Of the many praises that could be sung about the acting talents of Jared Leto, two really stand out: He never makes the same film twice, and he’s often unrecognizable from role to role. Proof can be found with just a small selection from his résumé: “Fight Club,” “American Psycho,” “Requiem for a Dream,” “Panic Room,” “Chapter 27.” Seriously, did you even know he was in some of those films? And now, with seemingly chameleon-like ability, he’s racking up award after award for playing the transgender prostitute Rayon, opposite Matthew McConaughey, in “Dallas Buyers Club,” with a Supporting Actor nomination and almost locked-in win at the Oscars just around the corner. What’s most amazing about all of this is that he hadn’t stepped in front of a camera since 2007, when he played John Lennon’s killer Mark David Chapman in “Chapter 27.” He’s been singing and playing guitar in his band 30 Seconds from Mars, but he’s back. Leto was interviewed in September when “Dallas Buyers Club” premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival.
There’s a rumor that you stayed in character for the entire shoot.
Yes, I did. How could you not? How could you leave that beautiful creature? But, yeah, it was part of the process. I’ve done that many times, but not on all films. But in this one there were so many characteristics, so many attributes that were so far away from where I live my daily life. Even if you just talk about the voices and the mannerisms, every time the camera cut, I couldn’t just drop all that, and then every time they said action, pick it back up and remember everything. So I just chose to be there.
You also lost a tremendous amount of weight for the part.
I lost over 30 pounds. I got down to about 114 pounds, and then I stopped counting. I’d lost weight before for “Requiem,” and I gained 60 pounds for “Chapter 27.” The weight is interesting because it provides a certain amount of fragility. It affected the way you walk, talk, laugh, breathe. It’s a great asset, but it’s also a commitment you can’t run away from. It brings with it an incredible focus.
Was there anything uncomfortable for you in playing Rayon?
What I find interesting was how people treated me different. Especially because I was in character all the time. The toughest, most masculine guys were the ones that treated me the most gentle. I think that in their eyes I became a different person, and there were lots of “Right this way, ma’am,” and they’d hold my hand when I got out of the van. It was very sweet to be a dainty little lady like that (laughs).
What was the hardest part of finding that character?
Page 2 of 2 - I think probably it’s the commitment over a long period of time. Like when it’s 5 a.m. again and you’re covered in a ton of makeup and wigs, and you’re in the makeup chair for hours. It’s the commitment, the concentration, and the focus. Sometimes you just want to rip your wig off and run down the street and escape.
What were your initial thoughts about doing the part?
I had heard of this script, but I didn’t want to read it because I just didn’t have time in my life to squeeze something else in. Then I got a nudge, and I read the script, and it was all over. I still had planned to meet [director] Jean-Marc Vallée on a Skype, and then turn it down. But then I did an interesting thing; I wanted to see if I was capable, if there was something there for me. So I got on Skype with him for a meeting. I got some lipstick beforehand. I introduced myself, said hello, and a couple more words, then I reached over and picked up the lipstick and put it on. Then I changed my voice a little bit, and I undid my jacket and I had a little pink sweater on. I was getting a little flirty with him. I got the call the next day and I had the part.
Was it the band you were so busy with?
Yeah, and we’ve had more success than we ever dreamed, if I can say that without sounding like a jerk. We’ve played from Africa to Asia to the Arctic, in the biggest shows that we could ever imagine. And we’re still doing it. We played last summer in festivals in Europe, sometimes in front of 100,000 people. So do you say no to that when it’s happening? It’s easy for five years to go by when you’re doing that.
What was the return to acting like?
I think that the break from acting was the best thing I’ve ever done for myself as an actor. It’s almost like I started again from the beginning, but with a greater sense of myself, a greater sense of confidence in my choices. I think I became a much better actor.
Is this a definite return to acting or will you stick with the band?
This is the last film I’ll ever make.
I don’t know (laughs).
Ed Symkus covers movies for More Content Now.