Since returning from a self-imposed acting sabbatical, Jared Leto's entire identity
as an actor has been defined by diving into depths even the most Method of method actors didn't know existed. There is no identity line he won't blur, no physical transformation he won't embark on or physical impairment he'll hesitate to inflict, in an effort to imbue the role with the deepest authenticity possible. No role is unworthy of his commitment, be it Academy Award catnip or superhero franchise swings. His feats have come to dwarf the media narratives of the films they're in service of, hence why, despite an ultra-thick shroud of secrecy that has only made fans more rabid for details surrounding its plot, one of the first topics to come up surrounding Blade Runner 2049 is Jared Leto and how he Actually Blinded Himself For His Role as a Blind Man.
Jared Leto does the most, and on a fair-weathered first full week of fall in New York City he's doing the most promo for the sequel to what he describes to me as "his Star Wars." While Ryan Gosling is at SNL, rehearsing for a bunch of mid sketches that he's still gonna crack up during anyway, Leto is a mile or so downtown at The Crosby, that boutique hotel so beloved by film and music publicists alike, fielding one interview after another. This, after hitting the Late Night circuit as well.
What can one expect, from an ostensibly tired, potentially cranky, already notoriously mercurial actor with only a 10 minute window to get in, break any possible ice, get quotes and get out? When I walk in to his suite, he isn't slouched in any of the chairs, exhausted and ornery. Instead he's perched Native-American style on the window sill, dressed head-to-toe in his uniform of loud Gucci only he can pull off (yellow wolf flannel, magenta pink pants), decidedly serene, ready to chat. As it turns out, I could've easily talked to Jared Leto, whom some might perceive as a difficult interview, for 45 minutes. Too bad we only had 10.
[reads my shirt as I walk in] I'm not a rapper. Neither am I, that's always my response to people when they ask.
You did that performance with Travis though at the VMAs, how was that? I feel like your vibes match, in terms of live show.
I take that as a compliment. It was fun he was really, really great. He’s super sweet, a really nice guy and we had a blast. After the show we were all so pumped because we were using military technology to capture our performance in total darkness basically.
It looked like Predator.
It was the same sort of thing. It was a thermal energy, but these were brand new cameras and we had to get permission from the government to use them. So it was super, super HD, high quality. It was really hard to pull off—some people thought it was fake, that it was pre-recorded. But it was totally live, but it looks a little strange because it's sort of delayed. But after the show we were backstage and we're all just screaming. I come back and I see Travis and my brother screaming "yeaaaaa" [at the top of their lungs]. That was a fun night.
Were you a fan of his music?
Yea, for sure. Of course. It's great, I like him a lot. Kendrick was great too. My God, the way he—he raps like a martial artist. He's just a master. As a singer, I'm there watching him like "Man, I should be singing like that." It's so percussive, he's rapping with his whole body too. It's very cool to watch.
So, Blade Runner. You've said that the original had a profound effect on you? In what ways, exactly?
I saw the movie when I was a kid, we had it on VHS, I must have watched it over 100 times. It was my Star Wars, I loved Star Wars too and saw it in the theater. But Blade Runner really hit me hard and took me to a place that I never imagined. It taught me about cinematography, acting, directing, it taught me about music, and what is possible in cinema.
Did you have any trepidation about coming into a sequel that could potentially alter the original's legacy?
Absolutely not, I was too greedy wanting another movie, even if I wasn’t in it I just wanted this world to be built upon. The script was great, I read the script and I was all in.
It's come out recently that one of Villeneuve’s original choices for your character Niander Wallace was David Bowie. Did you know that going in?
No, I did not, I just learned this yesterday. I would have loved to have seen David Bowie [as Niander] he is the King.
How does it feel retroactively to know that you stepped in to fill such iconic shoes?
Just being involved with Blade Runner [at all] is so surreal, so bizarre, it’s such an honor, it really is. It’s one of those things that you can’t believe it is real. To have been a kid laying on the floor looking at the VHS copy over and over again to being on the set with Harrison Ford in those pivotal scenes. First of all it’s Harrison Ford who I grew up with, who is an absolute hero. Then there is his character, Deckard, so it’s like twofold. It was just great, just an honor.
You don't have a lot of screen time, but your presence casts a large shadow over the story.
I would have been an extra in the movie, I really would have. Denis [Villeneuve, director] is a genius, it doesn’t get any better than this. As I keep telling people this kind of thing doesn’t come around too often, where you have a director, writer, a cast, cinematography, just the group of talent that was on board to make this film is absolutely inspiring and a rare occasion.
One of the biggest anecdotes circling the movie is how you were blind on set...taking into account past roles like Dallas Buyer’s Club, and Suicide Squad, are you only interested in taking on roles these days that offer a physical and mental challenge?
It’s a great question. I do like a challenge, I don’t think it is very fulfilling and I don’t think I would be very good, if there wasn’t much of a challenge. I just think the steeper the climb the greater the reward, I do a lot of rock climbing and it is the same thing. It would be nice to go for a hike but it doesn’t beat scaling a wall in Yosemite. It calls to me.
Since you were blind on set, what was your reaction when you finally saw the film and your scenes?
I haven’t seen the film yet so you’re a step ahead of me. I’ve only seen some stills and some little clips but I'm excited about it, even if I wasn’t in the film I would just be so happy that they made another one.
You’re very precise with your role choice, what’s the next movie for you? [*this interview was conducted before news of the Hugh Hefner biopic broke]
I don’t know, I’m developing an Andy Warhol biopic and that’s a dream to bring Andy to screen. We are writing the script right now and he was a huge inspiration and influence on my life. I started as an art school dropout but I was a painter and studied to be a fine artist, all while making music as a kid and Andy was a big deal for me.
What about on the comic book movie front, with the Joker?
[Eyes widen, shrugs for dramatic effect] Who knows, it was an unforgettable experience and I loved it. It is one of the great roles in cinema, but we will see.