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— Larry Carroll

To paraphrase a timeless quote: When you become a man, it's time to put away childish things. For 28-year-old international heartthrob Orlando Bloom, that meant dropping the sword, stepping out of the sandals and learning to rely upon nothing but his artist's skills for an acting crutch.

"I was certainly more vulnerable, in a sense, but I also felt more open to it," Bloom recently recalled of his starring role in the upcoming Cameron Crowe film, "Elizabethtown."

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For Bloom, a British actor whose films have banked hundreds of millions of dollars across the globe, Crowe's heartfelt tale of a man going home to Kentucky for his father's funeral represented an enormous departure from action blockbusters like "Troy," the "Lord of the Rings" films and "Pirates of the Caribbean." This time, there would be no monsters to slay, no sword-wielding men to dodge, no swashes to buckle.

"I love this guy," Bloom said of his character, Drew Baylor, flashing a smile as casual as his gray T-shirt and jeans. "I love the journey he goes on. It's a story we can all relate to, in terms of success and failure and the momentary happiness in life. What really makes people tick? What really makes them understand life?"

For Bloom and Crowe, such big questions were a far more imposing adversary than any carnivorous creatures from Middle Earth. And while, in the film, Bloom's Drew discovers the resilience and depth of the human spirit, the actor found great liberation in simply being, for the first time onscreen, normal.
"It was great to step into that and just be an average guy," the actor marveled. "To just be an average, everyday guy going about life and dealing with failure and success, being led from death to life. It's really an uplifting movie in that sense."

For his various action epics, Bloom has undergone intensive training in swordplay, equestrian riding and stunt work. For "Elizabethtown," he had to submit to the domineering ways of a professional voice coach, dropping an accent that has buckled the knees of many a female fan.

"The R's," he said, grinning, acknowledging his greatest elocution challenge. "The R's are very important when speaking American English; you know, when you're hitting the R's you can't drop them. But sometimes I'd hit them too hard, because I was so conscious of them, and I'd over-articulate. But working with Cameron was great because he's super-specific and has an ear for all that. He has a musical ear."

See the "Elizabethtown" trailer, plus a special 7-minute extended trailer cut by Cameron Crowe himself, in Overdrive.

Bloom often speaks this way of Crowe, proudly referring to him as "the quintessential American director," while wondering about his own luck in working with the renowned storyteller.

"We shot this movie in the heartland of America. It really was an amazing experience being down there — I'd never really been that much outside L.A. When you're working in the industry, you're in the big cities of America. Being in some of the smaller towns — in Louisville, in Kentucky — it was fantastic. You really get a sense of life and the culture of America."

"Cameron just gets that," he continued. "He gets the journey of the heart. He gets the subtleties of human interaction, particularly the way that Americans interact with one another. It's specific to America, because he's an American guy. For me, being an international actor working around the world, it was fantastic to get to work with him on this, to be the American guy in his movie, and see how he pays so much attention to the nuance, the subtlety of all those things."

As anyone who has ever seen a Crowe movie will attest, it's the tiny things that he catalogs — the airplane light in "Say Anything," or the garage-door opener in "Singles" — that makes his films so very real. Bloom promises more of the same for those about to meet Drew Baylor and the beautiful flight attendant Claire (Kirsten Dunst) who helps him navigate the difficult waters of life.

Crowe crafted Bloom's character using his own memories of travel, longing for loved ones, and the pain that comes with losing a family member. While Bloom was allowed the freedom to interpret the character, he admitted it was sometimes intimidating to portray the man watching him from behind the camera.

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"Yeah, in a way it was," he allowed. "But in another way, he's a writer and director, as well, so he's really super-specific. We never really went into any huge detail about the fact that I was playing him. Obviously, I knew I was playing him, but we didn't explore that, because I knew what he wanted; he was very clear about that."

It's hard for any moviegoer to think about Crowe, and especially the autobiographical (read: "Almost Famous") Crowe, without also thinking Oscar. Just ask Kate Hudson, Tom Cruise, Renée Zellweger or Cuba Gooding about what a Crowe film can do for a career.

And if you want to watch one of Hollywood's most powerful actors squirm, bring up such awards-season possibilities.

"Oh, I don't know," Bloom said. "I don't really know what that game is. I'm looking forward to getting a movie out there that we really loved making and loved working on — a great, real story. There are no special effects, there's no blue screen — it's just heartfelt drama."

Still, Bloom does concede that the sort of praise that Crowe's films have garnered for his actors in the past would mean a lot, not only to his own career, but to a cast of co-stars that includes Jessica Biel, Susan Sarandon and Alec Baldwin.

"I guess that's always a good thing for a movie, isn't it? But to be honest, as an actor, the only thing you really have is the experience of making a movie."

Bloom vows that he'll never forget the making of this particular piece of celluloid, if only because of the unexpected homework assigned to him.

"Six or eight times, maybe more," Bloom laughed, guessing at the number of times he and Crowe watched "The Apartment," a black-and-white comedy-drama from 1960 directed by Billy Wilder and starring Jack Lemmon.

"Cameron wanted that Jack Lemmon quality for Drew," Bloom said. "That kind of crazed, quirky physical comedy and that Billy Wilder style of drama, as well. Obviously, [Crowe is] hugely influenced by Wilder, so it was cool. It was an important part of the DVD collection while we were filming."

A decade ago, Crowe encouraged then-leading man Tom Cruise to watch the exact same movie in preparation for his Oscar-nominated turn as Jerry Maguire. Bloom said Cruise, a producer on "Elizabethtown," spent time on the set talking about the power of the classic film ("Yeah, we had lots of conversations") and the challenges of being an actor attempting to capture the essence of the "average guy."

It's a gamble, to be sure, but one that might pay off yet again — as it did for Lemmon (Best Actor nomination), Wilder (Oscars for Best Director and Best Screenplay) and "The Apartment" itself, winner for Best Picture of 1960. Orlando Bloom may be putting away his toys for now, but having been led through his paces by the esteemed director and writer who created "Elizabethtown," who knows? He just might receive a shiny new one come next year.




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