It’s Jared Leto “who provides the heart,” we said in our review of Dallas Buyers Club. “What could easily have become a caricatured stereotype of feminine sass to gradually whittle away at Woodruff’s machismo, Leto’s Rayon instead gives us truth. Yes, the character infuses a healthy portion of comic relief, but it’s never forced or insincere. We see her frustration instantly morph into compassion as she ignores Ron’s discriminatory nature to show kindness when no one else will, wedging herself into his life as a beacon trust and kinship despite his prejudices. Her own progression through the disease will tear your heart out and whether it’s seeing her purposefully don a suit or lay prone on the floor too weak to inject her protein, she’s the epitome of humble humanity still surviving after the world has given up.”

Following its Toronto International Film Festival premiere, we had the chance to sit down at a roundtable with the actor to discuss his involvement with the production. His first project in a number of years (although his ambitious sci-fi drama Mr. Nobody its finally getting a proper release this fall), Leto talks about how the break actually helped his performance, getting the part via a Skype audition, staying in character for the entire production, losing weight, working with Matthew McConaughey and much more. Check out our conversation below.

So, you were in character for the entirety of filming. Is that right?

Yes, I was. How could you not be? How could you leave that beautiful creature? Yeah, it was part of the process.

Do you always do that?

I’ve done it many times, but not on all films. I remember I worked with David Fincher on Panic Room and I certainly wasn’t in character for that. It was a very long shoot, and I didn’t feel it was a necessity. I try to stay as close as humanly possible, and in this film there were so many characteristics, so many attributes that were so far away from the way I live my daily life — even if you stop to talk about the voice, the mannerisms, every time the camera cut, I couldn’t just drop all that and every time he said action, pick it back up and remember. It didn’t work like that. I just chose to be there.

So how do you say goodbye to the character once its done?

That’s a good question. It’s kind of bittersweet a little bit, because you are saying goodbye to an enormous amount of work. You’re getting back to yourself. There was a story about the first woman who sailed around the world alone , a French woman, and they asked her the most difficult thing about the journey. She said the most difficult thing was when she returned to France and had to step foot on land again, because she had gotten so used to that and attached to that challenge, so there is a bit of that at times.

Can you tell us about your diet? You had to get down to 116 pounds in three weeks.

I got down to about 114 and then I stopped counting. I lost over 30 pounds, but it really didn’t matter at that point. I had lost weight before for Requiem for a Dream, I had gained 60 pounds for a movie called Chapter 27, so I have a whole 90 pound difference between them. But really, the weight is interesting because it affects the way you walk, talk, laugh, breath, your choices in a scene, your energy, so its a great asset to take tell you the truth. It’s also a commitment you can’t run away from, so it brings with it an incredible focus.

What do you like about Rayon?

Her sense of humor, her compassion… she’s kind of a hot mess.

Were you treated differently, considering you were in character during the shoot?

A. Sure. You know what I found interesting? The way people treated me different, especially because I was in character all the time. I always found it interesting because the most masculine, kind of the toughest guys, were the ones that treated me the most gentle. I mean, after just a couple of days, I think in their eyes I became a different person. There was a lot of “right this way ma’am” and holding my hand and people took good care of me and I think that was very sweet. It was very sweet to be a dainty little lady like that.

A producer suggested you for the part. How did that come about?

Because she’s a genius. I have no idea, but she told me that last night. I never knew that. It was great, its wonderful. Someone has to suggest you, you know? But I don’t think Jean-Marc was very aware of me at all and i think he was aware of Requiem, but I think it was really nice.

What were your initial thoughts?

Oh, I didn’t have time. I didn’t have any time. I was really busy. I didn’t make a film for five or six years because I was busy. It wasn’t because I hate films, it was because I didn’t have time.

What about when you saw the script?

I had heard of it, but I didn’t want to read the script, because I just didn’t have time in my life to squeeze something in. You know when you are busy in your life and you get a call and you are like, “that’s great, but no I don’t have room in my life for this.” Then I got a nudge and I read the script, then it was all over, really. I still had planned to meet Jean-Marc on a Skype and turn it down. Not to sound ungrateful, but it just wasn’t on my radar at that point.

I did an interesting thing at that point; I wanted to see if I was capable, if there was something there for me, so I got on Skype with him which was just really a meeting. I wish I had it on film. I got some lipstick beforehand and as I introduced myself, I said “hello” and said a couple more words then I reached over and got the lipstick and put it on and he was on Skype going [*makes questioning face*] and then I changed a little bit, my voice and I undid my jacket and I had a little pink sweater on underneath. I was a little flirty with him and he was just like “Uhhhh… [*makes another questioning face*]” I got the call the next day. I got the part.

So, were you busy with Thirty Seconds to Mars these last few years?

