See this post for complete headers (http://community.livejournal.com/remixwoconsent/759.html)
Orlando arrived in London in early February to a cold damp winter. It was hard not to think about New Zealand in the summer, and Toujours – the delicious heat, the whump-hiss of waves crashing onto the beach – and Craig.
Craig was down at Raglan full-time now for another few months. He’d live in cut-offs and do nothing more energetic than putter about doing a bit more nest-building, perhaps dabble with some writing – more than likely he’d snooze on the couch, his current book having tumbled to the floor as he’d nodded off.
‘I could’ve been there with him,’ Orlando thought as he contemplated the silent gloom of his flat. ‘Could’ve gone to the premiere in Welly and not bothered leaving – just flown north to Auckland and then driven down to Toujours – and stayed forever.’
The premiere had been wonderful – the entire compliment of the Fellowship in attendance, and most of the cast and crew. The population of Wellington had practically doubled from all the people coming to be part of it, the first of the last premieres, the last time they’d all be together – ever.
The press and media-coverage had been unbelievable. For that one night in December, Wellington, New Zealand had been the centre of the entertainment world, and anyone who was recognized as having been part of the Rings project instantly attracted a camera.
He’d expected Craig to be a bit tense about it all, but Orlando had been surprised and elated at how relaxed he’d been. No deliberate distancing, no pretending that they barely knew one another, no hiding behind a veneer of polite small-talk in case anyone was listening in. They’d spent most of the evening in close proximity to one another, only easing apart if one or the other suddenly became a point of focus for a camera or an interviewer.
And Craig had actually physically touched him, in front of all those people, fully aware that there were countless cameras and reporters and industry gossip-gatherers nearby who wouldn’t fail to see Craig Parker’s arm resting momentarily around Orlando Bloom’s shoulders, who couldn’t help but notice the way Craig had lowered his head toward Orlando, who would have had no trouble understanding the significance of that eye contact and exchange of smiles.
“I love you,” Craig had murmured to him.
“Crazy about you,” Orlando had whispered back.
Deliciously risky, but the absolute freedom to do things like that without a second’s hesitation was approaching a little closer every day.
Orlando was now mentally signing off each significant moment these days, acknowledging anything that qualified as an obstacle overcome. An interview or photo-call – that’s the last one I have to do for that network or magazine. A premiere – this is the last time I ever have to be in this city. An hour, a day, a week – that’s one less until I can get out of this shit.
Arriving in London – the Rings publicity campaign officially over – marked the beginning of the end, in this case a welcome end. But there was still so much to do.
He called Craig and let him know he’d arrived, had a bit of a whinge about the weather and begged Craig to torture him by describing how glorious it was at Toujours just now.
“Next summer, it’s all ours,” Craig told him, “And every summer after that – ours. You’ll leave a miserable winter to come back to this.”
He phoned his mother and promised to visit soon. He called Ian – they had chatted a couple of times since Wellington, and Orlando had told him of his intention to do a year of theatre. Ian had instantly demanded a promise to come and visit him in Limehouse or, at the very least, telephone to say hallo again. By the end of the call, he’d agreed to dinner at Ian’s home in a few days time.
His last call was to Marton – or his answering-machine at least – telling him he’d arrived and suggesting a drink fairly soon. He left his home and mobile phone numbers, and his address.
He took a day or two to rest, acclimatize and ease himself into a new time-zone, leaving his flat only to grab some food from a small market nearby and to pick up some industry magazines and journals from a news stand on the corner. Leafing through those, it didn’t take him long to discover that it would be faster and cheaper, and he’d have far more available resources, if he simply bought himself a basic computer and tapped into the Internet. Everything in the magazines seemed to have been abbreviated to a small article or advertisement preceding a “www” address.
There was no escaping it. He’d seen the information Lij had been able to call up – masses of it. The printouts Lij had made and given him represented only a fraction of the information available – and it was months old now, so practically useless.
He knew Ian was on the Internet and was pretty knowledgeable about it all. He waited until he went over to Limehouse for dinner and then asked about it.
It was very easy to feel comfortable in Ian’s home. It was very much like him – understated elegance but with a warm, cozy informality. Ian had bypassed the much larger dining room and set up a small table in front of the living-room fireplace. There was immaculate linen, gleaming china and silverware, and they ate a three course meal to the accompaniment of wine, candlelight and a cheerfully crackling fire.
Had it been anyone but Ian, Orlando might have suspected a clichéd attempt at seduction – but they had all become familiar with Ian’s particular little joys and idiosyncrasies. A proper sit-down dinner with all the trimmings at least once a week was absolutely mandatory, in Sir Ian McKellen’s opinion, for the maintenance of a civilized society, and they had all been amply warned that, should any of them come to visit him in London, that’s exactly what they would be getting.
The conversation was light and chatty gossip at first, gradually easing into warm recollections and reminiscences of their time in New Zealand during the filming. They discussed the others – where they were and what they were doing – before the conversation drifted onto a more personal level.
“Tell me all about your young man,” Ian prompted, “Craig isn’t it? I think I’ve exchanged about half a dozen words with him at most, though I think I might have said most of them. If I recall correctly, he was rather charmingly tongue-tied.”
Orlando struggled at first, unable to define exactly why it was that he and Craig had been drawn to one another. “We started out friends and it went on from there. He was there when I really needed him and I s’pose I just haven’t stopped needing him. And he loves me.”
