LOS ANGELES – Jared Leto disappears completely as a transgender in “Dallas Buyers Club.” In a performance that makes him a strong best supporting actor contender in the coming awards season, Jared is Rayon, a transsexual who forms an unlikely alliance with a fellow AIDS patient, Ron Woodroof (an equally compelling Matthew McConaughey), a real-life character whose story about learning alternative treatments in Mexico and smuggling them into the United States inspired this film directed by Jean-Marc Vallée.
It’s a career-defining role that got Jared to act again after being busy with his band, Thirty Seconds to Mars, where he’s the lead singer.
Looking like a rock star with mustache and beard, a complete contrast to the delicate (externally, at least) character he played in “Dallas,” Jared mentioned right away in our interview in Toronto that he and his band had performed in Manila.
“Oh, it was incredible,” Jared said of his band’s stay in the Philippines. “And what great food too, by the way. There aren’t enough Filipino restaurants in America … But it (the Philippines) was fantastic.”
He volunteered: “You know what’s interesting about the Philippines is that they still sing so loud. My God, you people love to sing. Everybody was singing loudly. It was amazing. We had a fantastic time and I hope to come back really soon.”
“It was a couple of years ago,” Jared recalled the rock band’s concert in July 2011. “It was the monsoon period. It was raining and we thought we had to cancel the show but it was really beautiful.”
What else has he been doing that keeps him away from acting? “I’ve been studying meditation in India for the past five years,” he quipped. “I’ve been making shoes in Italy, like Daniel Day-Lewis.”
Jared was joking; he was riffing on that famous trivia about Daniel which the latter said was not true.
“I had been on tour with Thirty Seconds to Mars in Germany a lot,” Jared clarified, a bit more serious. “We did Rock am Rick & Rock im Park and we are in Berlin later this year. We are returning to Hamburg and Cologne. We are touring a lot all over the world, playing shows from the Philippines to France.”
“I’ve been making albums and touring,” he said. “I was here (in Toronto) last year with a documentary called ‘Artifact,’ which is about our battles with our record company (Virgin Records) … they sued us for $30 million. I was fairly busy—not a lot of fun but I am really glad that I had the opportunity to make a film again and be a little mysterious.”
And what a return to the big screen it is. “When I first read the script, I thought there was a great opportunity here to portray and bring to life a real person,” he explained. “We see these characters and usually they are clichés. They are stereotypes—the drag queen dancing on the table, who always has the punch line and is running out of the room at the end of every scene. I didn’t want to do that. That has been covered and sometimes really fun and well—from ‘Tootsie’ to whatever. There have been incredible performances out there.
“But I wanted to bring to life a real person—this young woman who was finding herself. The things that I admired about the character were exactly what I was brought up on. She was incredibly compassionate, open, gentle, kind and emotive. I am not like that all the time. I can be guarded and I liked that side of the character. I hope that I am able to keep some of those characteristics that I really admired.”
Asked what helped him give a stunning performance, Jared answered, “I think it was a combination of things—script, role, fellow cast members, and there was some magic there. But you know what the most important thing was? Good old-fashioned, hard f***ing work. That’s what does it. It’s elbow grease, digging in, working, working and working some more. That’s how you get that. I am a big believer in the reality and a dream is just work. I am a worker. That’s what I do.”
The Louisiana-born actor said, “It wasn’t difficult to find my inner Rayon. I think about Rayon and the things that are important —kindness, sense of humor, a gentle soul, the type of person who could be having the worst day ever, sick and feeling absolutely horrible, but she would stop and ask somebody else how he is or try and make someone else laugh or try to make his day better.”
Complimented that he makes one pretty woman, Jared broke into a wide grin and remarked, “Well, thank you very much! I am a very beautiful woman, unlike Dustin Hoffman. He had nice calves but I think my ankles put him to shame.”
On whether he agreed with Mel Gibson who said that he had no trouble pulling on the pantyhose for a scene in “What Women Want,” Jared was emphatic in his reply: “I am going to disagree with Mel Gibson. I found pantyhose to be the worst thing to wear. It’s worse than heels. Your circulation is cut off. I had to wear two pairs of tights sometimes. They were so tight. Oh my God, that was not fun. That was not the most comfortable. I didn’t feel free.”
A bit flirty
Jared conceded that there were “really nice” aspects about being a woman on the set. “People treated me very well. It was always interesting on the set. It was always the biggest, toughest, strongest teamster who was a little bit flirty. He wanted to hold my hand when I got out of the van and said, ‘Right this way, ma’am.’ People really forgot it was me because I was in character the whole time. It was incredible.”
Standing up and then walking like a woman, he shared, “A couple of times, I would walk down and see a teamster walk by, checking me out.” Jared demonstrated a teamster turning around and looking at him. “It was great.”
But he admitted that he didn’t always get amorous reactions. “When I was shooting this film, one day I went to Whole Foods. It was impossible not to be noticed. I thought I made a pretty good woman but not everybody thought so. People stared. Being that thin, I got a look of curiosity and another look of judgment.”
The role is a big comeback for Jared who was getting major roles but decided to concentrate on his musical career in the last few years. Jared remembered the first time he moved to LA to try his luck as an actor and how that helped him portray Rayon. “When I first moved to LA, I rented a room in a little apartment that a woman owned, and she also lived there. It was a three-bedroom unit. I had a bed jammed into a closet. That was after I had slept on the beach for a while. But that’s a different story.”
Grace and humanity
“There was a man who rented one of the rooms. He was in his 40s and dying of AIDS. I had never seen anything like it. I watched him wither away week after week. We would sometimes walk, get lunch together or go to the grocery store. He was always busy making shakes from vegetables—something I had never seen before. This was way before Jamba Juice. He was an amazing human being. He had an incredible sense of humor, grace and humanity and taught me a lot. I was able to learn some of those lessons, and have greater understanding and empathy.”
On sleeping on the beach and other places while he was trying to make it in LA, Jared revealed, “There were a couple of times in my life when I was homeless. One of those times wasn’t so bad. It was when I came to LA for the first time with a backpack and a couple hundred dollars in my pocket. I ended up sleeping on Venice Beach. I was young and healthy and I knew it was just for a short period of time. I was intent on making a new life for myself. I ended up staying in a crack motel for a few nights and then in a youth hostel. Eventually, I got that apartment that I talked about. That was my beginning in Los Angeles, not too dissimilar from probably a lot of other people.”
These days, Jared is making sure to appreciate the raves he’s been earning and not thinking of his next career move. “I haven’t made any plans to make another film. It would have to be very special, especially after this. This was a life-changing experience and it continues to be.”
He has no regrets. “I am really proud of the choices that I’ve made. I followed my gut, heart and dreams. And I had this opportunity.”
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