Orlando Bloom | Migratory Patterns
They would never let the paint peel in a place like this. All surfaces—tables, bookshelves, bar-tops, and picture frames—are tended to by a staff that blends in so well with the clientele. The blonde-haired hostess with aquatic blue-green eyes brightens from behind the reception desk like a warmly lit Victorian lampshade, and responds to the word “Orlando,” as if it’s code to enter a bank vault.
Granted access, the elevator doors part and a small flock of similarly “interesting” types empty out into the foyer wearing expensive eyewear and carrying leather messenger bags and notebooks that suggest some kind of work gets done here despite the alluring accoutrements. The main attraction, of course, is the people who are here and the people who are not here yet. Hence the glancing, always glancing. Who is that? It takes a certain skill to look around a full room without betraying a sense of yearning. A skill I apparently do not possess.
“Can I help you?”
It’s a question that contains within it the assumption that I’m lost. To be lost at the Soho House in West Hollywood—one of the many members-only social clubs that have cropped up across Los Angeles in recent years—is to not belong. But I do belong, I just can’t find the goddamned garden, because, as it turns out, it’s not really a garden.
The hallway that leads from the dining room to the leafy terrace is so narrow, if your ankles and wrists were shackled to iron chains, the priest accompanying your execution would have to walk a few paces behind, out of sight, muttering gospel that could just as well be played from a tape recorder. To be alone in Soho House is to be a dead man walking.
Until, that is, the backlit shadowy frame of Orlando Bloom appears in the far doorway at the end of the narrowing corridor. The garden at last. Bloom is a welcome silhouette that anchors me to this place by association. It feels as if I’ve stumbled upon a friend, and he’s lost too, in search of his interlocutor, holding a motorcycle helmet in his left hand as he consults with waitstaff. When you’re Orlando Bloom in a place like this, you get to ask, “Can you help me?”
“I rode a Husqvarna 701,” says Bloom, once we settle into our seats at a low table, order two coffees. The presence of his helmet beside him elicits curiosity about his method of travel. “It’s a really beautifully designed bike, very unique. Husqvarna is an older brand. They also do chainsaws and things, but it’s an amazing motorcycle. I’ve been riding since I was really young. I got into riding bikes in L.A. when I was in my 20s, to put on my helmet and go about my business without everybody knowing about my business.”
Yet, business is on the agenda this afternoon, primarily a discussion concerning his new Amazon Studios series, Carnival Row. In it, Bloom plays the detective Rycroft “Philo” Philostrate who is simultaneously investigating multiple murders while his past catches up to him in the form of Vignette Stonemoss, the winged faerie portrayed by Cara Delevingne. If you hadn’t guessed by their names alone, Carnival Row is another entry into the growing catalog of high-budget television that operates within a universe entirely of its own invention, yet draws its aesthetic and thematic elements from Victorian murder mystery, mythic romance, fairy tales, and even current affairs. Vignette, after all, isn’t just a faerie, she’s a refugee.
The Burgue, where Bloom’s Philo resides as a well-respected if gloomy detective, has been overrun by the Fae and various other creatures, whose homeland was invaded by the Burguish army. It’s a human battle in the midst of faeries that creates an influx of refugees to the Row—the Burgue’s capital—including Delevingne’s Vignette. It is in Carnival Row, where the fallout from the war has created a population of both humans and creatures attempting to coexist with all of the accompanying distrust, racism, and classicism.
The Row becomes an outpost for all the wayward and displaced, mixing humans and non-humans alike to lay the groundwork for the show’s social and political commentary, which, at times, resembles life in this world, circa 2019.
“The migrant refugee crisis is something that has been and will continue to be an issue. It isn’t going away,” remarks Bloom. “Race continues to be an issue. And the fact that this is all under the magnifying glass right now because of the current political climate, and the world that you and I are living in, makes this show that much more poignant. I hope that we’re falling very blessedly right in the moment when this subject most needs to be talked about.”
In the show, when the affluent racist Imogen Spurnrose, played by Tamzin Merchant, discovers a Critch—a derisive epithet given to the creatures that are mostly human, but in this case, don horns similar to a ram’s—has moved next door, Spurnrose is aghast. Her disbelief that Agreus Astrayon, played by David Gyasi, could afford such a lavish home, upends her understanding of the society that is changing fast around her. So, she simply pretends he doesn’t exist.
