Life After Legolas: What Should Orlando Bloom Do With His Career Now?S

Lots of actors struggle for years to be discovered, building up a résumé of small, well-regarded roles before hitting the big time. Orlando Bloom is doing it in reverse. Fresh from the Guildhall School of Music & Drama, he jumped into The Lord of the Rings and Pirates of the Caribbean, starring in two worldwide blockbuster franchises at once. Add in the hit Troy and Kingdom of Heaven (which did a lot better overseas than it did here), and you've got a track record of commercial success any rising actor would envy.

But so now Bloom is going low-budget. Friday brings the opening of The Good Doctor (already available on-demand), a psychological thriller in which he plays a quiet, emotionally unbalanced doctor who plots to keep a pretty young patient (Riley Keough) in the hospital so that he can be close to her. It's more a vehicle for Bloom to stretch his acting muscles than it is a fully realized film, but it demonstrates that he does intend to use those muscles.

Yes, he'll be getting another paycheck for being Legolas in The Hobbit, but he turned down the fourth Pirates. Coming up are the thriller Zulu and the drama Cities—signs that he's trying to develop a career on something more than franchises. What should that career look like? Here are some paths Bloom could explore:

1. Stay dark. One of the chief appeals of The Good Doctor is that it shows Bloom moving away from his market-tested gallant-hero persona. Bloom has played with his image before, starring as a preening, insufferable rock god in the little-seen Sympathy for Delicious, but that wasn't a very good movie either. Still, in both cases, Bloom projects a smug contemptuousness, a slap in the face compared to his usual genial demeanor on screen and in interviews. The nastiness is appealing.

2. Be romantic. 2005's Elizabethtown was his first major romantic comedy-drama, and it was written and directed by Oscar-winner Cameron Crowe. But what looked like a commercial slam dunk clanked off the rim, leaving critics and audiences cold, and Bloom hasn't made another romance since. Whether the studios gave up on Bloom as a romantic lead or he gave up on trying, he certainly has the looks and the charm to take another shot.

3. Go all Lockout on us. Any vaguely "serious" actor can do the Nicolas Cage and pop up among the big, dumb explosions of a Michael Bay or Jerry Bruckheimer movie. And Bloom has already been in big action movies. What I'd love to see him do is try playing the smart-ass action-movie antihero, taking his Three Musketeers villain and making him the star of a film. Take Lockout, the very tongue-in-cheek sci-fi action film from earlier this year. Guy Pearce had a lot of fun in the role, but his character's one-note cynicism started to get tiresome by the end. Could Bloom have done better?

4. Spoof yourself. Most people agree Bloom is a handsome gent, even if they don't respect him as an actor. Other stars in that boat try to combat that perception—some decide to get serious—but others make a joke out of their good looks and good fortune. Ryan Reynolds has done this a ton, and Bloom might want to do it more. He's got a knack for it, as he showed on Extras...

For me, Neil Patrick Harris is a great example of how a strategy of shrewd self-parody can succeed. For years, he was doing quality theater work, but the culture as a whole just remembered him as little Doogie Howser. So with the Harold & Kumar films, he played into that perception with a real witty subversiveness that helped people see him in a new way. Those cameos didn't negate his talent—it threw a spotlight on it.

5. Go for an Oscar. Generally speaking, actors who shamelessly take roles because of their Oscar-worthiness smack of neediness and desperation. But Bloom hasn't been near the award-bait bucket since since 2004's Ned Kelly, which also chummed the waters with Heath Ledger, Geoffrey Rush, Naomi Watts, and Joel Edgerton. Bloom has the grit to pull off an actor's-actor role. What better time than now to prove to disbelievers he's more than just an elf?