“And I assume it’s very mutual?”
Orlando nodded and smiled. “Yeah.”
“Finding the separation difficult too, I should imagine.”
He nodded again, looking glum this time.
“Nicky’s gone back for a visit. I’m trying to keep myself busy until he comes home. What is it about those New Zealand men, the devils? Had the time of my life down there.” Ian regarded him keenly. “I understand you’ve had one or two problems along the way.”
“Ah, it’s the official rubbish, you know, having to pretend it’s not happening. I’m worth a shitload more to them straight than queer.”
“Is that the way you see it?”
“Yeah, I think we’ve all agreed on that. Except that I’m not really worth much to them at all now – since I stopped playing the game by their fucking rules.”
“Unfortunately, my dear, every area of life is governed by rules determined by those who control it. When one is young and breaks those rules, it’s regarded simply as willfulness. It’s only when you reach my age that breaking those rules comes to be considered the height of cool. It’s rather amusing to be suddenly thought of as cool – approximately thirty years after I stopped bothering about whether I was or wasn’t.”
“Did you ever feel – “
“Hurt? Pain? Yes.”
“When did it stop?”
“When I’d had enough.”
“And then what did you do?”
The unmistakable McKellen twinkle appeared. “Whatever I wanted to do. And is this where you now find yourself, Orlando? Doing what you want to do?”
“To a point, yeah.”
“Lot of hard work ahead of you – and don’t expect things to be vastly different or improved. Not just yet anyway.”
“I came over here wanting and expecting to start small – small production, small theatre, small audience.”
“You realize, don’t you dear, that nothing will remain small once your name is associated with it.”
Orlando sighed. “Oh God, that’s really not what I want to hear. I sort of wanted to stay unnoticed for a while, just ‘til I got back into it.”
“Orlando – you know that couldn’t possibly have happened. You’re not that naive.”
“It’s what I’d hoped. That makes me seem incredibly stupid, doesn’t it?”
“No, dear – just a little overly optimistic.”
Ian rose from the table and indicated that Orlando should follow him. “Well then, let’s go into the study and have a look at this computer business.”
The study was cozily elegant in keeping with the décor of the rest of the house. The walls were lined with polished wood bookcases crammed to capacity. Other than two desks – an antique roll-top for writing and a more modern and practical one for the computer – the only furniture in the room was a plump, chintz-covered armchair with its own matching ottoman, and a low polished table.
Instinct drew Orlando to the bookcases. He was always curious as to what other people read although, strictly speaking, it interested him more to know what a particularly intelligent person such as Ian – and Craig too – might consider a valuable source of knowledge. He wasn’t surprised to find innumerable biographies and memoirs. Clued-in people, he had discovered, tended to like reading about other clued-in and successful people. The standards and classics of literature were there as well, along with some crime and detective thrillers.
He browsed for a few minutes until he remembered guiltily that Ian was sitting at the computer waiting for his attention.
“Like books, do you?” Ian said as Orlando pulled the ottoman over and settled down on it to watch.
Orlando nodded. “I’ve bought heaps of them over the last few years. I just don’t have any idea where they ended up. They’re somewhere out there floating in a weird sort of cardboard-box limbo. As soon as I go home and stop moving around all the time, I’m going to buy out a couple of bookshops.”
“Mmm, something to look forward to. The browsing and selecting is just as much fun as the actual purchase so be sure to take your time and enjoy it.”
Ian turned back to the computer. “We’ll get started then. How familiar are you with these things?”
“I watched Lij surf a bit, open things, download stuff and play around with files.”
“It’s an absolute bottomless pit of information. Calling it the ‘information superhighway’ was rather apt, in my opinion. One can easily feel run over and swamped by the speed and volume of traffic, but there’s simply no avoiding it. About all one can do is start with an initial search and then try to keep it all confined to a dull roar from there. Are you familiar with the search engine? I use this one – Google – type in a few words related to what I’m looking for and then duck for cover. What are we after here?”
Orlando sat and watched in silence as the older man worked the computer and explained each step and result.
“Look at that! Masses of results and you can bet your boots only a handful of them are any good. Nothing worse than reading a summary and thinking, ‘Ahah! Exactly what I’m looking for!’ only to find that the link is dead or the information is redundant. The bulk of the traffic out there consists of driverless vehicles and abandoned wrecks, which is a pity really. It’s so unnecessary but, unfortunately, it’s quite out of control.”
Ian scrolled through some of the results until he found one that looked promising. “This looks about the most useful link of all, dear. “A directory of live theatres and repertories, categorized by locality.” Hmm, still a huge amount of information isn’t there. It could take hours to browse just this one site and I could think of a better way to spend an evening with company. I might bookmark it and have a proper look at it tomorrow. I’ll sort out the wheat from the chaff, so to speak, and put together a list of anything that might be worth a closer look.”
Orlando nodded wordlessly.
“Once you’ve gone on-line,” Ian continued, “You’ll be able to talk to Craig whenever you like with e-mails and personal messages. It’s far cheaper than – “
Orlando shifted restlessly. “Craig would go apeshit if he knew I was doing this. He’s scared to death of me using that thing.”
“How extraordinary! And why is that?”
“He thinks there’re things out there I shouldn’t see. Things about me.”
Ian looked at him carefully for a long moment before giving a quick, dismissive smile. “He’s quite right, of course. Very sensible boy.”
