Jared Leto
Photo by Nicholas Hunt

Jared Leto: “Every film has changed my life”

Short Profile

Name: Jared Joseph Leto
DOB: 26 December 1971
Place of birth: Bossier City, Louisiana, United States
Occupation: Actor, musician

Jared Leto stars in The Little Things, available on HBO Max now.

Mr. Leto, what does a script need in order for you to say yes?

I try to find projects that I’m really passionate about, incredibly motivated to do. I never really go to work just to work, I have quite a busy life outside of movies so I am very fortunate about that and I think that helps me be a little bit more discerning when it comes to choosing roles, if that’s the right word to use. I think that the films that I do and the characters that I play often times are pretty challenging, so when I’m done, I need some time to recover.

So you’re looking to be challenged with every role?

Yeah, absolutely. I’m always a believer that the greater the risk, the greater the reward. I’m interested in working hard and I never shy away from that.

Al Pacino says that he is always drawn to trying something new because it feels like “saying something” with his work.

Right, so with my recent film The Little Things, the biggest risk was actually that I was doing something that I’d already done before. I walked on the darker side of the moon with quite a few characters, and initially I didn’t  even want to play the role.

“It’s a creative process — it takes the time that it takes.”

What changed your mind?

I guess after talking with the director, John Lee Hancock, I realized that he was open to me going to a completely new place and pushing things as far as I could without crossing the line. And that’s exactly what we did.

Does your co-star also influence your performance and how far you can push those boundaries?

Oh, a ton. They can really elevate your choices, they can inspire you, they can surprise you, and vice versa. So when I come on set, I’m preparing and trying to be as focused and concentrated as I can not just for myself, but for the other actors, for the director, for everyone making the movie. So it’s a big one. And it’s part of my job to be there and be ready to go for other actors as well.

How long do you spend preparing to get into a character?

Well, I mean, the more time the better I think. If you have less time, you’ve just got to work a little bit longer each day. So it’s a little bit of a mystery and there is some magic in there for sure, so you never really know how much time it’s going to take. I dig in: I end up doing a lot of research, a lot of preparation… You become a detective of sorts. I would say probably 90 percent of what you excavate during that process is really not apparently usable, it may be in there somewhere, but you just have to turn over the most stones to find the most gold.

Does that process get easier with experience?

Yeah, I think you do learn some tricks and how to use your time a little bit more wisely. But there’s still, it’s not a perfect science, it’s not something that’s easy to kind of whittle down to schematics and logistics. It’s a creative process, so it takes the time that it takes.

I can imagine that preparing for something like Requiem for A Dream was a particularly gruelling process — but probably also very rewarding in the end.

I mean, it’s safe to say that every film that I’ve made has changed my life in some degree. And although you never know what to expect when you make a movie, I knew Requiem was going to be special from the minute I read the script — and also because of Darren Aronofsky. There was just a lot of promise there, and we all went on a journey together that was incredibly intense. It’s a film that left its mark on me, and I’ll always be grateful to Darren for Requiem for a Dream, for the experience of the movie. It was absolutely phenomenal.

“Being on stage, I’m probably more myself than I ever am because you are up there with with total abandon.”

Does your work in music also fulfill you in that same way?

These two paths are pretty different, but they both come from a creative place, I guess that’s the commonality. I try to keep the music separate, but I have had to spend time on both occasionally because of deadlines. It’s not a perfect way to work, but I have to do it a few times.

Would you describe them as separate identities?

I think they influence and affect each other only in the way that you learn something and you can apply it to something else that you are doing. But being on stage, at least to date, I’m not playing a character, I’m probably more myself than I ever am because you are up there with with total abandon. When we are on stage, we always try to be in a place of total freedom, and that’s a very revealing place. I’m not writing songs from the point of view of a character although I’ve explored that a little bit — who knows, maybe we will do a Ziggy Stardust thing on the next album! (Laughs)

Are you also playing with the idea of creating a narrative for films? Is stepping behind the camera and directing a film something you see yourself doing?

Yeah, I’ve directed music videos and also commercials and documentaries, but I haven’t directed a narrative film yet. I think it’s inevitable that I will at some point, it’s just about finding that story that I feel like I have to tell. I am not in the biggest hurry right now to do that, but yeah, I could see doing it some time in the future, absolutely.