Jared Leto: Thriving in the Dark
Q: Were you relieved when the film was well received?
A: It was great to be at Cannes and see that film for the first time with 1,400 people. I was shitting my pants because people at Cannes will boo and walk out of a film if they don't like it. And there was a standing ovation afterwards that went on and on. That was really moving. It's a nice feeling to be a part of a film people respond to. I haven't had that feeling often.
Q: A few years ago, you and Billy Crudup both played runner Steve Prefontaine in competing movies. Did it bother you that there was another film being shot?
A: Pre was my first major part and I was pretty much operating under the assumption that I was going after the Olympics. [Laughs] I was so gung-ho and trying to do everything I could to be this guy. Plus, Prefontaine's family was around often, so it was a moving experience.
Q: You and your brother were raised by a single mother and spent many years living in different places as part of a commune. What do you remember about that?
A: It was creative. One memory I have is there were a lot of dogs at this one place and my brother got in a horrific fight with a dog and the dog bit his toe off. They became fast friends after that. He lost a toe and gained a friend.
Q: You lived in Haiti for a while. What was that like?
A: I was 12. It's the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. It was horrible to see people living in the street, in shacks, and bathing in sewer water and drinking bad water and begging and starving. It was unforgettable.
Q: Do you think being raised by a single mother gave you insight into women?
A: Yes. I love women. [Laughs] I remember my mother showed me and my brother and some other kids on the commune a film on pregnancy. She sat down with an 8mm projector and showed it on the wall in the bedroom.
Q: Before becoming an actor, you studied film at the School of Visual Arts in New York. How did that experience affect your sensibility?
A: It was very anti-Hollywood, we did a lot of experimental films. It was worthless making conventional Hollywood melodramatic narrative pieces.
Q: Were you in any of them?
A: No, I was on the other side.
Q: What movies impacted you in your youth?
A: Blade Runner, The Last Emperor. Recently, I've been watching George Lucas's THX 1138. It's just a phenomenal film.
Q: You came to Hollywood at 20. What was your first impression?
A: It was wild. I had never been to California and it was always a magic place to me. My brother was racing demolition cars in Indiana and he got in trouble and got locked up. So I came out here. The first night, I slept on Venice Beach.
Q: What was it like when you first started going out on auditions?
A: It was challenging and nerve-racking. I remember hiding behind an overturned desk, shooting imaginary guns at people. One time, I stopped and said, "I can't do this. I feel like I'm in a bad high school play. I'm sorry I'm wasting your time, but I've got to go."
Q: Do you still audition a lot?
A: I haven't auditioned for a year. Auditioning can be exciting, but most of the time it just makes you sick. I'm really not interested in being the guy who works the most. I could see taking several years off.
Q: What's something you're good at that might surprise people?
A: Messing with computer hardware. I take computers practically apart and put them back together. I have a supercomputer I built over the years out of different computers.
Q: Do you have a favorite tabloid story about yourself?
A: I haven't had any horrible ones. Years ago, there was a rumor going around that I was dead because I was working in Ireland. Once I got back, people who seemed very upset would come up to me and say, "We thought you were dead!"
Q: Have you had any memorable spring break adventures?
A: I never really did the spring break party thing. But once, I ended up in a hotel in Palm Springs. Someone opened the door and this girl that was in the room rushed over to close it and the people on the outside slammed it. The door reopened and the girl rushes over to the sink and I see this other girl bend down and pick something up. I'm like, "What is that?" It was one of the girl's fingers.
Q: Did she stick it back on?
A: I saw the girl later in the evening looking at the other girl all pissed off, you know, drinking a beer with her fingers all wrapped up.
Q: They say Hollywood is like high school with money. Where do you fit in that metaphor? Drama geek? Computer nerd?
A: I'm the guy who's ditching. [Laughs] And the teacher's calling out, "Leto? Leto? Leto? Where's Leto?"
Dennis Hensley interviewed Oded Fehr for the September issue of Movieline.