In one of the show’s best scenes, Imogen is caught in a rainstorm and the only available umbrella is offered to her by Agreus. As they stand beneath it side-by-side, nearly touching, it’s the Critch who has the upper hand, delighting in her jittery discomfort as he displays all the characteristics of an aristocratic gentleman to her breathless bafflement.
After Vignette makes her own way to the Burgue, her relationship to Philo becomes the centerpiece of the story, along with the murders he is trying to solve. If it sounds like a lot, it is, and I haven’t even gotten to half of it and likely won’t, because Carnival Row is a delightfully overstuffed story full of as many ideas as it has unlikely beasts. The summer dragonfly hum of a hundred faerie wings flapping is something you’ll remember and crave between episodes, each filled with enough twists and forward movement to sustain your gaze over the course of the first season’s eight episodes.
“Did you like it?” Bloom asks, disarmingly, and with a genuine interest in my opinion. He’s wholly invested in this show, and with good reason. It has already been renewed for a second season before the first episode has even aired. “It’s either your thing or not. Because some people either love the Victorian period and the fantasy epic element and some just don’t. People loved Game of Thrones and others just never watched it at all. Or, at this point, maybe I’m the only person who didn’t watch it,” he admits.
That recently-retired HBO dragon drama will undeniably hover over any new show that dares to take on the epic task of worldbuilding, or that tries to create a fantastical yet believable universe with characters to care about. Vignette is not a dragon, but she can fly. Rycroft is no watcher on the wall, but he’s the moral center of Carnival Row’s universe and he’s as flawed as any of us. The trick is to create the show’s world over the course of an episode or two before losing the audience entirely. Adding to the challenge, there is no built-in fan-base who’ve poured over the books to sit in cross-armed judgement as the show unfolds to live up to the source material. In other words, Carnival Row has to grab you fast while convincing you of a world you have never imagined, not even as a reader.
“We’re introducing a big world in this show,” Bloom states. “We’re able to examine the human consequences of war and these people who are both fleeing their war-torn homelands, and those in the Burgue who are feeling engulfed by migrant refugees. These are incredibly topical, important issues of the moment.”
Carnival Row is the creation of Travis Beacham, who sold his script as a feature film to New Line in 2005 after making the first-ever Black List, a yearly index of the best un-produced scripts according to industry executives. Bloom tells me tales of how it was written, with Beacham pasting maps to the walls, trying to get the universe in his mind out onto paper and shaped into a story. It takes forever for anything to get made, let alone released, with such fanfare. The fact that the show speaks to the issues Bloom mentions, 13 years after it was written, also says something about the possible inevitability of our current historical moment.
“We’re confronted on a daily basis, on a weekly basis—and if you consume news regularly—on a moment-by-moment basis, of decisions that are poorly made,” Bloom says. “These decisions are having tremendous consequences on society. So you can see in this show what’s at stake and where that could lead. It’s not glamorized. There isn’t necessarily an opinion being offered, it’s a forum for conversation,” Bloom remarks, candidly. “It’s through discussion, I believe, that can lead to at least some sort of empathetic understanding, right? One would hope, anyway.”
It’s clear Amazon Studios believes it has a hit on its hands, taking what was once meant to be a standalone film and giving the story’s arc and its setting the breathing room of eight, hour-long episodes to slowly lure and solidify a following. Thus explains why the show, which no one had heard of, made itself known with a pop-up experience at Comic-Con, aiming straight for the hearts of a yearning new fan-base.
“It was really interesting to go to Comic-Con,” recalls Bloom, who claims he hasn’t been as many times as one might think, considering he made a name for himself in two monumental film franchises—portraying Legolas in The Lord of the Rings trilogy and Will Turner in five Pirates of the Caribbean films. “Moments before I had arrived, the Mayor of San Diego [Kevin Faulconer] offered to participate in our activation. You had a choice to pick a human card or a Critch card, right? You would either have the human experience of the Row or the Critch experience, and he had chosen Critch. So, suddenly he’s inside and he was barked at, shouted at, and screamed into a corner. Within moments there was a huddle and he was quietly allowed to exit.”
