The Oscar nominated actor talks about his latest role

Having retired from the acting spotlight for several years, to focus on his work with the band Thirty Seconds to Mars, Jared Leto returns to Irish cinema screens this week in DALLAS BUYERS CLUB, in a role for which he has already won a Golden Globe, and earned an Oscar nomination. We caught up with the actor to find out more about the challenges and rewards of the role for which he underwent a huge physical transformation.

What drew you to the role?
Jared Leto: The convergence of elements – the role, the script, the director, Matthew as Ron – made it impossible to turn this down. I was busy doing other things, but, as a friend of mine always says, ‘If you want something done, give it to the busiest person in the room.’

You went through such a tremendous physical transformation for the role, did you know this when you took on the part?
JL: I knew the role was going to demand a massive commitment, but that’s also part of what was attractive to me about it. I didn’t want to be far from this character; I wanted to be as close as I could be. I got to know people through this wonderfully beautiful character, who was a joy to build, to create. I wanted to best serve the character.

How difficult was it to lose so much weight to play Rayon?
JL: In history, people have fasted to great effect – spiritually and mentally. So I don’t think it is necessarily a bad thing, depending on how long you do it, how you’re doing it – and if you educate yourself about it. You are also losing a lot of muscle, not just fat. I drank a lot of water and ate really very little at all. It was what was appropriate for the role. The physical transformation affects you in every single way, including emotionally. It affects your energy. It affects your voice and outlook, the way you move and carry yourself. It raises the stakes. When you looked at someone like Matthew, who made such a tremendous commitment to the character and the story, you found yourself working a lot harder in every area to make the strong choices. We all climbed a mountain together.

You also transform from male to female as Rayon; did you have to tap into your feminine side for this?
JL: I did get in touch with my feminine side, because it’s a strong attribute of the
character. In terms of emotions it was important for me to study as much as I could about what it meant to be a transsexual woman, to get at how you see things and what you want out of life. Rayon is a ray of light, no pun intended. She is someone who wants to be loved and wants to love others, someone who wants to take care of people with humour and kindness. She looks to be electrified. I think she’s a spirit of hope, joy and optimism. Our crew – wardrobe, hair, make-up – did really tremendous work and helped us bring these characters to life.

What was it like to work with Jennifer Garner?
JL: Jennifer is empathetic and wonderfully connected, so Eve is always tender with Rayon. Rayon calls Dr. Saks ‘Evie.’ They were friends back in junior high and high school until Rayon started experimenting with a lot of things and stopped going to school. They serendipitously found each other again when Rayon was diagnosed with AIDS. Evie is the one who takes care of her.

Can you tell us more about the relationship between Rayon and Matthew McConaughey’s character, Ron?
JL: Rayon and Ron are polar opposites, That’s what made it so interesting: a cowboy and a queen. It is really a great pairing in terms of the construction of the scripting. It’s wonderful screenwriting that the director embraced in terms of conveying how they interact and find their way together. Partnering with Ron gives Rayon more purpose in her life, more to live for.

What was it like working with director Jean-Marc Valée, how did find his way of directing?
JL: His way of filming is very conducive to getting good performances out of people because it was so fluid. He is an actor’s director. Jean-Marc can be very controlling, which you have to be when you’re directing a movie. But he is so open; he likes to keep things playful and experimental, so everyone can have an opportunity to collaborate and be creative. He knows what he wants, but if he doesn’t then he will fight to get it. I wish every actor could have this experience with the camera still rolling because it’s so alive and you’re completely un-self-conscious.

DALLAS BUYERS CLUB is in Irish cinemas from February 7th