Hollywood Classics Prepared Orlando Bloom for New Role

Orlando Bloom's long voyage to "Elizabethtown" began in Canterbury, England, and director Cameron Crowe wanted his British star to lose a whole lot more than his accent before exploring Kentucky's back roads.

"He would tell me, 'Just watch Jack Lemmon,'" says the 28-year-old actor, as he describes the mood Crowe was trying to set for this part-comedy, part-drama loosely based on the death of Cameron's father.

Cameron instructed his star to watch Billy Wilder's "The Apartment" and George Cukor's "The Philadelphia Story" as a way of showing the quirky characters that he wanted to carry this offbeat film.

"Movies like that aren't about the visual effects and explosions," Bloom says. "They're human stories about family, about life, about death."

"Elizabethtown" is a big test for Bloom. This marks his first starring role as an American. The success of "The Lord of the Rings" trilogy had him pegged as Hollywood's next bankable star, but "Kingdom of Heaven," became one of the summer's big box office disappointments.

For a change, Bloom wasn't required to dress in period costumes, ride a horse, or take on stunt work. Instead, he was trading comic barbs with Kirsten Dunst and training with a dialect coach.

"I'd like to say it was easy," he says,"but it wasn't that easy.

"Hopefully, I pulled it off and people would find it believable. I wanted it to be real. I wanted it to be my voice and not something I just put on."

Cinema Semi-Autobiography

The film will be a big test for Crowe, too. After the mega-success of "Jerry Maguire," he's had to live up to expectations that are hard to match. "Almost Famous" earned him a screenwriting Oscar and solid reviews, but grossed a disappointing $32 million at the box office.

"Vanilla Sky," his last movie, did better at filling theaters, but that might be more on account of the publicity generated from the on-set romance between stars Tom Cruise and Penelope Cruz.

Inspiration for "Elizabethtown" came shortly after "Vanilla Sky" opened to mixed reviews. Crowe was traveling with his wife Nancy Wilson's band, Heart, on a tour of the South. While passing through the Bluegrass State, Crowe recalled his own father's funeral, back in 1989.

Unlike Bloom's character, Crowe was already a big success, and he'd met Wilson during the production of his breakthrough film, "Fast Times at Ridgemont High." But Crowe says he wanted to capture his return from depression, and the memorial service that allowed him to get in touch with his Kentucky roots.

"It was a real family movie," says Bloom, who had Susan Sarandon playing his mother and a Zen-ed out Alec Baldwin for a boss.

"Cameron creates a very safe environment … where you just feel that you can kind of connect."

"Elizabethtown" opens in theaters today.