It's hardly a surprise that one of Orlando Bloom’s favourite companions has joined him for the shoot. “He follows me everywhere,” he chuckles. “He’s just such a sweet, happy dog, you know?” Oh, but we do. The world is no stranger to the adorable Mighty. That red toy poodle who pokes out of Bloom’s bag as a ride-along. We’ve seen him enjoying a little trim. We’ve seen him twinning with Katy Perry’s Nugget. But apart from Mighty’s endearing presence and the occasional headline, sometimes it seems we know nothing about Bloom, the actor.
“I think my generation—my peers at least—was raised with the idea to be private. Not to overshare. As an actor, you want to step into character and suspend the audience’s reality, so if they know too much about you, it’s harder,” Bloom explains, “but I feel that I was put out there a lot to begin with. There was a lot of noise around me and who I was dating in my youth because of the image I was presented with, which wasn’t my intention.”
So, he turned to social media, wresting some form of control over his exposure of his own life to the rest of the world. If Instagram is the highlight reel for most regular folk, it operates in quite the opposite direction for the regular celebrity. To him, it’s an outlet for people to have a bit more understanding about him beyond what the headlines say in the tabloids. (“It’s a cool thing to be able to share my idiosyncrasies as well as serious matters with people who are interested in what I’m up to.”)
He eschews gaming the social media’s algorithms; his follower count is as organic as they come (he is at 3.3 million followers at press time). With his induction into the Instagram landscape within the last three years, how does he feel he’s doing so far?
“Yeah, I think I'm doing okay. Or how do you think I’m doing?” Bloom returns with a laugh.
Hey, any picture with a dog is great.*
“Puppies on the Internet are pretty cute, I agree,” he continues. “But really, it’s a wonderful way to reach out to fans because I’ve had such loyal and dedicated fans over the years that I didn’t know how to access other than fan mail, which was very challenging to get down.” Except he probably did not expect to receive one particular fan mail that would change his life.
*We lied. There’s a greater picture (his low-angle selfie in a blond wig captioned ‘u up?’).
“It’s a funny story,” he recounts. Bloom’s mother was handling his fan mail (she has since retired from her duties), and received one from someone at UNICEF who felt Bloom would be an amazing fit. This was some 10 years ago, when he had been working hard and never answered the internal question about whether he was using the impact from all that he was doing for a greater good. A few connections and meetings later, the actor went on his first trip to Nepal.
“I saw the importance of the work UNICEF does; saving the lives of women and children in the poorest of countries around the world. Their focus on water, inoculation, rebuilding and educating communities, providing psychosomatic care for children suffering from the horrors of war… I have never failed to be left in awe of what it is they’re doing and how they’re achieving it.”
He relates his amazement of his time in Liberia, during the tail end of the Ebola outbreak. At the time the organisation had already mobilised many of the children in Monrovia due to the introduction of the initiative on sanitary precautions prior to the threat. Or dealing with the mistrust several of these communities had. You have to understand; they were seeing people in white suits coming and taking away their loved ones unaware of what it was for. Again, UNICEF had anticipated and engaged pastors and spiritual leaders to speak to them.
There are other cases he doesn’t mention. Like the time he visited Diffa, Niger during the Boko Haram violence. He took three planes to reach the town and stayed in the UN guest house with staff in a tense security environment. He had then spent significant time listening to the stories of the affected youth— awakened by gunshots, witnessing the maiming and killing of friends and family members, unthinkable traumas that no one, let alone 12-year-old kids, should have had to face.
“He’s extremely mindful and sensitive in relating to these situations,” says Marissa Buckanoff, chief of UNICEF’s Goodwill Ambassador Programme, who has worked with Bloom over the years, “He yearned to reach out to the families even with the no-touch protocols in place during Ebola, resorting to greeting people with the hygienic handshake of bumping elbows. He even tried to better comprehend what the medical workers had to go through on a daily basis by going through the entire process of getting into the cumbersome outfits and equipment they wore.”
Besides his ability to connect with people of all ages and backgrounds, we’re told he is always one of the first to volunteer support. (Last year, Bloom rearranged his schedule to travel to Mozambique following two disastrous cyclones.) He tries to do one trip a year, but with all this effort, he doesn’t consider himself altruistic.
“It’s like the selfish act of giving because the first-hand experience and what it has taught me is massive. It’s hard but probably the most rewarding thing outside my work, which is what I’m most passionate about.” Bloom objectively approaches the subject of his prolific career. “When you are fortunate to achieve more than you would have imagined from a pretty early age, it creates the desire to give back. I’m now trying to capitalise on the platform that period provided.
