Hollywood has a richly embarrassing history of mishaps, and one of the most egregious has got to be turning Post-30 Seconds to Mars Jared Leto into Oscar Winner Jared Leto in 2014. The award, a prestigious accolade for a terribly miscast and terribly acted role in Dallas Buyers Club, came to serve as an unneeded boost of confidence and a false sense of invincibility for Leto’s rejuvenated brand of trolling—one in a similar, but much more exaggerated, vein as post-Oscar winning Cuba Gooding Jr., who’s been spending his downtime eating cell phones in da club, or Gwyneth Paltrow, who’s casually been recommending $15,000 dildos on her lifestyle blog. Ever since that February night in 2014, whenever Jared Leto’s cast in a movie, there seems to be more talk around his offscreen antics and “preparation” than the actual quality of his acting.
That’s the story once again for Suicide Squad, in which he portrays The Joker, a role that became loaded with morbid prestige when Heath Ledger won a posthumous Oscar for his portrayal of the Crowned Prince of Crime in The Dark Knight. For the past year, it’s become clear that Leto grossly misinterpreted why audiences became attached to Ledger’s Joker—the buzz about the actor terrorizing his castmates by sending them used condoms and anal beads and dead pigs proving that Leto tried to outdo Ledger’s “crazy,” stripping the character of all nuance in the process.
But it can’t be said that a “once-great” Leto “fell” because he couldn’t live up to the expectations of the Joker. This is no rise and fall story. Jared Leto’s “rise” is a questionable one, one that doesn’t exist, if you ask me, minus a very small, short-lived peak in A Requiem for a Dream. He started off as many pre-acclaimed actors do—as a heartthrob—but lacked the promising spark that could be seen in a young Leonardo DiCaprio or a pre-Soderbergh Channing Tatum. “Heartthrob” is also a very loose term here, unless illiterate boys are what get your heart racing. While Leto first got on the radar as Jordan Catalano in My So-Called Life, the flannel-wearing, middle-parted crush that consumes the teenaged mind of Claire Danes’ Angela Chase, he’s easily the worst part of the show. Even Tino—who has zero screentime—is more compelling.
And looking back at the rest of Leto’s IMdB page is an even bigger disappointment than I had expected. He’s had a series of small roles in good to great movies (The Thin Red Line, Girl, Interrupted, American Psycho, Panic Room), small to big roles in movies you once thought were brilliant (Fight Club, Requiem for a Dream), and big roles in awful movies that no one cared to see (Chapter 27, Mr. Nobody). Amidst all this, he pursued a music career with 30 Seconds to Mars, a band that’s even more of a facepalm than Leto’s worst roles combined (or that tweet he sent out a couple months ago in which he recommended a little-known movie called Goodfellas before swiftly deleting it out of deep embarrassment and merciless roasting).
Sometime though, approaching or during the 2010s, Leto dubbed himself this generation’s insanely dedicated method actor, a la Daniel Day-Lewis, Marlon Brando, and, yes, even Heath Ledger. But Leto has always relied on tricks rather than craft. Chapter 27, in which Leto plays John Lennon’s shooter Mark David Chapman, was the first time we really got to see Leto “dive in, 1,000 percent,” as he told Rolling Stone of his method last month. But adding 67 destructive pounds to your thin frame does not a good actor make, neither does losing it all back and then some to play a caricature of a transgender woman, as he did in Dallas Buyers Club. He got flack for being a cisgender male playing a trans character (when roles for trans actors are already so scarce), and his exaggerated performance, one many have been offended by, read like the stereotype made up by straight, cis people: teetering between the extremes of tragic and goofy. His ability to transform his body in such a way to play Rayon was impressive, but the praise stops there.
The subsequent (mistaken) acknowledgement by the Academy gave Leto the sense that he can “get away with anything,” that he can prank his Suicide Squad castmates and make Viola Davis (where is her Oscar, by the way) want to pepper-spray him, all in the name of building a myth around his Joker. And the thing is, all of this absurd behavior would be forgiven if his performance in Suicide Squad was astounding—but it isn’t. Richard Lawson from Vanity Fair called Leto’s performance “a lukewarm display of villainy" and "entirely underwhelming." Our own Frazier Tharpe called Leto's Joker "the absolute worst thing the Joker can be—boring."
Throughout his career, Leto has yet to deliver despite all the insanity he puts himself and others through. His so-called craziness—including extreme body transformations and trolling behavior—is just a mask that he wears, to some convincing degree, to conceal the fact that he isn’t the Great Actor he fancies himself to be.