August 03, 2016

Suicide Squad’s Jared Leto Talks The Joker, Heath Ledger and more + NEW Photoshoot

Posted 5 hours ago

Jared Leto doesn’t have a squad. In fact, he’s spent his 22-year career confounding expectations and swan-diving off the pop-culture grid. Here, the Oscar-winner gives his most in-depth interview ever—and dons the best clothes from this fall's Italian fashion collections at our photo shoot in Milan, Italy.

Jared Leto’s assistant looks like she’s wearing a Jared Leto’s Assistant costume. She’s razor-thin with stark bleached hair. An abused vintage T-shirt falling off her shoulders. Skintight black jeans and boots. She’s the coolest assistant in assistant history. And the chillest—considering she’s at work at the moment. “You want, like, a water or something?” I do. I do want a water. We’re at Jared’s home—and he’s asked that I not describe the home or its location or whether or not it has a penis-shaped trampoline in the backyard. (It doesn’t have a penis-shaped trampoline in the backyard.) “I’ll go get Jared, cool?” Cool.

Jared walks into the living room, clutching a bowl of oatmeal like it’s a newborn. The first thing you notice are his eyes. He has very round eyes. They’re almost cartoonish—picture SpongeBob spilling boiling water on his lap. In my mind, Jared Leto is one of the last true Hollywood mysteries. Monday he could be ass-naked in a Terry Richardson photo shoot. Tuesday in a tuxedo—looking spit-polished and glamorous—at a benefit for Haiti relief. Wednesday sending his Suicide Squad co-star Margot Robbie anal beads and a live rat. (Yeah, he really sent anal beads and a live rat.) None of those Letos would surprise me. We’ve grown to expect the surprise, and in fact a lot of the moviegoing, TMZ-reading public actually seems to have a blind spot to Jared Leto for this reason—too weird, too changeable, too hard to pin down. But Suicide Squad, his new movie, is changing that.

Today, the only thing that surprises me is that Jared shows up clean-cut, wearing New Balance sneakers. I later remember that I’ve seen him wearing the sneakers before, in a rock-climbing photo on his Instagram. Jared is really into rock climbing. As we get settled in for our long talk, I ask him why he climbs—other than for the very badass Instagram photos. “Sometimes I think the same thing,” he says. “Like, why? What’s the point?”

So…what is the point?

“You know, it’s like when you’re a kid and you see a tree, and you climb it. It’s really that simple. It’s kind of a base response,” he says. “You see a wall and you want to climb it. You want to test your limits. I never really climb to get to the top. Getting to the top is nice. But I think I climb more because I want to see what I’m capable of.” I ask him if he ever gets afraid when he’s stuck hundreds of feet above ground, looking for a hold. “Yeah. But fear is good. It’s what compels you. It’s what pushes you up the wall.”

In his career, Jared doesn’t show fear. That’s what’s so thrilling about his performances. The 44-year-old (and yes, I’m sure that the man you see on these pages was born in 1971) just climbed one of Hollywood’s most daunting mountains: In Suicide Squad, he followed the late Heath Ledger as the Joker.

There are plenty of elements to this that might stir up some fear, too. For starters, not living up to his hype. His previous role, in Dallas Buyers Club, as a transgender woman named Rayon who’s in a fight with AIDS, earned him an Academy Award. Then there are the ferocious online comic-book nerds who have hair triggers when it comes to calling bullshit on Hollywood interpretations of their beloved superheroes. (See: Ben Affleck’s Batman.) And, perhaps the most fearsome thing of all—considering that, like Ledger, Leto is a notoriously committed Method-style actor—the mental toll such a role can take. (More on this later.)

But the chameleon seems undaunted.

If you watch Jared on Ellen or on late-night shows—and basically any other time he isn’t acting or performing with his band, Thirty Seconds to Mars—he looks very chill. Not hipster chill, like his assistant. Way more controlled than that. He’s intensely pulled together and, dare I say, professional. Even with his wild personal-style choices, most of which project a boho rock ‘n’ roll frontman, Jared is still extraordinarily calculated in his demeanor.

Later, I’ll bring up one of the styles Jared once adopted. Around 2014, he sported a full beard and long hair. The Internet often said he looked like Jesus. “It’s a classic look,” Jared tells me. Which by most standards is a cheesy dad joke at best. But when Jared says it, he smirks. And the smirk seems to come from a completely different Jared. It makes me think that maybe when he was developing his Joker, he wasn’t taking cues from comic books or Jack Nicholson. Rather, he’s known what it’s like to be a mischievous showman all along. Maybe he’s got this character lurking inside him. Maybe that’s why he’s not afraid.

GQ STYLE: You’ve had major critical success as an actor but nothing as mass as Suicide Squad. Are you ready for attention like this?

JARED LETO: My career has had a nice slow burn. You know? I never woke up one day and all of a sudden my life changed. And I’m grateful for that, because I think it has allowed me the time and space to adjust accordingly, to find out where and how I’m comfortable doing things.

Is that by design?
A little bit has been fate. Some of it’s been design. Fame has never been a target for me.

Even when you were a kid, you didn’t want to be famous?
No. I never really thought about that. I never had pictures of people on my wall. I never had celebrity obsessions. Even the music I listen to. My favorite band was Pink Floyd. I don’t think I knew what they looked like when I was in my 20s. I knew what their artwork looked like, and I knew every lyric of every song on Dark Side of the Moon. But I didn’t really have that kind of exposure or “heroes” in that way. That’s the nice thing about the work that I’ve done: It’s all been fairly character-oriented. Less based on having some charismatic, winning personality. I’d probably lose that race if that’s the one I was in. And that’s been fun. I’m really grateful that I got the call to do something like the Joker.

I remember after the success of Heath Ledger’s Joker thinking no one would want to take on that role again. It seemed impossible to follow a beloved deceased person’s perfect performance of such a cult character. Why’d you say yes?
I don’t remember much hesitation. I’m sure that I considered everything when I got the call. But let me say a few things. Number one, Heath Ledger: Not only was he perfect as the Joker—perfect. There’s not a single frame where he’s not great. Not only was he perfect in that role, but it’s probably one of the best performances, not just of a villain but maybe one of the best performances on film, period. Period. That’s my opinion. And that was my opinion before I got the call. It was a perfect performance, and those are very rare. Then you have Jack Nicholson, one of the world’s legends. So you have two legends. Then you have Cesar Romero, and then you have Mark Hamill, who does this incredible voice acting. Then you have 75 years that the Joker has been written about and brought to life by artists. But in a way, the fact that it has been interpreted so many times I think gave me a great sense of freedom and permission to walk down a different path. On the one hand, I had an enormous amount of respect for what’s been done before, like real admiration and respect for the work that had been done before. On the other, this excitement about the opportunity to go and say something else, something new, something different.

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