There is a layer of smog hanging like a translucent violet ribbon just above the horizon. Orlando Bloom and I are sitting on a balcony, looking south over West Hollywood and Beverly Hills, the city brown and gray and smudged by dirty light. The traffic on Sunset Boulevard is noxious and slow. Suspended over the road, on a walkway between the metal girders of a 10-story-tall construction crane, is a man eating a sandwich. He is a silhouette: We see the human shape, the lifting and lowering of the arm and the head bobbing as he chews.

Bloom leans against the stucco wall and watches the man perched above all the noise. "I want that," he says.

What the actor means is that he'd like a few moments—months, really—to survey the world from a great, quiet height. Since he first appeared in a white-blond wig and a green tunic and hoisted an arrow quiver in 2001 as Legolas in The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, Bloom has been everyone's idea of the Next Big Thing, raw human material ripe to be made up, styled, buffed, polished, coached, and coaxed through blockbuster franchises and big-budget studio bets.

"I've been white-knuckling it for so long," he says, slipping off his sunglasses and rubbing his stubble. "Between the first Lord of the Rings and this [Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End], I've been going nonstop. I would come off one movie and straightaway start the next picture. I wasn't even really thinking about it, I was letting the machinery sort of run me... So now, on a personal level, I just want some time and space from everything, from all that"—he points toward the city—"from the environment and the phone and the communication..." He stops, as if aware he sounds like every other young actor who has achieved commercial success and suddenly realizes it's more than he bargained for.

He walks across the concrete balcony floor, sits down on a wrought-iron chair, and lights a Marlboro Light, letting the cigarette bob in his thin, pink lips for a moment before he begins to inhale. Bloom is pale. He wears faded jeans, a gray henley, scuffed oxfords, and aviators. His stubble is well-calibrated, and there is product in his hair.

Bloom turned 30 in January, and right now is the first time in a decade that he has nothing to do, no project lined up, no epic action picture requiring him to put on 25 pounds, no sword training at 7 a.m. tomorrow.

"Look, it all felt important, too important, but now I'm in a position to—look, I'm trying not to take myself so seriously, and in not taking myself so seriously, I think I'll be more serious." Possible translation: He'd like to be taken seriously.

Before I got on a plane to come interview Bloom, I had never actually thought about him. At all. Which is weird, because I've seen at least nine movies he's been in ("Don't underestimate Orlando's ability to choose very successful material," says Pirates producer Jerry Bruckheimer, who first cast Bloom in a small role in 2001's Black Hawk Down). He was the creamy center of huge action-picture pastries: crucial, but sometimes overshadowed by a hammy Johnny Depp, or the special effects in The Lord of the Rings...or the special effects in Kingdom of Heaven. In person, Bloom is much less pretty than he looks onscreen and on magazine covers. He's rugged, regular-guy handsome—a higher-cheekboned, raspier-voiced version of the kinds of English boys I used to meet at raves in Goa or Koh Phangan. And even though he's skinny, he seems tough enough to get my back in a punch-up—with or without a cutlass.