Jared Leto could quite possibly be the ultimate showbiz chameleon. While Leto “rock star” might be a more familiar moniker these days as front man to Thirty Seconds to Mars, whose current world tour and fourth album, “Love, Lust, Faith and Dreams” have taken the band to the stratosphere of success, his return to the movie screen in Dallas Buyers Club as the delicately spoken, transgender HIV-positive Rayon proves that when he is not zip lining over a festival crowd at Rock in Rio, or directing his band’s MTV award winning music videos, the 42 year old is still one of cinema’s most intriguing actors and one with a consistent record of choosing challenging roles.
Rayon is no exception and Leto’s first Golden Globe nomination is all the more remarkable considering that it comes on the heels of a long hiatus. “I’ll take accolades where I can get them,” he recently told us with his customary self-effacing manner in November. “Its nice to feel like I’m at the beginning again. You know I hadn’t made a movie in six years. I’ve been touring with my band all over the place. Actually I’m right in the middle of the tour right now. After this I’m off to do a concert in London."
Dallas Buyers Club is based on the true story of Ron Woodroof, a Texas good ol’ boy who was diagnosed as HIV-positive in 1985. He develops an unlikely friendship with Rayon, as the two become business partners when Woodroof (played by Matthew McConaughey) defies U.S. sanctioned medical treatments by smuggling unapproved drugs from Mexico and forming a buyers club for fellow HIV patients.
To play Rayon, whose body is ravaged not only by AIDS but also a debilitating drug habit, Leto underwent an astonishing physical transformation, losing more than 30 pounds, shaving his signature eyebrows, and finding his inner feminine side waxing and wearing panty hose and heels. “It helps you find the truth of things; people are made up of internal story but sometimes external things - a little lipstick, a little purse on your shoulder, heels that make you walk different…these are little things but I think that they are things that were integral to who Rayon was.”
Radically morphing his body to fit his roles is nothing new to the actor. He also downsized for his first break-out lead role in 2000‘s Requiem for a Dream, directed by Darren Aronofsky, and then in 2007 underwent a massive weight gain to play Mark David Chapman, infamous murderer of John Lennon, in Chapter 27.
“I had gained a lot of weight for Chapter 27, about sixty pounds, which was almost a one hundred pound difference between that film and this one, but it’s a tool. It changes the way that you walk, the way that you talk and the way that people treat you,” said Leto.
But for Leto it wasn’t just about the physical changes that made the role of Rayon, and Dallas Buyers Club so unforgettable. “I grew up during the AIDS crisis and it was incredibly impactful. It changed everything, certainly the way you thought about life and your choices. It was a devastating time and its wonderful to be part of a story that sheds light on that story. In 1985 AIDS was s a death sentence, and for many people around the world it still is. But it’s gotten a lot better." That is due, we would add, in no small measure to the events recounted in Dallas Buyers Club.
As Thirty Seconds to Mars continues its world tour throughout 2014, let’s hope it won’t be too long before we see this daring actor back on the screen. “I haven’t made any plans to make another film,” said Leto. “It would have to be very special, especially after this. This was a life changing experience and continues to be.”