Jared Leto has a coffin in the living room of his Los Angeles home

Jared Leto on His Return to Acting: ‘I Needed to Go Away in Order to Have Something to Say Again’



'Dallas Buyer's Club' Golden Globe win comes after 6-year break

Jared Leto has a coffin in the living room of his Los Angeles home. Perhaps even stranger, he’s not sure exactly where it came from. “I think it’s from ‘Mr. Nobody,’ ” he says, referring to the recently released film he shot back in 2007. “But I can’t really remember.”



The “coffin table” is stacked with hundreds of books, from classics like Homer’s “The Odyssey” to works by Stephen King.

Leto’s eclectic taste in titles, along with his wide collection of unique art from all over the world — including a sculpture inspired by the Moloko Bar in “A Clockwork Orange” — reflects a man and artist who is not easy to pigeonhole.

His co-star in “Dallas Buyer’s Club” instantly discovered that about Leto when they first came face to face: “I met a performance artist,” Matthew McConaughey says. “He is not someone bound by one certain craft — acting, singing, dance. He is a performer, whether it’s a reality, a slight of hand, a spirit, or a rock ’n’ roll show. He is thoughtful, committed, understands the context, shows up to do it, not discuss it. He performs.”

In 2013, Leto showed up in a big way, after a six-year absence from movie screens. During that time, the 42-year-old hyphenate was busy focusing on his flourishing music career as the frontman for the popular band 30 Seconds to Mars.



Since the premiere of “Dallas Buyers Club” at the 2013 Toronto Film Festival, buzz has been building for his performance as Rayon, a transgender woman dying of AIDS. Leto dropped down to 114 pounds for the role, but the performance is more than a physical transformation.

Feminine, flirty and fierce, Rayon is a gentle soul who nonetheless isn’t afraid to go toe-to-toe with her homophobic business partner, Ron Woodruoof (McConaughey). Leto is so convincing as a woman trapped in a man’s body that in one scene, when Rayon dresses as a man to speak to her father, the image of Leto in a business suit is both uncomfortable and jarring.

The role won Leto the Golden Globe for supporting actor; prior to that, he had racked up a handful of critics’ awards in addition to a SAG nomination.

Yet, one week before the Globes ceremony, Leto wasn’t willing to even contemplate his chances of winning.

“I’m the dark horse, man. They don’t invite me to these things unless they have to!” He laughs, but he’s not entirely joking. “I always feel that way. I always feel like the outsider. Even now.”

Even after his Globe win, Leto remains self-effacing. “Well, obviously I didn’t prepare a speech,” he says backstage.



What mostly kept Leto off the screen was, simply, life. “I talked to Terrence Malick about it once. He took 20 years off from movies and said, ‘Life just happened,’” recalls Leto. “He was writing, and one day he put his pen down and 20 years had passed.”

During this time, Leto notes that his agents at CAA, Mick Sullivan and Jim Toth, were extremely patient. “They deserve an award just for sticking around for almost six years making absolutely no money — which in Hollywood is a real sign of faith.” He is quick to add that CAA also handles his music booking, “so I think they’re very happy.”

Leto believes his hiatus actually made him a better actor. “I think I needed to go away in order to have something to say again,” he notes. By the time the script for “Dallas Buyers Club” came his way, he instantly fell for the writing and the character of Rayon. “I said to myself, ‘Let’s go make this film and see if there’s anything left in there for me. Is it going to be another experience that falls short? Am I going to have my heart broken again?’ It’s kind of like a relationship: Let me see if I can love again.”



A Skype call between Vallee and Leto, who was in Berlin on tour, provided the director with a surprise. When Vallee signed onto the call, he found Leto already in character. “He was dressed as a woman, as Rayon, with makeup, for this 20-30 minute call,” the helmer says. “I thought he was going to stop the masquerade after five minutes, but he didn’t. He was talking as Rayon and creating the character in front of me.”

Says Leto: “I remember connecting, and reaching out to pick up some lipstick. I put it on and I could kind of see his jaw drop. I undid this big winter jacket and had a pink furry sweater on and pulled it down over my shoulder.”

Vallee admits to being stunned. “He was even hitting on me. He’d say, ‘Oh, Jean-Marc, I love your voice and your eyes; you’re so masculine!’ ” he says with a laugh. Vallee says he got off the call and told the producers and McConaughey, “I think we found the guy.”

The role was originally written as more of a flamboyant drag queen type, but Leto pushed to play Rayon as a transgender woman. “I thought Rayon would be more of a guy, dressed in pants sometimes,” Vallee admits. “But every time he came to set, I’d say, ‘All right. Jesus, you’re sexy, man.’”

“Dallas Buyers Club” was the first script that Leto had looked at at that stage of development — and so far the last. “I haven’t read a script since,” he admits. Unlike many actors who might be eager to capitalize on the moment, Leto says he’s taking his time: “I’m not actively looking.”

Ironically, he says that he is now dealing with people who know him as a rock star-turned-actor. “There are people who think ‘Dallas Buyers Club’ is my first movie,” he says. “I’ve become a musician looking for an acting job, rather than an actor looking to make an album.”

He does plan to direct a movie within the next two years, and says he’s looking at several projects. But will he act again? “Yes,” he declares. Then a long pause. “But it’s got to be great. It’s got to be a genius director, an impeccable script and an absolutely incredible role with a team of wonderful people. Those are the parameters. And it happens.”


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