After taking a six-year break from acting to tour the world as the frontman for the band 30 Seconds to Mars, Jared Leto returned with his latest role as Rayon, a transgender AIDS patient in Dallas Buyers Club, that has been earning him awards and acclaim. He has an Oscar nomination for a Best Supporting Actor, and has already picked up a SAG Award, Critics’ Choice Award and Golden Globe, where he did get some criticism for joking during his acceptance speech. That being considered, I guess it shouldn’t be a surprise that he came under fire from a heckler who didn’t feel he deserved to be honored for his performance at the SBIFF Virtuosos Award, on account of him being a straight man portraying someone who is transgender, but he definitely handled it like a pro.
During the Q&A, Jared Leto talked about why he doesn’t like to watch the films he’s in, where he got inspiration from, why it was important to him to stay in character throughout the shoot, finding truth in his performance, whether he likes to use music to get into character, and how he feels the six years he took off from acting helped him with playing Rayon. Check out what he had to say after the jump.
JARED LETO: I love you, too!
Question: Rayon had some fan signs, out on the carpet.
LETO: Rayon has fans, as she should. She deserves it. If you work that hard to look that good, you deserve to have some fans.
Audience Member #2: You will never be Rayon!
LETO: I don’t know what that means, but I’ll take it as a compliment. There’s always one drunkard out there somewhere. What are you heckling about?
Audience Member #2: Trans-misogyny does not deserve an award.
LETO: What do you mean by that?
Audience Member #2: You don’t deserve an award for portraying a trans-woman because you’re a man.
LETO: What problem do you have with it? Because I’m a man, I don’t deserve to play that part? So, you would hold a role against someone who happened to be gay or lesbian? They can’t play a straight part?
Audience Member #2: Historically, straight men play transgendered people in films and receive awards for it.
LETO: Then you make sure people that are gay, people that aren’t straight, people like the Rayons of the world would never have the opportunity to turn the tables and explore parts of that art. But if you’d like to, after this, have a conversation, I’d love to talk to you. The door is open.
There are a lot of people that would like to hear the conversation, so I am going to continue with that. But, thank you for being here. I do appreciate that. Jared, you’ve said that you actually haven’t watched this film. Is that something you decide to do, as a rule, with your work, or is it something specific to this film?
LETO: It’s a part of the process that I don’t really feel like I need to be a part of. If I was directing the film and I was in the edit room, of course I’d be there and make editorial decisions. But for me, I was there on the set, I read the script, I know what happens. It’s good for me to step away and give it some time. So generally, I don’t stick around and watch it. One day, I will. I’ll take a look, one day.
Since you didn’t have much time between getting this part and actually filming, how did you go about deciding what to prioritize in the limited amount of time you had to get ready for this part?
LETO: You start at the beginning. The beginning, for me, was meeting with transgendered people, listening, learning. I had an interesting experience in my own personal life, about a year or so before this script came my way. I was on tour with 30 Seconds to Mars, and I was doing a series of interviews with people all over the world. I met some people at a mall in Louisville, who were a couple of young kids and their mom. I was just really taken with them, and I asked if I could interview them at the show. They were excited to come to the show, so they came and I interviewed them. And it turned out that Daniel had been born a girl, and had been living his life as a boy for eight or nine months. He was 14 years old. We had this really beautiful interview about some of the challenges, and the trials and tribulations, in exploring identity and gender. That experience, for me, really helped to inform the choices I made. I think other actors may have played Rayon as a drag queen, and someone who enjoyed putting on women’s clothing. But, I thought it was an opportunity to put a different kind of character on screen. You follow your gut and your heart, and you do the best that you can to make people proud and to represent people with as much dignity as possible. That’s what I did, for the Daniels of the world and the Rayons of the world. Of course, you can’t make everyone happy, but you try your best.
People often talk about the LGBT community, but the T part of that community often gets left behind. And what’s so special about this film and the fact that people are bringing Rayon into their hearts is because it is a way for people to understand that there is another section of the LGBT community that needs to be talked about and respected.
