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Dallas Buyers Club - Jared Leto interview

Dallas Buyers Club, Jared Leto

Interview by Rob Carnevale

JARED Leto talks about his preparation for playing the role of dying transsexual Rayon in Dallas Buyers Club and why going ‘method’ works for him.

He also talks about the pleasure and pain of making independent films, why being on stage with Thirty Seconds To Mars showcases the truest version of himself and why he believes he will never forget this special period in his life. He was speaking at a BAFTA Q&A.

Q. We haven’t seen you on the big screen for almost six years. What was it about this that made it the right project to comeback with?
*Jared Leto:8 Well, it was the right project because of the role. I fell in love with it. I thought when I read the script that there was so much potential here to put a real life on-screen, not a campy, cliché or stereotypical performance that I think we’ve seen quite a bit when it comes to this world. So, I saw that opportunity. I saw an enormous challenge to play this transgender creature, addicted to drugs and dying of Aids. I thought: “My God, that sounds like fun!” And it was absolutely miserable, the entire time, but so fulfilling and so wonderful to have the opportunity to play.

Q. I’ve heard you say this is pretty much the role of a lifetime?
Jared Leto: It is. I think it is. I fell in love with Rayon… her heart, her humour, her grace, and the kindness and compassion that she has. I hope if I was ever faced with the challenges or the circumstances that she was, that I would act accordingly.

Q. When did you first become aware this was a special project?
Jared Leto: Well, I knew early on because Matthew [McConaughey] had been involved in the project for quite some time and he’s been doing some really interesting work, so I thought if he’s doing it, then there’s something there – there’s gold in the hills. And I thought the director [Jean-Marc Vallee] was terrific and the writers [Craig Borten and Melisa Wallack] and the producers… it was just a group of people who I think had the sense that there was something special to be done. And largely in m life I’ve made smaller films, art-house films and independent films and they can really break your heart. They’re difficult to get made, they’re difficult once you’ve gotten financing to then make them with the little bit of money that you have, they’re difficult to distribute, they’re difficult to get into a festival, they’re difficult to find an audience, they’re difficult to market, they’re just a pain in the ass. They can break your heart but they can also change your life and in this case it worked. And it’s nice to celebrate the film and it’s nice that people have been so enthusiastic and supportive of the film and its performances.

Q. Did you know Matthew beforehand?
Jared Leto: No. Not at all.

Q. What kind of preparation did you guys do beforehand for that relationship?
Jared Leto: None. I never met Matthew until the movie was over.

Q. So, you remained in character?
Jared Leto: I did. It’s kind of a joke but it’s also true, I never met him, the director or Jennifer [Garner] or anyone. I spoke to people only through the character, Rayon, and I think it was really beneficial to do that. Number one, it was a 25-day shoot, I had three and a half weeks to prepare, so I basically had stopped eating and started putting on the lipstick, the heels, the tights and the eyelashes and I waxed my entire body. Thankfully, it was a period piece so I didn’t have to go full Brazilian!

Q. Three weeks doesn’t seem like a long time at all?
Jared Leto: [Laughs] It wasn’t a long time. After waiting six years to make a film… not waiting, I wasn’t really planning on making a film. But it was very quick. But that’s one of the things that was great about it: it was fast and furious, there was no lighting at all. We used all practical lights. I never saw a light on the set. We didn’t do any rehearsal, not a single minute of rehearsal, which was great. I love that. It’s a really unique way to shoot. A lot of energy. There was no waiting around. You [just] shot, unless you were in the make-up trailer. One day I was in the chair for eight hours… eight hours getting different stages of sickness put on, sores and all kinds of things. So, it was intense but wonderful.

Q. Is that something you’ve done prior to this role, stay in character?
Jared Leto: Yeah, I’ve done it. I just think of it as another word for staying in character is staying focused and committed, concentrating. And the great thing about it for me is that normally – if there is a normal to acting, it’s all just a weird thing to do at the end of the day, isn’t it? – so there are no rules, there is no method, you do what works for you and what enables you to deliver the best performance possible. But what’s great about it for me is that I really had the opportunity to work when I wasn’t in front of the camera. And the way people start treating you is fantastic as well because you learn so much from it. You know, there would be an AD who reaches for your hand when you’re walking down the stairs, or a grip who opens the door for you, or a carpenter who asks you out on a date… whatever your experience is. But you get to practice all the time and I really enjoy that. It works well for me.