Bloom sounds like some of his character might have rubbed off on him. Philo works all the angles in the Row, those who respect him cooperate, those who distrust him cooperate, and those who have it out for him, try to keep it hidden by pretending to cooperate.
“He’s doing what’s right,” says Bloom about Rycroft Philostrate. “It’s interesting to me when people speak about his heroic aspect. If heroism is doing what’s right, then yeah, I guess he is a kind of hero. Tragically, in this day and age, that’s what it means to be a hero—for an everyday person to just do what’s right. He does his job. If that makes him a hero, well I guess the bar has gotten that fucking low. I’m no angel. I’m like everybody else. I’m bewildered by the state of the world that we live in.”
The light in the “garden” begins to shift dramatically. A shock of sunlight creates a shadow across Orlando Bloom’s face and continues to move across the table between us. I must look like a startled woodland animal, because Bloom looks up and draws my attention to the slowly retracting roof above us as if to calm me by pointing out the source. The sun is unique in its ability to command more attention than anything else in existence, including the celebrity across the table. All glances in the room angle upward, mouths agape, and a note of general ease comes over the dissipating late afternoon crowd. The mood lightens and maybe even tilts the conversation starward, closer to the mystical, the general—thoughts about thinking and the beautiful effort of fatherhood.
“I believe in energy,” Bloom says, reacting to an off-handed comment I volunteer about how when the politics of the world become too unbearable, throughout history, people turn to belief systems, faith, mysticism, heroism, and the escapism offered by the film and television heroics in which Bloom participates. He’s been a practicing Buddhist for most of his life. Maybe it’s the sudden sunlight, but we talk about this need for the idea that something is better and bigger than this, than us. Not anything as simple as a heaven or all-knowing god, but at least a manner of living that shields one from a sense of dread about our state of affairs.
“I think we are energy,” he continues, almost reluctantly, telling me he feels as if he’s spoken about his spirituality maybe too much in the past. “We know the world around us is energy. Cars move through energy. Gravity is what goes up, must come down. [Life] is quite scientific in some ways, but I’m also open to the idea that you are your thoughts, you are your words, and you are your deeds, and you are also who you surround yourself with. That’s all energy. For me, it’s a philosophy that resonates and enables me to keep a certain sense of grounding and humility—some sort of grace I try to have in a world that is constantly challenging that possibility within each of us. Bringing yourself in tune, taking responsibility for your life, your actions, and being conscious that the next moment is another opportunity to do better.”
Bloom’s son is 8 years old and he mentions him as often as any father might, with pride and that paternal instinct that creates some impatience or the desire to return home, the more he speaks of him. “Now that I’m in my 40s, I feel more centered. I feel more grounded. I feel more present. I feel more vulnerable. I feel more honest. And I’m grateful for the opportunity to display this in the characters I play,” he says, after admitting the only stuff he has time to read nowadays are scripts and a book he pulls up on his phone, titled, How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk. That slight fatherly shift in tone appears again. He won’t say it, but he wants to get back on his Husqvarna 701, to retreat inside his helmet, and race away to his boy. Soon he’ll be in Prague to film Carnival Row’s second season. He kindly insists on paying for our drinks, and we fall into single file to yet again traverse the narrow corridor that had previously felt so foreboding.
But he’s still wondering aloud in front of me, picking up a fragment of abandoned conversation, or a lost trail of thought from earlier, and as we walk, without seeing his face, as if he’s speaking only to himself, and before he’s called away by an acquaintance who spots him as we exit the hallway into the main dining room, he offers up a final note, or a punctuation mark to an otherwise serpentine conversation that weaved in and out of the product he’s trying to sell, when really he’s much more interested in life and how to live it.
“I remain excited about what I’m doing,” he says. “And how I’m evolving as a human and as an actor and as a person. But I’m also conflicted. Sometimes I wake up and it feels like the world is sitting on my face, just like everybody else. I’ve got a long way to go and that’s the excitement of the journey.”
Orlando Bloom appears in Amazon Studios’ Carnival, out via Amazon Prime.