July 28, 2016

Jared Leto: separating the man from the madness

Posted 27 JUL 2016

Jared Leto has taken on an iconic Hollywood oddball for Suicide Squad. Kevin EG Perry pins down the Oscar-winning star for a chat

Most lines of work would reward sending live rats, anal beads and “used condoms” to your colleagues with a chat in a quiet room with Jane from HR as she slowly reads you your rights.

If you are Jared Leto, and your job is to play The Joker, normal rules do not apply. The world simply imagines Margot Robbie letting out a shrill scream as she drops the little package with protruding claws and whiskers and thinks: “Well, what do you expect?” The Joker is the defining comic-book villain, cruel and unhinged – and from the actors who play the part we also demand a certain mad intensity. Jack Nicholson had it, Heath Ledger had it and Jared Leto has it, too.

The first time I meet him we’re in Las Vegas, in a suite at Caesars Palace along with Will Smith, Margot Robbie, Cara Delevingne and half a dozen other people who are also in Suicide Squad. There are some big personalities in the room, but Jared Leto isn’t one of them. While Smith whoops and hollers, Leto almost melts into the sofa. He’s dressed in all black, down to the North Face hiking shoes on his feet. His short hair, also black, is scraped sharply back.

The press has been full of stories about all those weird gifts he’s been sending his castmates, and how he never broke character on set, so I ask him if he knows that old actor’s story about Laurence Olivier and Dustin Hoffman on the set of Marathon Man, where Hoffman has gone full ‘method’ and Olivier turns to him and says...

“Why don’t you just act?” says Leto, finishing the story. He nods, then says: “I don’t use the term ‘method’. I think it’s kind of a polluted word. What I do is just try to focus and commit as much as possible so that I can do the story, the film, the character and everybody else justice. That’s it.”

But is there something about playing The Joker – I ask, trying to get him to open up – that demands this intensity from you?

“Yes,” he says.

There’s nervous laughter around the room at this monosyllabic reply. We all wait for him to continue but he eyeballs me and says: “What d’you think?”

This is too much tension for a pro like Will Smith to bear, so he breaks in with that 1,000-watt Fresh Prince charisma and starts going: “I mean, I didn’t meet him until two days ago! I literally did not! We worked together for six or seven months, and two days ago was really the first time we ever had a conversation!” It’s a line that Smith has wheeled out to the world’s media several times recently, probably in an attempt to defuse similarly awkward silences.

Leto is still quiet, so I turn and ask: “How did you feel when you got the live rat, Margot?”

“I was... surprised,” says Robbie, and Smith claps and laughs and quotes her back: “’I was surprised!’ There’s an understatement!”

“I loved that stuff,” continues Robbie. “Jared was doing half my work for me. Harley is very much a part of a relationship. To have such commitment from the other half made my job a thousand times easier, and a thousand times more fun. I didn’t know what was going to happen when we got on set. It’s exciting to act opposite that.”

Then Joel Kinnaman starts telling this story about the day Leto had one of his henchmen deliver a dead pig to their rehearsal, so the rest of the cast kidnapped the henchman and tied him up and sent photos back to ‘Mr J’, as they call Leto, or The Joker, or both. Everyone starts piling in with extra details, until Kinnaman gets to the punchline where Robbie scrawled ‘SS’ on the guy’s head with a marker pen and someone had to point out the Nazi connotations.

By this point everyone’s howling with laughter, all except Leto who’s just sitting back listening and slightly smirking at the chaos he unleashed. Later on, just before I leave, Leto comes over to me again. He doesn’t say a word, just extends his fist and waits for me to bump it, which I do in awkward silence.

Is this because he froze me out earlier? His face is unreadable. He’d make a killing at the poker tables downstairs.

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