It’s not supposed to happen this way. You can’t just stop acting for five years, rev up a ginormous musical career and then return to movies with the most critically hailed role of your career. But that’s been precisely the path for Jared Leto.
Fear not, 30 Seconds to Mars are still very much at the center of his life (he was on a brief break from a tour when he spoke with us), but acting is back in the picture thanks to “Dallas Buyers Club.”
Leto’s performance as Rayon, a transgender AIDS patient and unlikely friend to Matthew McConaughey’s homophobe-turned-activist Ron Woodruff, is earning the kind of reviews that usually serve as a precursor to Oscar adulation. It’s a performance that rises beyond stereotypes and cliché (one could imagine such a path, as Leto wears women’s clothing throughout). When the actor stopped by MTV News, he opened up about his acting break, why he has no regrets and the need to continue to test himself.
MTV: You took a significant break from acting. Did you intend it to be a retirement?
Jared Leto: Don’t call it a comeback. I took five or six years off. I dunno. It’s kind of like what John Lennon said, “Life is what happens when you make other plans.” I don’t know if it was an end or a retirement. I didn’t have plans to ever make another film again.
MTV: Had you been frustrated with the material that you were getting?
Leto: I wasn’t really frustrated with acting so much. I think it was a few things. I was really busy with 30 Seconds to Mars. We had more success than we ever dreamed — opportunities to tour the world again and again, and we took advantage of those, you know. We fought and worked for them for so long, when those opportunities finally presented themselves, we were like, “Yeah, we’re gonna go and do that.”
Another part of it is when you make these small films, and you make largely independent films like I have historically, oftentimes they don’t work. You know, they break your heart. You get heartbroken enough. You kinda stay away.
MTV: During your break from acting, did you turn down a lot of offers?
Leto: I’ve turned down films that you wouldn’t believe. Someone came up to me at the premiere of “Dallas Buyers Club” and reminded me of a film that I had turned down that was one of the biggest movies ever made. I probably would have sucked in those movies, and, you know, you do what you’re passionate about. You make your choices, and you live by it.
MTV: Did you turn down any superheroes?
Leto: I may or may not have turned down some superheroes. I don’t look that great — I thought I didn’t look that good in tights, but now I know, actually.
MTV: Thanks for the perfect segue to your character in “Dallas Buyers Club.” What touched you about this role?
Leto: I think the challenge. I knew it was a steep climb. As soon as I learned about the role, I really couldn’t not play this part. And I felt it was time. I remember thinking as well — I haven’t really admitted this yet, so you’re getting an exclusive here, Josh — but it was a test for me to see if I was gonna continue making films. So this was, this was actually a test.
MTV: Is it true you came fully dressed as Rayon when you auditioned?
Leto: Well, yeah. I was in Berlin, and there was a Skype meeting set up with the director [Jean-Marc Vallée]. It wasn’t really an audition, but it was kind of an audition, you know, underneath it all. But I decided to use it as a test really for myself to see what I had to offer. So I said hello via Skype, we were in Berlin, and it was wintertime. We were playing one of the biggest shows of our lives that night, I remember. I reached out and grabbed some lipstick and started to put it on, and you know, his mouth fell to the floor. I was wearing — I think this jacket — and I unbuttoned it and had on a little pink furry sweater, and I pulled it down over my shoulder and proceeded to flirt with him for the next 20 minutes and then woke up the next day with the official offer. Girl’s gotta do what a girl’s gotta do, baby.
MTV: Are you getting lots of offers now in the wake of the reception?
Leto: I haven’t read another script since. I always thought Daniel Day-Lewis had it down to go off and makes shoes in Italy for a year and then come back and make a movie. I think that the years off really taught me to be a better actor. It taught me to be a better person, really. You live that much life and then in turn you have that to share. You know, I mean, art is really directly related to the experiences one has. And you can’t escape that.