LETO: I think so, but I don’t think that there’s any perfect scenario. I’m a creative person. I act. I make films. I’m a director. I make music. I respond to creative opportunities and challenges, and you do the best you can with them. That was certainly the case here. Ultimately, a film like this hits people hard and resonates with people. It’s really wonderful to be a part of a film like this, that says something that I think is really meaningful, and examines a period of time that was really challenging and devastating to so many people. I had another experience, when I first moved to Los Angeles. I rented a room in a three-bedroom apartment, and one of the other rooms was rented by a man in his 40s, who was dying of AIDS. I watched, week after week, as he withered away, with sores appearing on his body. He was filled with grace and charm. He was gentle and so kind. We would walk to the grocery store sometimes and he would stock up on all kinds of vegetables to make this shakes, in an attempt to stay healthy. He ultimately lost that battle, but that was another experience that really informed the role, in a really deep way.
You co-star Jennifer Garner said that she never met you on this movie because you were committed to stay in character as Rayon, the entire time. What was it like, once the filming was over, and you finally were in a place where you felt like you could drop the character and meet your cast, as yourself, for the first time?
LETO: It was great. I had the upper hand because I was watching them and listening to them, the entire time, and getting to know them. And they got to know Rayon. That term “staying in character” has a little bit of negative connotation to it, but to me, it means being incredibly focused and committed and concentrating, and using the time in the day to explore and experiment. That happened to me quite a bit. I remember that I had a break one day and went to Whole Foods. Don’t ask me why ‘cause I wasn’t eating. I would basically go there and stare at the cashews, and just salivate. There would be a pool of drool underneath me. But, I walked through Whole Foods that day and because I stayed so close to that character, I had an interesting experience. I had someone look at me and be like, “Is that Jared?! No, it can’t be.” And then, I had someone else look at me and be like, “What is that?” And then, I had somebody look at me and say, “I don’t know what that is, but I don’t like it.” That feeling of condemnation and judgment, although for me it was short-lived and easy to deal with, gave me a little bit of insight into the bravery that it takes and the real courage it takes to live your life as you dream it, and not as others would have you live it. And I think that’s a key thing.
One of the most powerful scenes in the movie comes near the end, when you go visit your father at his place of work and you visit him as Raymond. What was it like for you, on the set that day, in that body and after being Rayon for such a long time?
LETO: I knew it was a really special scene on the page. It was very emotional. I go to see my dad, really to say goodbye and to say, “I forgive you,” and to ask for help. But, it’s the only time in the film that I was wearing men’s clothing. I was incredibly concerned that, when I took off the heels, the tights, the skirt, the wig, the lashes and the lipstick that Rayon would disappear. But, I was relieved to find that when I put on Matthew’s suit and guided across the bank floor, that she was alive and well. It was a very intense day. I remember doing the first take and just bombing. It was terrible. I went off to the side and took a deep breath, and I reminded myself that I had done the work and it was going to be okay and not to panic too much. So, I went back and did another take, and some magic happened. Some inspiration struck. Some truth came from somewhere. I said these words to my father and was caught up in that moment. The next thing I saw was the director (Jean-Marc Vallée) walking onto the set with tears running out of his eyes. He said, “You know, you did something that’s going to live forever.” That’s really wonderful, when it happens like that.
Do you like to use music to get into character?
LETO: The director of Dallas Buyers Club did play some music before scenes. It can be really wonderful, but sometimes it can make you get a bit distracted and a bit lost in the emotion of the music, and then you’re drowning a little. There was a Marc Bolan connection for him. He danced that around the script a bit, which I thought was interesting. Music, when it’s married to the right piece of imagery, can be one of the most powerful experiences, ever. It can make you feel full of joy, or put you on your knees. Some films you could never imagine without their soundtracks. There’s an important marriage there.
LETO: I think that the six years I took off was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made, in my entire life. I think it made me a better actor. I think it made me a better person. We really only have to offer an equal and opposite reflection of the experiences that we’ve had in our lives, and the time away was crucial. I couldn’t have done any of that [performance] – not even close – without that time away. I was chasing other dreams, and that’s a powerful thing. When you fail, you win a little and you fail again, you take all of those lessons and you apply it.