When one watches the mildly hunky, soft-spoken Orlando Bloom playing the role of the brave antihero, Balian, in this month’s epic drama Kingdom of Heaven, it’s a bit hard to believe that, only a few short years ago, he wasn’t even a blip on the Hollywood radar.

British import Bloom, now 28, made his feature film debut in 2001 in Peter Jackson’s critically lauded The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring. He earned a plethora of fans – mostly female ones – playing the blonde-locked, arrow-shooting Legolas in Rings and its two sequels.

Since then, his fame has just continued to escalate. With a handful of major films already under his belt – including Gore Verbinski’s Pirates of the Caribbean and Wolfgang Petersen’s Troy – it’s amazing how reserved Bloom is when it comes to talking about his status as both a Hollywood heartthrob and established actor.

"It’s funny, I reflect sometimes and think, wow, I’m five or six years out of drama school. I’m 28 and I starred in a Ridley Scott movie. I’m still sort of pinching myself a little bit because I still feel like I’m in the first chapter of my career and I’ve been very lucky to have been given the opportunities up to this point," says Bloom. "I’m counting my lucky stars, really, and I know that there’s a long way to go. It’s about a body of work, I guess is what I’m saying, and there’s a lot for me to do, which is exciting."

If it is, indeed, about amassing an impressive body of work, then Bloom is well on his way to compiling a pretty hefty resume. Aside from currently promoting Heaven – a grand epic set during the Crusades, which finds Bloom’s Balian, a common man, dragged into the war only to emerge a hero and a knight – Bloom is currently filming the two Pirates sequels back to back. He also just wrapped production on Cameron Crowe’s Elizabethtown, which co-stars Kirsten Dunst and is due in theaters later this year.

According to Bloom, though, he still has quite a lot to learn.

"If I ever stop feeling like I’m learning, I’ll start worrying. … Certainly I’m learning. There’s a lot to learn for me, and I have been very fortunate," he says, adding that he wasn’t really looking to take on another period piece when the script for Kingdom of Heaven came his way. "I read this script when I was flying back from shooting Troy, and I had just played Paris, the cowardly younger brother, and the movie obviously wasn’t going to be released for awhile, but I just read this script and I thought, wow, this would be cool."

Bloom says that accepting the role of Balian was also important because, after working on films with Brad Pitt, Eric Bana and Viggo Mortensen and "seeing the way they handled themselves in these roles," he felt it was time for him to officially transition into playing a strong-hearted, real man.

"I really wanted to make that transition into a man, and it was really important to me to make Balian a real man. And so I trained very hard, lifted a lot of weights, put on about 15 to 20 pounds by the end of it, just eating a lot and just working with the horses and the swords like I’ve done before. [It was all about] just trying to have that presence, but [also] maintaining that character, who is really just a common man: a man of the people, a blacksmith, who is ultimately there to defend the people of Jerusalem at the end of the day."

Aside from Balian’s plight in Heaven, which turns out to be pretty heavy, Bloom the actor is keeping it light. Even though he was shy about dealing with the onslaught of fans while filming in Spain, the sweetly humble Bloom realizes how extremely lucky he is, and promises fans much more to come in the future.

"I feel like I’m still really at the beginning of my career as an actor and I’m definitely in the first quarter, as it were. I’ve found myself in all these incredible historical epics, but I think there’s another lighter, unusual side or quirky quality to myself which will probably [emerge in] Elizabethtown," he concludes. "I just want to keep learning and keep growing and keep working, and hopefully I’ll get the chance to work with great directors and just keep it real."

Kingdom of Heaven releases in theaters May 6.