The most coveted phone today (at least for iOS users) is undoubtedly the iPhone 5S gold (I just ordered mine, and it's on three weeks' back order!). The most coveted award in Hollywood today remains that gold-plated Oscar. While actor and Thirty Seconds to Mars front man Jared Leto doesn't have either, that'll certainly change in a few months. I predict a Best Supporting Actor win in his future for his credible, Gotham Independent Film Award-winning portrayal of HIV-positive transgender woman Rayon in "Dallas Buyers Club."
Out November 1 in limited release and November 10 in wide release, the film follows real-life rodeo cowboy Ron Woodroof (Matthew McConaughey) from his 30-days-to-live AIDS diagnosis in 1985 to his establishing a revolutionary buyer's club (along with Rayon) where alternative, unsanctioned treatments are made available to anyone with a membership fee. "Dallas Buyers Club" may be a medical drama, but don't let that dissuade you from seeing it, because it offers something for everyone. Romance enthusiasts will surely enjoy the love triangle of sorts between Woodroof, Rayon, and Dr. Eve Saks (Jennifer Garner). For action aficionados, there are a couple of fight scenes, but the greatest battle is the one to survive against the odds.
Download.com chatted with Leto about flirting for the Rayon part in "Dallas Buyers Club," how he transformed himself for this "role of a lifetime," the former roommate who inspired his decision to bring this complex character to life, experiencing transphobia during the making of the film, and his favorite apps.
How did this script come to you?
Someone e-mailed it to me enough times, and I thought, "OK, I'll just look at it." I don't think they were desperate to have me in the part. Once you say no enough, everyone wants you more, but then after a while, they're like, "Fu*k him, he's never going to act again." It's been like six years, and that's a long time. But I'm glad that someone annoyed me enough that I took a look.
But I don't want to sound ungrateful. It's the role of a lifetime. It's an amazing part. Where do you go from here? Maybe I should never make another film. It would be a good one to end on.
I read that before you secured this role, you met the director in character.
Yeah, I was in Berlin, and I had a Skype meeting set up with him, and I decided to use this as a test. As he was talking, I reached over and started putting some lipstick on and unbuttoned my jacket and underneath I had a little pink sweater pulled down over my shoulders. So I started to flirt with him a little bit, and sure enough I got the job the next day. But that was my audition if it was my audition.
I was curious about what I had to offer here. I wasn't in a hurry to make a film. I hadn't made one in almost six years, and could have made it an even 10, no problem. But I was seduced by the role of the character.
From the start of your process, how long did it take you to fully immerse yourself in the Rayon character?
Well, I had a few weeks, but it was very quick. But films are very forgiving where you can take what you learn to the next day. It's not like a play, where you have to be perfect on the first night.
What did you think you could bring to this role?
Some truth. I think we've seen this part before on film, sometimes in a fun way. But we've seen it represented as a cliché of the drag queen dancing on the table with a boa and running out of the room with a quick one-liner, and I thought there was an opportunity to do more. There's no sexuality -- I think that that was another big discovery, like, "Oh, this is someone who wants to live life as a woman and be loved by a man."
It wasn't that on the page. Someone could have played the role as a transvestite. So I think making the choice was probably one of the most important choices as far as process goes. That was the key.
You lost a lot of weight to play Rayon. How did you do it?
I stopped eating. It's not fun, but it's amazing what you can do when you put your mind to it. But yeah, I had a very limited amount of time, so I stopped eating and lost 30 to 40 pounds. I would never do it again, though.
There has already been so much Oscars buzz about your performance. One of your most memorable scenes was when Rayon was dying and sitting at the edge of the bed, spitting up blood.
It was an improvised scene. When Rayon said, "I don't want to die," that was improvised. I'm so glad that that wasn't in the script, because if it were, I would have wanted to take it out. But it just came out.
But I think she knows she's not going to live, and really that scene is about her acceptance of her own death and the frustration of her circumstances. She's doomed and she kind of knows it. From that scene out, she's surrendered. Even when she goes to see her father, it's about forgiving him for not being present in her life and unable to love her for who she is. I think maybe for a while she's living for Ron [Woodroof] or the club or the other people. She's like a dog you meet at the pound, one that wants to be loved and love other people, and I think that Rayon was the same way.
You speak about this subject so intimately. Have you, personally, known anyone affected by HIV or AIDS?
When I first moved to LA, 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, and I watched week after week as he withered away. Sometimes we'd walk to the grocery store together, and he'd buy vegetables and stuff and put them in a blender to make a shake and try to get all the vitamins. So that left a big impact. He was a really charming, kind, sweet, funny guy...and he had this scab on his head, and I didn't know what it is. Then I found out that he's dying and has skin cancer. That was really impactful.
You and McConaughey filmed some really difficult scenes together. I was wondering what the atmosphere on set was like, and if there was anything you two did to lighten the mood between takes.
Well, I only communicated through the eyes of the character, so I never had any downtime, like slapped him on the back and went and got a beer after work. That wasn't where I was at. So I got to know Jennifer, Matthew, and the director, through the character. The director jokes about never having met me in person until after the premier, and Matthew as well. I think that's one of the reasons that Matthew and I had such great chemistry.
So what did you learn from spending entire days as a woman?
I remember that I went to Whole Foods once during a break in shooting and went to stare at food, which is a weird thing to do. And I got three looks: One of them was, "Is that Jared? No." The other was, "Who is that?" And the third was, "What is that? I don't like that." So it was important to get that kind of judgmental, "That's disgusting. I don't like it. What's the deal?" And to imagine what that would have been like in 1985. I couldn't imagine walking through a supermarket in full drag in 1985. You better get funny and charming real quick, or else you get your ass kicked. But it was easier for me, because I was working.
Let's switch gears. I'm assuming you have an iPhone and iPad.
What are your top apps?
I know what Rayon's would have been [laughs], but the applications I use are pretty commonplace. Twitter, Instagram, there's a great app called Highlight, and Nest is a great one, too.
Preview before you buy "Dallas Buyers Club":