Elysa Gardner, USA TODAY
NEW YORK (USA TODAY) -- Orlando Bloom might have believed that it was not in his stars to appear in a Shakespeare play. As a fledgling actor in his native U.K., he was cast as Orsino in a drama-school production of Twelfth Night, "but I never got to do it, because I had an accident -- I broke my back."
Some 15 years and a number of successful movies later, Bloom, 36, is poised to finally make his bow in a Bard work, and on Broadway. He stars opposite rising actress Condola Rashad in a new revival of Romeo and Juliet, in previews for a Sept. 19 opening at the Richard Rodgers Theatre.
It is, Bloom notes, the first time that Shakespeare's account of ill-fated young love has appeared on the Main Stem "in 36 years. Though it's probably the best-known of his plays. If you were to ask everyone what Hamlet was about, they might say, 'It's about a prince, and he says, "To be or not to be."' But in Romeo and Juliet, their families are in conflict, and they fall in love and die. Everyone knows what's going to happen."
That poses a challenge, Bloom admits, chatting in a near-empty theater during a rehearsal break. His director, David Leveaux, cast black actors as Juliet and her kin, the Capulets, and white actors as Romeo's clan, the Montagues. (Broadway's last Juliet, Regina Taylor, was also African American.) "But we're not doing a racial telling," Bloom stresses. "The ancient grudge between the families doesn't stand because of skin color."
While the production isn't set in a specific place or time period, it is suggested that the story "could be happening anywhere," Bloom says. His Romeo wears jeans and a hoodie, "and I come onstage on a motorbike" -- just as Bloom arrived for his first meeting with Leveaux, he points out, chuckling.
Leveaux obviously thought Bloom's boyish good looks right for the part, but was more drawn to "qualities he has that I think go to the core of Romeo. Orlando has an enormous grace, and there is a fantastic decency about him that I think is fundamental to why we care about Romeo."
Orlando Bloom and Condola Rashad perform at the 'Romeo And Juliet' On Broadway First Performance at the Richard Rodgers Theatre on Aug. 24, 2013 in New York.(Photo: Noam Galai, FilmMagic)
Bloom sees the play as "William Shakespeare's ode to the youth of his generation. So it's important that we reach youth now. The reaction we seem to be getting is that young audience members find it very accessible."
Playing a teenage romantic hero has "been a joy," Bloom adds. "I'm not the youngest actor to play Romeo, or the oldest, but I really don't think I could have done justice to the role before now. There's so much more to the character that I've found having had more experience, even being a father. And of course, the play reaches everyone. Who doesn't want to see two kids experience that sheer ecstasy?"
If their ecstasy foreshadows tragedy, Bloom's perspective leads him to impishly wonder if "Romeo and Juliet would have stayed together, if they hadn't killed themselves? A love that burns so bright has to burn itself out, don't you think?"
Bloom's own marriage to Australian model Miranda Kerr, the mother of his 2-year-old son, Flynn, benefits from their hectic schedules, which require time apart. "We spend as much time together as we do apart, so that keeps things exciting and fresh."
Still, for Bloom, who next appears on screen reprising his role as Legolas in The Hobbit: the Desolation of Smaug, out in December, being able to stay put with his family for a few months is one of many perks that theater offers.
"I feel like I've picked up a thread," he says. "I left drama school in 1999 to do The Lord of the Rings; but prior to that, my agent had told me that the (Royal Shakespeare Company) was considering having me work with them, and I was over the moon. My life could have taken a different turn then."
The latest twist, Bloom allows, "is a bit mad." When he was first cast in Romeo, "My mum was like, 'You realize that you're climbing Mount Everest right out of the gate, don't you? Without oxygen?' But if this lands, I just want to be able to do more."