Jared Leto is perhaps better known today as the singer-songwriter frontman of 30 Seconds to Mars, but he's also a screen actor of note, having starred alongside Claire Danes on ABC's My So-Called Life and in films like David Fincher's Fight Club and Panic Room, Darren Aronofsky's Requiem for a Dream, Oliver Stone's Alexander, and Terence Malick's The Thin Red Line. Other films include Prefontaine; Girl, Interrupted; and Chapter 27. After a break from acting, Leto returns with two 2013 films: Mr. Nobody and Dallas Buyers Club, in which he plays the transgender woman Rayon. In the process of promoting the latter film, Leto submitted to some questions at San Francisco's Ritz-Carlton Hotel.
Groucho: I’m interested in your process—first, your preparation for the role—what you did to feel ready to play her. And then, once you were in her body, playing the part—if you can talk a little bit about that total immersion and how that aided your ability to be spontaneous along with the director’s approach?
Jared Leto: Well, I started at the beginning. The beginning for me was listening—meeting with transgendered people. Listening. Sharing stories. Educating myself. Talking about everything from physicality to what it’s like to tell your parents about who you really are. So that was a big part of it. And then there was the weight loss. There was heels. The waxing. That’s a big one. Once you make those commitments—your eyebrows come off. Oookayyy. Here we are. Armpits were the worst, though. That really left a mark. So yeah—and then staying in character—it was just an obvious thing. For me, there were so many physical attributes. So many emotional things to keep track of. I couldn’t imagine, like, letting go of all that. I’m like "Hey. Bro, what’s going on?" "Action." "Oh, wait! Let me bring all of this back. Wait." I don’t think I would have done a very good job. So staying focused was essential...
Groucho: You talked a little bit about the climactic moment for Rayon, saying, "I want to live." I’d like to hear a little bit more about your thoughts on the psychology. Because there’s also that impulse earlier in the film where maybe she’s not sure she wants to live. A friend of mine said it’s never good enough in a screenplay for the character just to want to live. It has to be something more. And I think she "gets that" in the story from Ron. So anyway, could you talk a little bit about that—the will or "won’t" to live?
Jared Leto: Yeah, I think that she knows she is not going to live. And really that scene’s about that—the acceptance of her own death. You know, that frustration of the circumstances. She’s doomed and kind of knows it. And from that scene out, she’s just—she’s surrendered. Even when she goes to see her father, I think, it’s about, you know, forgiving him for being not present in her life and unable to love her for who she is. So, yeah—I mean, I think it’s, for a while—maybe she’s living for Ron—for the Club, for other people. She’s like a dog you meet at the pound, you know? I had a dog I got at the pound one time—the most beautiful dog you’ve ever seen: a white husky with blue eyes. One blue, one brown. And, you know, you just couldn’t imagine who would ever leave this dog at the pound. He was the most beautiful dog you’ve ever seen. And I was like—I was getting it for a girl at the time. I ended up keeping the dog. Twelve years. Just passed away, actually. But the dog—you know, I brought the dog home and it was this perfect beautiful dog but it had epilepsy. So that’s probably why somebody gave the dog up, you know. I never thought about this before. But in some ways this dog—the dog was like the most loving, kind, like—it just fell in love with everybody and was just the sweetest dog in the world. It wanted to be loved. Just wanted to be loved and love other people. And I think Rayon was the same way. It’s always dangerous comparing your character to a dog. It was a great dog...
Groucho: I know that you’re sick today. I’m wondering—did you catch the acting bug again?
Groucho: Are you thinking about maybe doing some more roles—or was this an exception?
Jared Leto: I don’t know yet. It depends if something comes—I’m not reading scripts, still. I wasn’t before. Which is great. I mean, I don’t want to sound like I’m not grateful for opportunities. But what a great thing to be able to do: to not have to ever be desperate to go to work. That’s such a luxury. I was saying...that the only person who works less than me or—I may work less than him now—is Daniel Day-Lewis. You know?
Groucho: How did you end up doing this? How did this script come?
Jared Leto: Someone e-mailed me enough times to where I was like "Okay, I’ll look at it." And I don’t think they were desperate to have me in the part. I don’t think I was in—once you say "no" enough, at first people want you more. It’s like "Wait. He’s saying no?" It’s like "Let me ask him out again. He keeps turning me down." But then after a while, they’re like "Aww, hey. Fuck him. He’s never gonna act again." It’s been almost six years. It’s a long time. But I’m glad someone annoyed me enough with it, and so I took a look and—you know, a role of a lifetime. What an amazing part. It’s like, where do you go from here? Maybe I should never make another film. Be a good one to end on, wouldn’t it? Life is short. There’s a big world out there. Lots to explore...
Groucho: So what did you learn from spending whole days as a woman?
Jared Leto: Mmm. Well, I remember I went to Whole Foods once in a break in shooting. I went to stare at food. Which is a weird thing to do. And I got three looks. One of them was "Is that Jared? No." And the other one was like "Who is that?" And the third was "What is that?" You know, with a slight "I don’t like that," you know. So it was it was important to get that kind of—you know, for me, easy, because I’m working. But it was important to get that kind of judgemental, like, "That’s disgusting!" You know, "That scares me. I don’t like that. What’s the deal?" And then to imagine what that would have been like in 1985. You know, I couldn’t imagine walking through a supermarket in full drag in 1985. Oh my God. You’d better get funny and charming real quick. So you don’t get your ass kicked.