“I don’t think I’m ever going to feel like I could have done enough,” he admits. “Life is not a 100-yard dash, it’s a marathon. I’ve been in this business around 25 years and I think it’s a really hard industry to succeed in and sustain without losing your mind or sense of self.” Bloom’s Buddhist practice is his counterbalance; a constant in this shifting world. The teachings of Japanese Buddhist philosopher Daisaku Ikeda, whom he regards as a mentor, maintains a positive effect in his life.
“While it is a spiritual practice, it almost doesn’t feel that way. There’s something quite scientific and straightforward about it. And strict,” he adds, good-naturedly. “It helps me discern that my life is my responsibility. That is not always the case for people in the world today, I would suggest.” It circles back to one of the causes he’s most passionate about—the climate.
“There’s no exit plan here,” he urges. One of the takeaways from his time with UNICEF is seeing many of the conflicts arising out of sheer desperation, when people are unable to feed their families or access basic necessities, sometimes merely over a well. He does his job to highlight the immediate aftermath, but the root cause stems from the environment.
It’s not markedly far from the scene in Carnival Row where Detective Philo is curbed by his superior on his compassion for the fae (fairy folk), a cry familiar to the one we hear in our heads: You can’t save them all! To which, in the absence of pause, Philo fervently slams the table and asserts, Damnit I can save one!
Currently in the midst of filming the second season, the Amazon Prime series has been quickly recognised for its underlying commentary on refugee crises. With fae fleeing an oppressive imperial regime, only to find themselves trapped in an intolerant society in The Burgue, fiction is evidently not what it’s disguising itself to be.
“It’s a fantasy, but also a heightened storytelling within a socially conscious messaging, which I find very intriguing,” he muses. “I think it’s great if you can touch on such matters but in a way that is also entertaining.” Perhaps it’s why the English thespian is subconsciously drawn to the genre. It’s not something he expressly looks for, but being born and bred in the historic town of Canterbury, coupled with an active imagination as a child, lends itself to his most prominent roles as an elf prince and a cursed captain.
Though this time playing human detective Philostrate opposite Cara Delevinge’s faerie Vignette, there’s more bubbling beneath the surface. Especially with the conundrum his character harbours. (Spoiler alert: Philo is half fae.) “I thought about the type of trajectories that would develop in Philo’s life, holding this secret that would cause him to not just be ridiculed, but lose all the security he has from the military and police institutions that was so formative in his life. ”
Surprisingly, the show isn’t based on a book. The rarity, based on Travis Beacham’s script A Killing on Carnival Row written close to two decades ago, is eerily relevant today. Maybe now so more than ever. “What’s happening in the world today with some of the leaders is certainly creating a lot of momentum amongst young people,” Bloom observes. “It’s really galvanised people to realise they have a duty if they want the government to improve their livelihoods and spurred them into action.”
The increase of protests and chances to have voices heard in recent times signal societal progress, but response isn’t always the best bearing. There are always three sides to every story. “It’s finding balance,” he opines. “Depending on which news station you watch, you’re going to get that side of the story. But if you allow yourself to gain insight on the actual topics and have empathy for both sides, it’s a way to be more empowered and less reactive.
“The Internet is a great source of information, vastly contingent on how you use it. It’s really a crucial time for young people to be cognisant of bigger issues and consequences not just for pockets of society, but humanity as a whole,” Bloom trails off briefly before spiritedly shattering the gravitas of the moment. “This is a really altruistic conversation we’re having for an Esquire magazine!”
Taking ownership; whether of his relationships with his nine-year-old son, ex-wife, fiancée or simply himself, is something Bloom has grown to be more rational and realistic about. “I guess I got my shit together in a much more matured way. I’ve dedicated a lot of time making sure that I’ve maintained a sense of being grounded and not affected by the trappings of money or other impulses.”
Self-awareness kicks in and he’s promptly remarking that he sounds like an asshole. Only he doesn’t. It’s easy to adopt a pessimistic state given the bleak global landscape. It’s like pushing against the yawning darkness, but the actor offers a better vantage point. “Get outside, disrupt your patterns of behaviour that are influenced by upbringing and habits,” he advises. “Change your routine, do small adjustments for your mental and physical health.”
He advocates taking a walk in nature to appreciate its beauty or just breaking a sweat. “I get into my body and out of my head because I’m as disturbed by what’s happening in the world as the next person.” It’s terrifying, as he puts it, that life in some parts of the world can be so cheap, while precious and revered in others. He guarantees himself no authority on the circumstances, but what he possesses is opportunity.
“We have to acknowledge our volatility and fragility, but forge forward with robustness and fearlessness in our determination to make it better,” he contends. “You can’t be responsible for others, but you can be for yourself. When everyone takes that first step to accept that individual accountability… that’s when it can truly go on to make a difference.”
Photographs by Charlie Gray
Styling by Liv Harding
Stylist assistant: Michael Tong
Groomer: Liz Taw
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