the audience. Will this Romeo and Juliet please the popcorn-movie crowd?
Absolutely. Bringing a historic and acclaimed text to a 2013 audience is key, and I believe everyone can enjoy an evening of love, poetry, and passion. If we do it right, I think there will be a lot of broken hearts around town. People will be turning to their partners, saying, "You don't love me enough!"
Playbill, September 2013 issue.