After transitioning from a Hollywood heartthrob to a critically acclaimed actor, then fronting a rock band with worldwide success, Jared Leto takes on one of his biggest challenges yet, playing a transgender HIV patient in his return to film.
Dallas Buyers Club, out Friday, is based on a real story. Leto, 41, plays Rayon, a HIV-positive transgender woman who helps homophobic drug addict Ron Woodruff (Matthew McConaughey) smuggle much needed medication not approved in the United States to other AIDS patients.
Leto, who rose to fame as a complex teenager on 1990s TV series My So-Called Life and has had roles in 1999’s Fight Club, 2000’s Requiem for a Dream and 2002’s Panic Room, recently focused on being the frontman of the rock band 30 Seconds to Mars. Rayon is his first film role in five years. Leto spoke to Reuters.
You went through an extreme physical transformation to convey the symptoms of a HIV-positive character. What was that like?
It’s one of the most challenging roles I’ve ever taken on, physical and emotional. But when I read this, I thought it was a really steep climb, and I wanted to walk down this path. I started at the beginning as far as research goes, listening, meeting with transgender people, learning about the culture. Then [there were] a series of other challenges, from the voice, the dialect, the register, the body center, the movement, the emotional conditions and circumstances. And then there were the heels, the waxing of the body, the removal of the eyebrows, the losing of 30-40 pounds, so there was a lot there, but it was an incredible and fascinating experience.
How tough was the weight loss?
It’s absolutely brutal, as it should be. But the weight loss is really important because it changes the way you walk and talk, the way people treat you and the way you feel about yourself. So it becomes a really essential tool.
Your performance has not only garnered critical acclaim but also has generated awards buzz. How important is it to you?
It’s certainly not important to me to have it, because I never, ever get it. I’m never around. If it was important, I’d make films more often, but it’s absolutely wonderful that it’s happening now. It’s great. It’s incredible to celebrate art and creativity in a film and performance. The people that thumb their noses at that, I don’t understand the bitterness there. The funny thing about art and success is that you fail all the time, you just succeed sometimes.
You fail much more than you win, there’s all kinds of failures all the time, and once in awhile something happens, and you celebrate that.
How does your music inform your acting?
I wasn’t looking to make a film, I hadn’t made a film in five or six years, and I hadn’t read a script in years. That’s a very wild thing to do after you’ve worked so hard in the business, to walk down a different path. But I think it was a really good thing for me to do. I think it made me a better actor. It gave me more to contribute because of the experiences I had with 30 Seconds to Mars and in turn with my life.