05/16/2005 at 01:00 AM EDT
's teenage fans track him down everywhere, including the remote hotel in northern Spain where he stayed while shooting the epic Kingdom of Heaven early last year. Each day dozens of girls congregated in the hotel parking lot, screaming Bloom's name. Once Kingdom opens, Bloom may finally outgrow such TRL
-esque moments. Says costar Eva Green: "His image was more for teenage girls before, like, 'I am not threatening.' But in this movie he is sexy. He's a man."
At first swashbuckle, his Kingdom of Heaven
role as Balian, a blacksmith turned knight who defends Jerusalem during the Crusades, might not seem all that different from his other recent heavy-metal epics (see box). But with his first major lead role, and with the 18 lbs. of muscle he packed on for the part, Bloom, 28, aims to go from pinup—thanks to his dreamboat turns in the Lord of the Rings trilogy (as elf Legolas), Pirates of the Caribbean (straight-arrow Will Turner) and Troy (lover-not-a-fighter Paris)—to full-fledged action hunk. "He essentially grew up on this film," says Kingdom director Ridley Scott. "Certainly he can hold his own against folks like Brad Pitt
and Russell Crowe."
That's just the beefy image that Bloom wanted to cultivate after his testosterone-deficient Paris in last year's Troy. "I did everything I could to look more manly," says Bloom of his Heaven preparations. "That meant putting on weight and muscle, lifting weights [and] a lot of eating." Thanks to his weight and sword training, along with a hearty diet (the former vegetarian feasted on steak, chicken and even goat), Bloom "gained 20 lbs., 16 to 18 of which was muscle," says Scott.
He did plenty of heavy lifting onscreen as well. "I knew what those epics demanded," says Bloom, "and I had seen the way Viggo [Mortensen] handled Rings. I'd seen the way Brad [Pitt] carried himself on Troy
. Or Johnny [Depp] on Pirates
. I am a great observer." He's not a bad listener either, taking a pal's advice to heart about coping with his teen idol status. Says Bloom: "When the hysterical fan thing started happening, a friend of mine said, 'There will always be a new actor, a new boy band that young girls will worship. It is a small window that you'll be that guy, so enjoy it while it's here. Don't take it seriously.' "
He's doing just that. "I don't spend hundreds of dollars on my haircuts," says Bloom, whose vanity extends to only one accessory: his necklace, comprised of items he has collected during his travels. "This is my life on a string basically. You will see me in 10 years walking around like this," he says, hunching over from its future weight. And while mates of the Canterbury-born Bloom (at 16, he moved to London, where he still keeps a flat, and joined the National Youth Theatre) say he used to party hard, the actor has mellowed with fame. "He's changed in a good way," says friend Dan Hubbard, who cast him in The Lord of the Rings. "I think he's learned to appreciate his friends, and real life." He's single since splitting with Kate Bosworth
, his girlfriend since 2002 (see box), but Bloom has plenty of companionship. He adopted Sidi, a black dog that he found while shooting Kingdom
in Morocco. "I ended up wanting him forever. So I adopted him," says Bloom, who often relaxes by going on walks with Sidi. "He's so great. Changed my life."
More changes are on the horizon. Though he's filming back-to-back Pirates
sequels this year, Bloom is also taking on more modern roles. He'll next star opposite Kirsten Dunst
in the romantic comedy Elizabethtown
. "I feel like I am in the first chapter of my life as an actor," he says, "and there will be another chapter for me that won't involve so many swords."
Jason Lynch. Carrie Bell in Los Angeles and Sara Hammel in London