Orlando grinned. “Boy?”
“I’m in my sixties, Orlando. Everyone is a boy. He’s young enough to be my son, and you my grandson. Now isn’t that a frightening thing!”
“You’ll never be old, mate,” Orlando said softly and the smile he gave the older man reflected genuine admiration and affection. “And you’ll always be Gandalf to us.”
“And you, my dear, will always be the most scrumptious little elf amongst a veritable tribe of them. I was in heaven over there. You and Elrond were my favorites but don’t tell anyone or they’ll all be hurling their wigs at me. I had a lovely natter with Hugo on the phone just the other evening. I’m trying to lure him over here for a bit of work but he refuses to budge – not that I can blame him. Very few of those lovely boys are interested in coming over here and why should they? The mountain has gone to Mohammad. They can do splendid work in the comfort of their own home now. Films, theatre – perhaps I should go over there instead, hmm?”
“Marton’s here at the moment. Has been for a few months and will be for a few more.”
“Is he? I hadn’t heard. Another lovely man, rather intense but very quick – tends to move by stealth. Now you see him, now you don’t, that sort of thing. If you run into him at all, do bring him over one evening. I’ve heard some wonderful things about his work. Murmurings of an Oscar nomination too.”
“He’s so talented at everything and his mind – the way he thinks about things and puts them into words that just make so much sense – I could sit and listen to him talk for hours.”
“Then I absolutely insist you find him and bring him over to tea.”
Ian returned his attention to the computer. “But getting back to the matter at hand, if you’d really rather not get right into this, Orlando, I’d be more than happy to keep an eye open for things that might be of use to you and simply pass on the information. I can understand Craig being concerned on your behalf and wanting you to be careful – even I’m careful. I’m under no illusion that every mention of my name on the internet is associated with something positive. There’s an inordinate amount of spite and vitriol out there concerning me – and no doubt a lot of it refers to my relationship with Nickie – but I’m certainly not going to go in search of it. Should I accidentally stumble across any of it, which I do on occasion, I don’t stop to read it. If you do decide to go on-line, that’s about the only advice I can give you. Don’t read anything associated with your own name.”
“That’s what Lij said – except he does it anyway.”
“Silly boy.” Despite it being a rebuke, there was undisguised affection in his voice.
“He’s a tough little shit,” Orlando said, “Compared to me, anyway.”
“So he’d have us all believe. Just bear in mind he’s also an accomplished actor.”
Two days later, Ian telephoned him at home, instructed him to get a pencil and paper, and then spent the next hour dictating a list of smaller local theatres and repertories currently holding – or about to hold – auditions for limited season productions.
Orlando attended his first the next day and experienced what would typify most future auditions. First came the shock at seeing him there in the first place, followed by a clamor for autographs. Some people were so intimidated by his star status that they were reluctant to approach him, while others were so determined to show how little his star status mattered to them that they made a point of ignoring him entirely. A hardcore few indicated that they wouldn’t lower themselves to acknowledging someone in films.
The auditions themselves were often reduced to a token thirty-second appearance on-stage – to satisfy their curiosity, he suspected – ending with an abrupt dismissal that bordered on insult, “Thank you Mister Bloom, next!”
He gave Marton the awful details when they finally caught up again and arranged to meet at the pub just down the road from Orlando’s flat for a few drinks.
“It was always going to happen this way, mate,” Marton told him, “You’ve done everything out of sync. You became a star before you were the typical struggling actor. It was never going to be easy.”
Orlando had been through just over a week of auditions, averaging two a day, and was starting to feel the ominous heaviness associated with looming depression. “It feels like I’m being punished for it.”
“Hey,” Marton chided him, “Don’t take it personally. We embarrassingly clever people are always going to be smacked back in our places if we insist on shining too brightly, too soon. I was never expecting to get that nomination so it doesn’t bother me not getting it. And despite everyone else insisting Return of the King was going to be nominated for, and win, everything in sight, I think a lot of us – Peter included – are quite prepared for another slap. And he’ll probably get it. He could miss out again this time but win Best Director in another few years’ time for something else. Ten or twenty years down the track, the trilogy will no doubt finally be recognized for the sheer brilliance it is and he’ll get a Special Oscar for it. In the mean time, he – and anyone else in his situation – will go on doing what they love doing best. That includes both of us. Ignore them all, Orlando, and ignore all the rest of the shit as well. Do what you want to do, not what others expect of you.”
“That’s just it. I don’t know what they expect of me – except maybe to fall flat on my bloody face. Looks like I’m heading that way so they must be pretty happy so far.”
“Who are they?”
Orlando shrugged. “I don’t know.”
“They might be you. Ever thought of that?”
“Yeah,” Orlando sighed, “I have, and you’re probably right. My confidence completely sucks right now.”
“I’m sorry. It’s far too easy for me to tell you to think positively, so I won’t. About all I will tell you is that if it’s something you really want, just keep at it. And do stay in touch and keep me posted. I think it’ll help having an understanding ear and some moral support, both of which I’ll make available any time you want.”
Orlando brightened a little. “Yeah, I have you and Ian here, which is great – and Craig at the end of the phone-line. I called Pete, Lij and Vig about their nominations and they’ve made the same offer so yeah, I’m not exactly alone in all this. But in the end, it’s just me who has to make it work.”
