Actor. Musician. Director. It is difficult enough achieving success in any of these three fields, much less all of them – but the multi-talented Jared Leto is doing just that.
It takes great resolve and single-mindedness to stick by one’s passions and make something out of it, but Leto is not any ordinary person. Perhaps that explains the intense look in his eyes and the gravity of the words he speaks.
Leto is fresh from playing the role of The Joker in the blockbuster Suicide Squad, and spoke to us at a roundtable interview in New York before its premiere recently. Even before the conversation starts, there is an elephant in the room that begs attention – how Leto rates his Joker in light of the many legendary actors who have portrayed the Clown Prince of Crime before, most notably the Oscar-winning performance of the late Heath Ledger.
The question is never asked – Leto broaches the subject himself when queried about his preparation for the role.
“I have had many challenging roles – but The Joker was challenging in a different way because of all the expectation and the pressure that came with it,” he says.
He immediately dives into it. “There’s so much great work done,” he remarks, then rattles off the names with ease, “Heath Ledger, Jack Nicholson, Mark Hamill, Cesar Romero – all these people have done such great, powerful work so there’s a lot of pressure – a responsibility – to deliver something that was adequate and not to let people down.”
Big shoes to fill indeed. So how does Ledger factor into Leto’s Joker in Suicide Squad?
“The inspiration that Heath gave me was the fearlessness that he had. Heath gave a perfect performance – not only the perfect villain or Joker, but one of the best performances on film. It’s absolutely incredible but you can’t go anywhere near what he did.
“The good thing about what Heath and the others have done is that it’s so good that you know exactly what you can’t do. It was actually a blessing that there had been these beautiful performances because I knew I had to walk a completely different path.”
At that point in time, Leto says he has yet to receive any feedback on his performance, and this is the first time he’s spoken to people who have actually seen the movie.
“I worked the hardest I could, worked as brave as I could be and that’s all I can ask of myself,” he says.
Leto is a method actor – during shooting he never once broke character and was literally The Joker brought to life.
“You say goodbye to your friends and family when you make a movie like this. I do whatever needs to be done to get to where I need to go. There was a great responsibility to deliver the very best I could and that meant being as focused and as committed as possible. So all the other things that people made busy with themselves – I shut them all out,” he admits.
When not on set, Leto is not one to rest on his laurels. He speaks of a documentary series he directed recently called Great Wide Open – five short films about America’s national parks and the adventurers who make it their playground.
But why documentary? With a Best Supporting Actor Oscar (which he won in 2014 for Dallas Buyers Club) under his belt, you’d think he would focus his attention on the silver screen instead.
Leto explains; “I love documentaries and watch them a lot. Some of my fave films of all time are documentaries. I love it. It’s a small team, small production which means you have absolute authority and control.
“I love that you can do so much for so little. There’s less pressure, you don’t have to spend as much money and you learn a lot from doing them,” he reveals.
Beyond film and directing, Leto is also widely known as the lead singer of the band Thirty Seconds To Mars.
Despite all the fame and acclaim that acting has given him, there is a connection with the audience that Leto gets from performing music that no other medium can give.
He mentions that he’s working on a brand new album with the band and then asks gathered journalists where they’re from. Coincidentally, he has played in each and every one of our native countries.
“Malaysia? We’ve been and played there. Colombia. Taiwan. Played in China. Brazil – we had a magical performance at Rock in Rio two years ago.
“I have a connection to all of you that is very different than if I was just an actor. I’ve played and had these beautiful experiences and it’s a very cool thing.
“I’ve spent a great deal of my life doing that (music) and it makes the conversation very different,” he says.
When asked if he would be reading reviews of his performance as The Joker on social media, he answers with disdain: “No, no, no. Why would I do that? It’s like eating my own vomit. You can’t read about yourself on the Internet.”