Yes, I’m in a band, and if you are old like me, then you probably don’t know about it. But, you know, a funny thing happened; I was an actor, I had always made music since I was a kid. I played music with my brother (he is in the band), but we had tons of success. We had more success then we could have ever dreamed, if I can say that without sounding like a jerk. You know when that happens, what do you say, “no?” We toured the world, we played from Africa to Asia to the Arctic and the biggest shows that we could ever imagine. We are still doing it. We played this summer in festivals in Europe, sometimes in front of 100,000 people. Do you say no to that when its happening? It’s easy when it’s been 5 years that goes by while you’re doing it.

You mentioned Chapter 27. I didn’t know you were in that movie while I was watching it and I didn’t know you were in this movie while I was watching it either. How do you feel when someone tells you that?

I think it’s fun. I would much rather someone see the role.. I remember hearing a story about Harrison Ford; his first job, he played a bellman/bellboy. Afterwards, the studio brought him in and said, “I don’t see a movie star there, thats not a movie star,” and he goes, “That’s funny, I thought you were supposed to see a bellman.” I thought that was kind of great. I’m kind of that, you know, it might not be the path to movie stardom, but I think it’s the path to delivering a solid character.

What was the return to acting like?

I’ve been doing quite a bit of directing and was certainly in front of the camera all the time and on stage all the time, so I think that the break from acting actually was the best thing I have ever done for me as an actor. It’s almost like I started over, started again from the beginning in some ways, but with a greater sense of myself, a greater sense of confidence in my choices. I think that I became a much better actor.

Have your bandmates seen the film?

No, I haven’t even talked.. they don’t even know right now.

They haven’t met Rayon at all?

No, no.. one time I came home for Thanksgiving. Which is obviously a really fun meal to eat. I told myself, “Man, I am going to eat. I’m going to cheat one day and eat damn it.” I eat really healthy, so I was excited for my tofurkey and cranberry sauce and stuffing, I love that meal. So I get home to my mom, my brother, some family, and I go to eat and I just couldn’t do it. I couldn’t bring myself to do it. I got too guilty. So I took one bite and put the rest away. What an experience, I’ll never forget it.

Was there a real life Rayon? Or someone who inspired the character?

I think mostly it was my imagination. I think a lot of it was me. If I had walked that path, that’s what you get. I met with people, I listened, talked, listened and then listened some more and worked and worked and worked some more. I knew everybody probably had the same feeling that they could do something special and tell a deep and meaningful story.

What’s the hardest part of going in there and finding that side of yourself?

There were little things, technical things, like finding your voice and walk and remembering not in a scene to say, “Hey, bro..” Little things, I think.. probably it’s the commitment over a long period of time —  5AM covered in sores, make-up chair for hours and hours and hours — it’s the commitment, concentration, and focus: that’s the hardest. Sometimes you just want to rip your wig off and run down the street.

Do you ever combine the worlds of acting and music?

I don’t think I really do, except for the music videos. We make elaborate music videos. We’ve had a lot of success with those.

Well, aren’t you an actor, in a way, on the stage?

No, the difference is there is no character building there, except for yourself. You’re you. I think on stage you are more of you, in a way, than you are sometimes having a one-on-one conversation. It’s very intimate. I feel more comfortable on stage. I’ve sat on stage — London 2002 sold out show, 20,000 people, me, and the acoustics standing in the middle of the crowd, a 360-degree view, spotlight on me — and I felt more comfortable in that moment than I do in most conversations at a party. I think it’s a common feeling for performers. Being on stage with a band is completely different than making a film. The nuance, the subtext, but being on stage can just be so obvert, bombastic, it comes from the same place, it’s just being creative. You want to be unbridled and never want to hit your mark.

Can you talk about working with Matthew McConaughey?

I think he may be the biggest reason I made the film. I thought that if he was willing to walk down this path, then it has to be something special, there has to be gold in them hills. He is obviously making really interesting choices and by design, there’s no mistake that he is reaching to a place that is really challenging and interesting. making smart films and smart choices. But he was a force to be reckoned with. It was like when you make these films, you are in a scene with another actor, it’s incredible what someone else can do for you. It’s absolutely incredible.

It’s kind of a cliche, but I don’t know if any of you have played tennis before. I’m not a great tennis player, but I could return a ball if you hit it to me. But if you got out there with Andre or those guys, if he was feeling gentle or gracious, he could lob that ball over to you and probably keep it going for hours. The greats like Matthew are like that, too. They have a lot of control. They can send that ball to you and make things really easy for you. He was great, so generous, so kind. He had been working on this project for a long time and he really opened the door for me and that was really wonderful. I hadn’t been on set for almost six years and he was great.

Dallas Buyers Club hits theaters on Friday, November 1st.

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