A week later, it was announced that ‘Hollywood had come to Hampstead’ and that Orlando Bloom had been cast in the role of Claudio in a local production of Shakespeare’s ‘Much Ado About Nothing’.
He had convinced himself that the hardest part – just trying to get it into people’s heads that he was being completely serious about all this – was over, when in fact the auditions had been the easiest part by far. The concentrated month-long rehearsal period turned out to be an extension of an audition. Some of his co-stars were star-struck, others were disdainful, a few contemptuous. The closer they came to the first live performance, a number of the colder receptions had thawed a little, while others had clearly warmed. He’d had to learn fast how to tactfully decline an opportunistic proposition, to fend off a pass without upsetting anyone. He didn’t tell Craig or Marton or anyone else about them, preferring to keep the embarrassment to himself.
He’d found out quickly enough that the theatre company was in financial trouble and needed some serious money in a hurry. Having Orlando Bloom in-house, and cranking up the publicity machine to full-bore, virtually guaranteed them two-weeks of sell-out audiences willing to pay inflated prices for their tickets. He’d been pissed off for about ten seconds before deciding that their motives were inconsequential. He had his chance and he was going to make it count if it killed him.
Opening night was a fiasco, and more akin to a Hollywood premiere than a small regional production.
“Nicky and I won’t come, Orlando,” Ian had told him, “Much as we’d love to. I suspect there’s going to be a bit of a fuss and we don’t want to add to it. But we’ll have a drink for you at curtain-up and another at curtain-down, and you’ll consider us there in spirit, won’t you?”
Marton said much the same, but that he’d be there on the second night for certain.
The ‘bit of a fuss’ turned out to be a traffic-jam and a near-riot of people trying to collect their tickets and get into the theatre before the eight o’clock start, of people hanging around looking for ticket-scalpers, and a strong media-contingent. They’d opened the doors two hours earlier than normal but still the curtain went up an hour late. The play itself dragged on endlessly as frequent long pauses were necessary to allow the audience of predominantly teenage girls to settle down, and for the actors to recover their concentration again.
'More reminiscent of a rock and roll concert than a Shakespearian production,' sniffed one review, 'Impossible to hear much of the dialogue above the incessant giggling and chattering. Some phenomena simply have no place within the realm of serious theatre, Hollywood being one of them.'
'Bloom gave a nervy, distracted performance,' concluded another. 'He clearly looked as though he’d rather have been elsewhere…'
“It was fucking awful,” Orlando told Craig over the phone the following day. “I suppose they were doing what they normally do – you know, scream their guts out and carry on a bit – but probably most of them have never been to a theatre before and don’t realize how even a cough or a sneeze can fuck with your concentration and kill your performance. It didn’t seem to filter through their pea-brains that it’s not the same as going to watch a film where they can carry on all they like and just piss off the people nearest them.”
“How did the other actors take it?” Craig asked, wishing he’d been there for support because he supposed he’d seen this coming a mile off.
“They laughed about it afterwards but I think most of them were seriously pissed about it. Everyone had a hard time. I just hope it gets better. I don’t want to end up the resident leper because I’m responsible for everyone’s performance suffering.”
The following night was a repeat in its entirety but he had Marton to talk to afterwards, someone he could ask for an honest critique. Rather than go out for a drink, they went back to Orlando’s flat.
“I wasn’t very good, was I?” he finally asked as they drank tea.
Marton didn’t hesitate or even attempt to choose his words carefully. “You were adequate, Orlando, which is a lot better than bad.”
“Would you give me a really honest opinion? I need to know if I’m wasting my time or not.”
“Of course. You were technically very correct. You remembered your lines, hit your marks, didn’t miss a cue, and didn’t upstage anyone. That’s a good foundation to work on. If you balls-up the technicals, you can forget the rest.”
“So where did I go wrong?”
“You didn’t do anything wrong. You improved during the performance, the more you started to get into it -- and despite the rubbish that was working against you. Tomorrow, you’ll do it better, and the night after that, better still. Put it out of your mind now, relax for a while.”
Orlando sighed and looked visibly relieved. “I’m really glad you’re here. It’s weird, but right now, your opinion is the only one that counts. You’re the only person handy who can look at what I’m doing and not who I am. I feel a bit better knowing I’m adequate which is, like you said, better than bad. I just didn’t want to really suck but still keep thinking I was doing okay.”
“You are doing okay.” Marton insisted. “You just need to hang in there and not let it all get to you.”
The last performance of the month-long production resulted in a couple of grudgingly better reviews but Orlando was still glad to see the end of it. He took a week off before actively looking for any more work. He’d made half-hearted friendships with some of the others and went out clubbing a couple of nights. He had another meal with all the trimmings at Ian’s house, with Nick joining them and Marton making it an even four. He couldn’t remember ever enjoying an evening so much in his entire life – with the exception of that special party in Auckland with all Craig’s friends, the one that had finally succeeded in adding a sense of normalcy and reassurance to their relationship.
He continued to speak to Craig every day, just a few minutes to say ‘I love you, I miss you’, sometimes a little longer if there was news to share. He spoke to Marton or Ian every few days, receiving from both of them encouragement and the occasional scrap of information they’d discovered and thought might interest him, such as an audition call.
He hadn't confined his search to just the London area, but in all directions within a reasonable distance. He’d been considering trying another London-based attempt at Shakespeare when he heard from Ian that the Theatre Royal in Canterbury had opened auditions for a six-day, eight performance production of ‘The Judas Kiss’.
