Jared Leto is not the first actor to launch a career in rock and roll, but somehow he's managed to be the only one audiences don't laugh off the stage.
His forebears include Keanu Reeves (Dogstar) and Russell Crowe (30 Odd Foot of Grunts). Kevin Bacon and his brother Michael teamed up to form the Bacon Brothers, and Billy Bob Thornton tried his hand at the rock game with the not-so-imaginatively titled Billy Bob Thornton Band. Corey Feldman had his own eponymous band, while Tina Yothers had Jaded and Bruce Willis had the Accelerators. Jada Pinkett Smith's R&B/rock hybrid, Wicked Wisdom, has been added to this year's Ozzfest (see "Ozzfest Gets Jiggy? Jada Pinkett Smith's Band Added To Lineup").
Of those, only Leto's band, 30 Seconds to Mars, has earned itself some bona fide rock cred over the course of its brief career. The band's sophomore disc, A Beautiful Lie — the follow-up to its self-titled 2002 debut — is due in record stores August 16.
Leto, the band's frontman, is best known for playing Jordan Catalano on television's "My So-Called Life," a strung-out junkie in "Requiem for a Dream" and a pretty boy who gets a brutal face rearrangement in "Fight Club." He has a theory about why he, in contrast to some of his peers, has avoided being pegged the Lame Actor Who Takes the Microphone.
"When people spend more than a couple of minutes with us, they obviously see the truth that's here," Leto said. "It's something that was very difficult, changing those perceptions. Even getting a record deal — you'd think you'd be able to walk in and just do it, but it was difficult. There were a lot of barriers. [But] there has been a tremendous amount of change and acceptance. We have an incredibly loyal, dedicated, hard-core fanbase — small, compared to a lot of big bands out there, but so, so passionate. You can sense the truth in that, and that's what people see and why they're able to accept me whereas they wouldn't someone else."
But wait, isn't it also that all those other actors-turned-rockers sort of sucked?
"Let's face it, there has been a tremendous amount of horribly bad, embarrassing music put out there by people who might have been known as actors," Leto conceded. "I think that we have cleaned up a lot of mess that people had left before us. We have a lot of pride in the fact that we've always acted with dignity and we've done things that continue to keep us inspired.
"Also, when I make music, what separates me is that I'm honestly committed to what I do," he added. "When I am making music, I focus on music completely. I think that's one of the reasons why other people have put out horrendous music — you have to be able to sacrifice."
Not that 30 Seconds to Mars are the sort of band everyone's going to like right off the bat. In fact, if anything, the group's first album was far more accessible than the more progressive, guttural, totally stripped-down A Beautiful Lie. But the band — rounded out by Leto's brother Shannon on drums, guitarist Tomo Milicevic and bassist Matt Wachter — at least brings something unique and experimental to the proverbial table, Leto said, rather than the staid, formulaic rock of his fellow actors' outfits.
"We've always been about trying to make our own mark with our own voice and be as unique and creative as possible," he said. "But we have an element of prog in us that's hard to get rid of and is probably the product of too much Rush and Yes as a kid. I think this record is more about songs. We wanted to get to the insides of the songs and cut away anything extraneous."
30 Seconds to Mars are currently on a small nationwide headlining tour but will spend July and August opening for Taproot and Chevelle. The band is about to shoot a video for the first single from A Beautiful Lie, "Attack." Leto — who'll next be seen on the big screen alongside Nicolas Cage in the action thriller "Lord of War" and then as murderer Raymond Martinez Fernandez in "Lonely Hearts" with John Travolta — promised something just as unique as the band's music for the forthcoming video.
"There's lots of sex," he joked. "It's the first bestiality footage that you're ever going to see on MTV, but it's tastefully done. We're breaking new ground with this one. The difficult decision was sheep or horses."