Dallas Buyers Club

Q. How was working with Jennifer Garner?
Jared Leto: She’s wonderful. I think she’s really under-appreciated because you have these two really colourful roles – a big cowboy and a crazy, creature, transsexual hot piece of ass. And then you have this straight man in the middle, which is Jennifer, but she really did something wonderful. I think that I gave a much better performance because of her. When you work with her in a scene, she really believes you, and that’s a lot. She gives you faith and she believes and she listens and she cares and I’m so glad that she played that part. She made me a much better actor for sure. It was a very selfless role.

Q. Did you have to audition?
Jared Leto: I didn’t but I had a meeting on Skype, which was… I was in Berlin, he was in the States. It wasn’t really an audition but it was kind of a test for both of us. We said hello very quickly and I reached out and put some lipstick on and his jaw dropped. And then I undid my big coat that I had on and I had a little pink sweater underneath and I proceeded to flirt with him for the next 20 minutes. And then I woke up the next morning with the part, so… you know, a girl’s gotta do what a girl’s gotta do [smiles]. But it was a test for me and it was a test for him and I wanted to see what I had to offer as well. I certainly didn’t want to jump into something if I didn’t have something to offer.

Q. Were you scared of this role at all?
Jared Leto: I wouldn’t use the word scared. I think there was some pressure there to deliver. I had met with transgender people early on, I had my own personal encounters with some transgender people and that really gave me a bigger responsibility to deliver a real person up on the screen.

Q. Do you like scaring yourself?
Jared Leto: Fear is a good thing. I think fear and pressure and failure… those words have such a negative connotation but a failure is much more beneficial than success a lot of the time because of the lessons that it brings, right?

Q. Has the fact that this film has had such a great reaction mean there will be more?
Jared Leto: Does that mean that the approach I should take is to leave it another six years before doing another film? If you wait six years people will feel bad for you and go, “oh he was good in that”. I don’t know. I’m not thinking about it too much.

Q. I’ve heard you say that when you’re on stage as a musician you’re the most true to yourself ever?
Jared Leto: I think in a lot of ways that’s true. When you sand on the stage it can reveal a lot, your sense of humour, your lack of humour… it can tell the audience quite a bit. There is no script, your life is the script and the songs are the dialogue. But when you build a character you have a sense of that going on. You are inventing, you’re pulling pieces of yourself and magnifying those.

Q. How did it feel to say goodbye to the character?
Jared Leto: Well, when you dive that deep you fall in love. You can’t help it. I think this is going to always be a really important project and time in our lives.

Dallas Buyers Club

Q. Do you approach the role differently because he’s a real person? Do you feel that you have more of a responsibility because of that?
Jared Leto: Well, I was really fortune because I’ve played real life people before and that’s fun because there’s so much research that you can dive into. I really enjoy learning about other people and I’m really curious about other people. This was great for me because I had the freedom to let my imagination run wild. You know, there was a complete physical transformation and, of course, there was a lot to learn. But it was a great thing to be able to do after not making a film for six years, to have that kind of challenge. I really love that. I love the challenge.

Q. How do you slice your performance so you never drift into caricature or campiness? And what exactly did you learn from meeting transgender people that you carried into your performance?
Jared Leto: I think what happens is that if you make people laugh, you’re less likely to get your ass kicked. So you learn when you’re a creature like Rayon to probably use humour as a defence mechanism. But it’s a fine line. We all do it. It was talked about while we were shooting. You have all these accoutrements, but it could all just as easily turn into caricature. So, it was something that we kept an eye on. And like I said before, this was a special character and I thought there was an opportunity to put a life on the screen and not just a joke. So, that’s what I tried to do.

Read our review of Dallas Buyers Club

Read our interview with Matthew McConaughey