He was at the theatre the next day, lining up with dozens of others and trying to look invisible under a baseball cap and behind dark glasses. The attempt at anonymity hadn’t lasted very long and he’d signed countless autographs and undergone an informal interview – someone had no doubt summoned the local press.
It was a relief to actually get inside the theatre and do the audition, a slightly more positive experience this time.
They gave him a terse, “We’ll let you know in a couple of days.”
‘Maybe one day I’ll be doing ‘Bosie’. It seems more my type of role, don’t you think? Petulant, bratty, selfish.’
He’d originally uttered those words back when he and Craig were saying their goodbyes at Fernside Lodge where they’d shot the Lórien scenes, so long ago now. He reminded Craig of them, just before telling him – brimming with pride and delight – that he’d been cast in that very role, and in his home town.
“Difficult play,” had been Marton’s response when Orlando told him over a drink later the same day. “The fact that Craig and the ATC did it so well was the result of one of those rare combinations of the perfect casting of actors who were ready for the roles, being directed by someone who understood that the original work was tedious and needed an incredible amount of improvement, and a month’s worth of audiences who were able to appreciate that they were seeing something rather special.”
“Well if I suck,” Orlando said off-handedly, “It’ll only be for six days. It’s all going to be a rushed job. Two weeks of prep starting tomorrow, one week to do it and then it’s all over. I don’t mind it, actually, all intense and focused like that. You don’t get stale or bored and you can leave it behind pretty fast. And anyway, it’s not the Marlowe or anything,” he added, referring to the larger, more famous theatre in Canterbury. “The audiences won’t be so huge or expecting complete brilliance.”
Marton looked at him thoughtfully. “Would it make you uncomfortable if I came to watch you rehearsing tomorrow?”
Orlando didn’t hesitate. “God, no, not at all. It’s only a reading-rehearsal but maybe you could watch and pick up anything I’m doing wrong. I need all the help I can get.”
“I’ll make a courtesy call to the theatre first then rather than just wander in.”
Late in the morning of the following day, Marton slipped quietly into the auditorium of the Theatre Royal and seated himself in the farthest row from the stage, the only place, in his opinion, from which one could make a valid critique of a theatre actor’s technical skill.
Right from the start, it was obvious to see that Orlando was having problems projecting his voice. It hadn’t been an issue in the smaller theatre in which he'd performed previously, and in a more vocal play. The director repeatedly picked him up on it and Marton could sense his growing frustration. The play hadn’t been a particularly wise choice for what could still be considered a comeback performance. Some of the scenes required a sense of stillness – of hush – difficult to maintain if he constantly had to keep forcibly raising his voice in order to be heard.
The impossibility of the shouted whisper – Marton knew it to be his own technical weakness and he’d consciously made a point of avoiding any roles that required an actor to ‘shout the whisper’.
It was difficult to watch. Orlando wasn’t a bad actor but he was struggling, not only technically but in the characterization of Bosie. The director was intent on making Bosie as obnoxiously and aggressively faggy as possible and, consciously or otherwise, Orlando was fighting it.
By the time the session ended, Marton was consumed with silent anger. Orlando was hopelessly out of his depth, yet the director clearly didn’t see it, or simply refused to. Probably blinded, Marton speculated, by the ‘Bloom returns home a star’ headlines that had been trumpeting for the last couple of days in the local paper. More publicity for the play, larger audiences, and more money – the play would only run for six days but the opening and closing nights were already sold out, the other sessions fast approaching it. It was only to be expected. Cast a controversial actor as a controversial character and the publicity alone would ensure the success of the play.
Orlando bounded down from the stage and practically ran to where he’d spotted Marton sitting. “How was it? Can we talk over lunch? I have an hour – “
“No, stay with your group, Orlando. You need to bond with them. I have to get moving right away.”
Orlando shrugged, “Yeah, I should, shouldn’t I? I’m staying at Mum’s while I’m in town. Want to come home with me tonight? She thought Celeborn was hot-stuff so she’d get a kick out of having him to tea.”
Marton grinned despite his lingering negative feelings about the production. “I’d love to but I’m due back in London this afternoon. I thought I might come back and see another rehearsal next week when it’s all a bit more advanced. Today – “ he shook his head, “It’s a bit soon to offer any firm opinion. How about we get together then?”
“Okay, I’d like that.” He watched Marton rising from his seat and tried unsuccessfully to hide his disappointment. “Wish you could stay. I – um – I don’t know if it was just me but I didn’t think today went all that well, you know?”
“I know,” Marton replied gently, “And it wasn’t just you, but it’s only the first day and things are bound improve.”
Orlando shifted restlessly from one foot to another. “Wish Craig was here too. But then I’d hate to have him watch someone else murder his play.”
“Just do your best and follow the direction. It’s about all you can do.” Marton consulted his watch. “Got to run. I’ll phone you in a couple of days. Good luck.”
“Yeah, thanks!” Orlando called after him.
Marton sat in on another rehearsal, the second-last one before opening night, and in full costume. His own fears hadn’t been assuaged and Orlando’s doubts seemed to have increased.
“I saw how the ATC did it,” Orlando said later in the evening, “And it was really good and it was much more – what’s the word? – subtle and – and understated, you know? God, this stuff is shit compared to the one I saw in Auckland. I haven’t told Craig though. I just tell him that everything’s fine and – well anything that makes him feel better. I expect the whole production’s going to get fucking awful reviews. We’ve talked amongst ourselves and I think we’ve all agreed the director’s a wanker. But its work, isn’t it, and experience? That’s what I need more than anything.”
