September 14, 2013

Damn, Jared Leto Knows How to Be Charming

Today at 11:00 AM

"Oh hello, we've met before," said Jared Leto at Saturday's Toronto Film Festival premiere party for Dallas Buyers Club. He locked into my eyes, grabbed my hand, and held on for many seconds longer than necessary as ... sorry, professionalism, professionalism! His current look is so comically textbook rock god — tight black V-neck exposing half his chest (and chest hair), shoulder-length mane with blonde ombré, those skinny jeans — you almost hate your womanly hormones for being so easily taken under its thrall. Plus, he is a phenomenally gifted flirt; just ask the legions of females in Echelon, the ardent fan community worshipping his band, 30 Seconds to Mars, all of whom feel like he's singing directly to them. Clawing yourself out from under that intense gaze requires recognizing that flirting seems to flow out of Leto unconsciously, like a survival instinct, and likely has little to do with you; I'd experienced it this time last year during a memorably combative interview in which I poked fun at his hiking ability — as displayed in Artifact, the award-winning documentary he directed about 30 Seconds to Mars's fight against a $30 million lawsuit from Virgin Records — and somehow wound up with Leto offering to take me on a hike in L.A., which, alas, never happened.

That ability to charm the world, one set of locked eyes and lingering handshake at a time, should serve him well on the awards circuit this fall. What was most remarkable about Leto's appearance at the Dallas party was not how he’s finally inhabiting that rock-star vibe but how shockingly healthy he looked compared to what the attendees had just seen of him onscreen — 40 pounds skinnier, as a gaunt, feisty, drug-addicted, transgender woman with AIDS, Rayon, in Dallas Buyers Club. The role is Leto's return to acting after a nearly five-year hiatus to concentrate on music and directing music videos and Artifact, and it's been notably well-received, with critics calling him "simply wonderful" and saying he "does the work of his life." Oscar talk, too, has been coming fast and furious.

In the movie, based on a true story and set in the eighties, Rayon becomes an unlikely ally to Matthew McConaughey's equally skeletal heterosexual cowboy Ron Woodroof, as they form a "club" with monthly membership fees to provide unregulated cocktails of vitamins, proteins, and smuggled foreign drugs to fellow AIDS patients. Leto has said his portrayal was inspired partly by a former roommate who kept his humor while dying of AIDS in 1991, and the great achievement in the role is less Leto’s physical transformation than the way he individualizes Rayon, who slowly overcomes Woodroof's gruff homophobia by sheer undeterred pluck, and creates a rewarding slow-burn friendship that's also marked by the pathos of both their circumstances, along with Rayon's continued drug addiction. Plus, Leto really does make a beautiful woman.

Read more on Vulture.

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