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Photo: Jared Leto
Hippie Childhood and Humble Beginnings
Similar to stars like Joaquin Phoenix or Winona Ryder, Leto’s upbringing was more eccentric than your average kid. Born in Bossier City, Louisiana in 1971, he and his brother Shannon were raised by their single mother, Constance. After Constance was all but forced to drop out of school in order to birth and raise Jared, the Leto’s would scrape by with a dependence on food stamps and no extra for toys or recreation. Over the course of Leto’s childhood, the family would adjust – though they would be affected by the sudden suicide of the boys’ absent father when Jared was only eight years – and adapt the best that they could.
In 1981, Constance would relocate them to a commune in Colorado for a stint of three formative years. Because of this, Leto claims his lifestyle consisted of “foraging for berries” and “sleeping in tents”. Roots like this seem destined to breed rock and movie stars, and gave Leto an appreciation for art, music, and creative fulfillment.
With a screen debut in the classic 90’s show ‘My So-Called Life’ as the sensitive bad-boy Jordan Catalano alongside Claire Danes, the start of Leto’s career is just as memorable as the rest in this teen drama series that has held its own in the two decades since it ended. He would finally make his debut as the film star we know and love in the ensemble film ‘How to Make An American Quilt’ alongside stars like Winona Ryder, Ellen Burstyn, and even Maya Angelou, who he is closely tied with, in the context of the film.
After a string of honorable mention roles in a number of culturally iconic films like ‘Fight Club’, ‘Girl, Interrupted’, and ‘The Thin Red Line’, Leto would go on to deliver one of the most memorable performances of his early career in the Darren Aronofsky film ‘Requiem for a Dream’. This is where his penchant for method acting would first appear, as Harry Goldfarb, a heroin addict who gradually becomes completely intertwined with the corruption of drug abuse. In preparation for the role, Leto would lose a worrying amount of weight and spend multiple nights with real junkies on the streets of New York. He would reap the benefits of his dedication as the film and his performance were critically praised, now revered in the realm of psychological drama and ‘drug’ cinema.
In the same year, Leto would play the supporting role, Paul Allen, in the film adaptation for ‘American Psycho’. Though Christian Bale receives much deserved praise for his complex and unhinged performance of corporate killer Patrick Bateman, Allen serves as a worthy icon of malice for Bateman, and the nature of his death powers the conflict from then on.
Since then, Leto has starred in a number of other films such as ‘Highway’, ‘Panic Room’, ‘Lord of War’, and ‘Lonely Hearts’. His next notable method performance would be in ‘Chapter 27’ in the biographical role of Mark David Chapman, a Beatles superfan and assassin of John Lennon, for which he would quickly gain over 65 pounds. This performance was rightfully praised for his perfect transformation and impression of a real, complex character. His next role as the timeless and nearly immortal ‘Mr. Nobody’, a unique role for which his performance was one of the most collectively applauded qualities.
Following a brief hiatus from film, Leto would embark on one of his most incredible performances in ‘Dallas Buyers Club’ as Rayon, a transgender woman with AIDS who forms an unlikely partnership with Matthew McConaughey’s prickly cowboy Ron Woodroof. In preparing for this role, Leto stripped his body hair, lost thirty pounds, and chose to embody the character at all times during filming. As was clear from the beginning of his career, this penchant for metamorphosis would work immensely in his favor, leading him to earn his first and (currently) only Oscar for Best Supporting Actor.
A Jack of All Trades
Jared Leto represents an image of stardom that roots itself in pure skill as an impressive example of an actor who has transcended a single craft. Not only is he well-known for his many aforementioned film roles, but he’s the enigmatic lead singer of the band ‘30 Seconds to Mars’ alongside his brother Shannon Leto. The eclectic blend of metal and space rock that they’ve been developing since their genesis in 1998 has earned acclaim in its own right, including a Billboard Music Award win and multiple nominations.
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Beyond film and music, Leto is a practiced activist and philanthropist. He has used his money as well as his reach to facilitate charitable help for numerous organizations including by not limited to The Nature Conservancy, Habitat for Humanity, and Aid Still Required. More recently, following the devastating Haitian earthquake in 2010, the actor has been involved with non-profits like J/P Haitian Relief (founded by fellow actor Sean Penn) in response to rebuilding the disaster-torn country to its former stability. All of this is to say that though Leto is most often commended for his artistic pursuits, an even more noble sort of merit lies in his efforts to give back to those who are in need.
More Than Just An Icon
As famous as he is misunderstood in recent years, Leto has fallen out of favor due to his ‘dedication’ to the craft. After being cast as the Joker for the now infamous DC film ‘Suicide Squad’, Leto – in an attempt to fully embody the character – engaged in a number of activities under the guise of ‘method acting.’ These activities include allegedly sending his castmate, Margot Robbie, a dead rat, though Leto would later deny this. He would also send anal beads and used condoms to cast members in order to conjure the chaotic spontaneity of the Joker character. While these actions are seen by many as overstepping the boundaries of professionalism, regardless of their career, they still serve as an evocative representation of Leto and his mindset towards the craft.
Fans of Leto can look forward to his next film appearance in ‘House of Gucci’ directed by Ridley Scott alongside Lady Gaga, Adam Driver, and Jeremy Irons set to release in November 2021. Not only that, but he’s slated to star in Marvel’s new film adaptation for their character Morbius the Living Vampire titled ‘Morbius’ which is set to be released at the beginning of 2022.
By Grace Smith
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Grace Smith is a film critic and writer with 21 years of formative film exposure under her belt – and a focused interest in horror, surrealism, and substantial Cinema. Grace is passionate about The Hollywood Insider’s mission towards thoughtful and innovative media that expands audience perspectives towards entertainment. As a young writer and film-lover, Grace hopes to inspire readers towards not only broadening their horizons when it comes to cinematic media, but also raising their expectations.