“It all helps, it all makes us wiser in the end. Listen, I have to take off again -- to New York for a few days -- but I’ll try to get back in time to see it.”
“Don’t break your neck or anything attempting to,” Orlando replied glumly, “I’ll be so fucking glad when it’s over.”
“Any plans for afterwards?”
“Haven’t made any. I expect if it turns out as bad as I think it will, I’ll be tempted to pack up and go home for good. But – “
He paused and Marton prompted him, “But what?”
“That would look like running away, wouldn’t it? And giving up? Or maybe just admitting the obvious – that I’m wasting my time.”
“Four months and two productions, Orlando,” Marton reminded him, “That’s hardly enough on which to make a final decision.”
“I haven’t exactly been swamped with offers – well not for work anyway.” Orlando looked down at his drink and forced a brittle laugh. “Plenty of the other though.”
Marton studied his face intently. “What did you tell them?”
“Well – I can’t tell them about Craig, can I? It would be a lot easier if I could but I can’t so I just say ‘Thanks, I’m not interested.’ But some nights, it’s hard, you know? Really hard, especially when things aren’t going very well. Some nights, I just want to lose myself in someone.”
“Ever been tempted?”
Orlando looked up, returning the scrutiny, and he nodded slowly. “Yeah, a couple of times.”
“I think, Orlando,” Marton said very quietly, “That you should ignore appearances and go home as soon as you can. Just for a visit if nothing else. But you should go back and at least remind yourself of what you would be risking.”
“I’m totally fucking aware of what I’d be risking, that’s why I don’t do it. But I can’t just visit, okay? I promised myself that when I went home to him, it would be for keeps. The last time we said goodbye, that’s when I knew I could never say it again. I really think that we couldn’t survive another one – another goodbye. But apart from that, I just couldn’t stand going back a complete failure. I just want one fucking decent thumbs-up from someone. It won’t be for this one so yeah, I s’pose I’ve made plans after all. To try again.”
Exactly one week later, Marton’s flight landed at Heathrow six hours late – the time it’d taken for the fog to lift in New York. He collected a rental car and drove straight to Canterbury, knowing that the curtain had come down on the play hours ago. He’d booked a hotel room for the night and requested that copies of the local papers for the last week be waiting in his room. On arrival, he checked in, went straight to his room and showered away jet lag-induced tiredness. Then he opened the papers one at a time, and read while he shaved.
The reviews had been harsh to say the least.
“Bloom’s 'Bosie' is a petulant little beast made all the more irritating by an ever-present childish pout. One wonders how Wilde could have considered risking everything for this vacuous little princess. Colin Macklin’s 'Robert Ross' came second in the boring stakes by a short nose. His character comes across as fussy and officious.”
“Bloom has no natural stage presence. He is technically correct but his character interpretation lacks depth and feeling.”
“He made a superb Legolas. He should have quit while he was ahead.”
“If a good review is all Bloom is after, he should head back to the dance-floor of his favorite club and do what he does best.”
“Orlando Bloom should stop taking himself so seriously and go back to Hollywood, although by all accounts, Hollywood has had enough of his preciousness and lack of commitment.”
One reviewer had seen fit to add a comment of a more personal nature.
“Bloom was more convincing as an anonymous rent-boy in the film ‘Wilde’ than he was as the gay 'Bosie' in this unenthusiastic production, but in any sexually controversial role, he stands out for reasons not necessarily intended. In regard to his private life in general, and his sexuality in particular, Bloom remains consistently tight-lipped and the shutters come down the moment the subject starts to drift away from acting. It is an open secret that Bloom spends considerable time with thirty-something New Zealand actor and fellow 'Lord of the Rings' star Craig Parker, although the two have rarely been seen together in public since a photo expose in October 2002. Whether his choice of this particular role will add to the speculation remains to be seen. It is, however, doubtful that it will add to his credibility as an actor.”
“Oh for Christ’s sake!” Marton snapped to the walls of the bathroom, “Why the hell did the wanker have to add that rubbish?”
In his room again, he called both the theatre and the family home, the phone ringing out on each occasion. From experience, he knew that the cast of any production looked forward to closing night as an opportunity to wildly celebrate either an unqualified success or the fact that the misery had finally come to an end. The venue was usually the nearest pub or club to the theatre.
He shuffled through the complimentary brochures on the writing desk until he found one with a street map of the city centre. The Theatre Royal was in St Peters Street, just a couple of blocks from the hotel. He vaguely remembered Orlando mentioning a local club called Peppermill and giving it a glowing reference.
‘It’s a bit pricey but the music’s good and there’s always a crowd.’
He looked up the club in the White Pages, consulted the map again and located it in Burgate, a few blocks away in the opposite direction.
He decided to follow his instincts, left the hotel and set out in search of the club. He was standing at the entrance barely fifteen minutes later.
Orlando hadn’t been wrong about it being pricey, although compared to London, it was a reasonably cheap hangout. Orlando could have easily afforded the clubs at the upper end of the price scale, but if he was keeping company with a crowd of students and struggling actors, he’d have happily gone to the local Peppermill and no doubt picked up the cover-charge for everyone in his group.
Marton reluctantly paid the twelve pounds necessary to get him through the door, knowing full well that if Orlando wasn’t actually there, it was wasted money. He certainly wouldn’t stay simply to get his money’s worth. He had always been a sociable person and had enjoyed his fair share of dancing, drinking and clubbing over the years, but he’d gradually lost interest. Wild clubbing nights were definitely a thing of the past. He found he had less patience these days for the noise and the crowds, and all the rest of the attendant bullshit that went with the club scene.
The Peppermill was clearly popular if the sheer number of people packed into the place was an accurate indication. It didn’t make it easy if you were looking for one particular person in a sea of faces, all distorted in one way or another by light effects or simple drunken animation. It didn’t help either that no-one seemed to remain still for more than a second at any time. A couple of times he thought he might have been in luck, thought he’d caught a glimpse of Orlando before the face that caught his attention turned away, or was obscured by another dancer.
He squeezed his way through the crowd until he found a place against the wall near the exit that led to the public toilets, a position where he’d be out of everyone’s way yet still able to watch the tables without obstruction. If Orlando was there, no doubt he’d be dancing – ‘Why else would anyone go to a club?’ he’d often remark. But sooner or later Orlando – if he was there – would either want to sit down and have a drink, or he’d need to take a piss.
Marton lifted his hand and peered at his watch. He’d give it half an hour before considering his next option.
In the end, it only took a scant ten minutes before Orlando appeared at one of the tables, sat down and was immediately surrounded by a crowd of others, males and females, some pouncing on unoccupied chairs, others content to stand around and consider themselves part of the group.
Marton wondered how many of the people Orlando actually knew, and how many had simply become limpets to his celebrity. A natural progression was to wonder also if the place was normally this packed, or whether the jungle drums had sounded shortly after he’d arrived and been recognized, and the natives had come flocking to see for themselves what a star – even a currently unsuccessful star – looked like in close proximity.
The table was laden with empty glasses and these were shoved aside as a new round of drinks appeared. He doubted Orlando would have had to dip into his wallet all evening once the cover-charge had been seen to. It was one of the perks of celebrity. People always bought you drinks, the brighter your star, the more drinks you received. Always with the implicit understanding that something was expected in return, often something as simple as a smile and acknowledgement, occasionally much more.
He didn’t approach the table but remained content to watch. If all Orlando wanted to do was dilute the venom in those reviews with alcohol, he’d allow him that. His only intention was to make sure he got home in one piece. Alone.
He checked his watch again. It was a bit after one. He assumed they’d left the theatre at about eleven and been drinking for about two hours. Orlando still looked relatively steady but he’d gulped down one drink and started on a second just in the ten minutes Marton had been keeping an eye on him. If it was alcohol, he was well on his way to a memorable hangover.
Marton’s attention gradually shifted to a small sub-group of three – a girl and two men, all around Orlando’s age or possibly a bit younger. They seemed particularly close, frequently getting their heads together and engaging in an intense conversation punctuated with nods. He watched them as they drew Orlando into their conversation, at the same time pushing drinks toward him. Now and then, one of them went for re-fills, returned, pushed another drink at him. Marton sensed he was in the mood to drink until he dropped – a pattern already well-established when he’d been in the infamous Hobbits and Elf clique. He noted too that the threesome barely touched their own drinks even as they encouraged Orlando to imbibe. Curiosity piqued was now becoming a definite feeling of suspicion.
He continued to monitor the group, Orlando’s worsening condition and their increasing attentiveness. By the time Marton checked his watch again – another hour had passed – they were all over Orlando and he was responding willingly, almost instinctively to the physical attention.
Then Orlando suddenly rose from the table and, on noticeably unsteady feet, headed for the exit to the toilets. Marton followed him.
By a major stroke of luck, no one else was present. Marton seized his opportunity and shoved Orlando into a stall, squeezed in with him and bolted the door.
Orlando responded instantly but his drunkenness reduced his cry of outrage to little more than a slurred, “What the fuck’re you – Marton?”
Marton pointed to the toilet bowl. “Do what you have to do and I’ll take you home.”
The anger was slow to appear but it was genuine. “Who the hell do you think you are? I’m not ready to go home. I’m having fun. Why don’t you go home instead and stop trying to fuck with my life?”
Marton pushed him against the wall, and braced him with one arm to keep him from pulling away. “You’ve had more than enough to drink, mate,” he said very quietly, “And you’re being moved in on. Trust me, it’s time to leave.”
“Moved in – who? I’m with friends. They’re okay. I’ll be okay.”
“You’re being set up, you bloody little fool!” Marton hissed at him, “Why the hell can’t you see it?”
Orlando shook his head, “No, no – they’re okay. We’re going back to their place. Another party. You can come if I ask.”
“You’re not going any – “
Orlando erupted, and pulled away angrily, “You have no fucking right to stop me!”
Marton grabbed him again and pushed him hard against the wall, now using his entire body to keep him still.
He kept his voice quiet and calm. “I’m not letting this happen, Orlando. You can either walk out with me quietly, or I’m going to knock you out, heave you over my shoulder and carry you out. Either way, we’re both leaving.”
Orlando stared at him, his eyes filled momentarily with fear. It gradually faded away to become replaced by resignation.
“I just want to be with someone…”, he whispered, words suddenly tumbling over themselves. “I don’t want to go home alone… don’t want to be alone… don’t want everyone to leave me, just stay… just stay with me, I don’t care what it takes… I don’t want to be alone… just want to be with someone… want to forget everything, please… not be left, not be alone… why’s that so fucking – ?”
Marton cut through the drunken babbling. “Are you forgetting Craig?”
Orlando squeezed his eyes shut and dropped his head forward until his chin rested on his chest.
Marton cupped his hand under Orlando’s chin and jerked his head up again. “You’re not going to avoid it, Orlando. You’re right, I haven’t any right to stop you. No legal right at least, only a moral one. You’re free to go and fuck your brains out with anyone you want, go on – go for it! Leave this place with those arseholes and have the time of your life.”
He lowered his voice and brought his mouth very close to Orlando’s ear. “But before you do, let’s fast-forward a day or two. Just for a moment. Suppose the girl has a camera and decides to take a few little souvenir shots of you being serviced at both ends by her boyfriends. Suppose one or more of them has a sexually transmitted disease and decides to share the joy. You’re so out of your head, Orlando, there’s no way you could insist on them protecting you, not when they outnumber you, not when they’re so obviously intent on getting their dicks into you. And suppose one or all of them simply has a very big mouth and decides to spread it around to anyone in clubland who’ll listen, that they had Orlando Bloom, and that they watched while their friend had Orlando Bloom and then the whole lot of them had Orlando Bloom at once, and that he was one really hot fuck.”
Marton lowered his voice further still until it was little more than a whisper, and he was so close that his face was resting against Orlando’s. “And then suppose it all got back to Craig.”
Orlando’s eyes widened abruptly, he choked and heaved and vomited copiously over both of them and onto the floor. Marton wrenched him around and held him over the bowl until the retching stopped, and continued to hold him until he could find the strength and co-ordination to stand again.
He was sobbing now, and barely coherent. ”God, God – sorry – so – home – can’t – God – “
Stone-faced, Marton unravelled fistfuls of tissue from the roll and attempted ineffectually to clean them up as best he could. Eventually he gave up and unbolted the door. Holding Orlando upright, and without making eye-contact with anyone, he walked them through the club and out the main entrance. It was easier away from the bright lights and people – at half past two on a Sunday morning, the streets were relatively empty. He managed to get them through the foyer of the hotel and up to his room without being challenged by night staff.
Once in his room, he started the shower running and stripped them both of their ruined clothes. He stepped into the shower cubicle, drew Orlando in with him and pulled the door closed. He held him upright – he was still unsure on his feet, and suffering from drunken confusion – and allowed the warm water to wash over them.
“I’m sorry,” Orlando murmured again, “I’m sorry.”
“You would’ve been a lot sorrier in the morning, mate,” Marton assured him, maintaining a neutral, matter-of-fact tone. “I should turn the water cold and really teach you a lesson, hmm?”
Orlando responded with a slight shake of his head, his eyes flickered and he slumped forward.
“Don’t you pass out on me!” Marton held on to him as Orlando’s head lolled against his shoulder. “Are you feeling any better. Still feel sick?”
“No. Just – just – “
He didn’t finish but lapsed into silence. After a few minutes, Marton turned the water off and pushed open the door again. Still holding onto Orlando, he reached for a towel and dried him off as best he could. He wrapped the same towel around his hips and helped him to the bed he’d been longing for since New York. He dragged back the covers, lowered him until he was lying down and then covered him up. He went back to the bathroom and finished drying himself. He emptied the pockets of their clothes and rinsed them off as much as possible. He hung them up despite knowing they’d still be sodden and ruined in the morning.
When he returned to the main room, he'd expected Orlando to already be in a deep sleep. Instead the dark eyes were watching him unblinkingly.
“Sleep,” Marton instructed him tersely. He looked at the couch with the instant, unhappy realization that is wasn’t one of those that converted into a bed, and that it was about two feet too short in length for him to stretch out on.
He sighed and approached the opposite side of the bed, dropped the towel and climbed in beside Orlando.
“Sleep,” he said again and switched out the bedside light.
In the darkness, he heard Orlando sigh heavily, and knew him to be as wide awake as he himself was. The shower had seen to that.
“Would you really have gone with them?” he asked eventually.
Orlando’s reply took a long moment to come, as if he’d considered it first, and was whispered when it finally came. “Probably.”
“Aware of what could have happened?”
“I wasn’t expecting anything as – bad as you’d said. I just thought – “
“Casual, uncomplicated sex?”
“Without a second thought about Craig?”
“I did think about him. That’s why I needed to get totally off my face first in order to do it.”
“It was planned then?”
“Sort of – Yeah.”
The silence lasted several minutes, broken by Orlando saying drowsily, “You don’t think much of me, do you?”
“I just don’t understand you. Why you’d have risked so much for a night of meaningless fucking.”
“You didn’t see the reviews. They were so fucking – “
“I did see them. I read them before I went looking for you. I had a hunch you’d be feeling rather low -- and particularly vulnerable.”
“Rather low,” Orlando echoed, a trace wry amusement in his voice. “I had to go through a week of being told how fucking useless and untalented I am, and then there was that last one when they slipped in the bit about Craig. It just – I felt I’d been abused for a week. I felt like shit. I wanted someone – anyone – to stop it hurting, because it does fucking hurt. I wanted someone to just hold me and love me for a while – even if they were lying and pretending the whole time. I didn’t just want it, I needed it.”