The artist formally known as Jordan Catalano has had a damn good year. For starters, he looks great. His hair is spectacular (just ask Anna Kendrick ), and as far as I can tell he hasn’t aged in a decade. He had a career-defining role in Dallas Buyer’s Club as Rayon, the sassy transgendered AIDS patient with a big heart, complete with a reception that’s rife with Oscar buzz. His band, 30 Seconds to Mars, released their fourth studio album, which peaked at number 6 on the Billboard 200. He’s even managed to turn all that legal ugliness with Virgin Records into Artifact, a documentary coming out next week on iTunes. Yes, Jared Leto is almost at a point where we’ll stop making irritating My So-Called Life references. Almost.
Recently, Leto directed an eleven-minute long music video slash documentary for his band’s impossibly catchy alt-rock ballad, “City of Angels.” The short film juxtaposes stars like Kanye West and James Franco against street impersonators and Lindsay Lohan (Just kidding LiLo – your candidness was actually a highlight of the video), musing about their attempts to make their dreams come true in LA. To add to Leto’s laundry list of recent successes, the film has reached over 3.2 million Youtube views. And if 2013 wasn’t memorable enough for Jared Leto, he also got to talk to me on the phone for ten whole minutes.
Where are you right now?
I’m actually in the UK. I’m on tour, about to walk onstage.
The video for “City of Angels” is incredibly romantic. How did that idea come about?
Well I had this song, a really personal song about hopes and dreams, about heading west to make the impossible possible. I wanted to tell the story, not just of why people come to California, but what it is about creativity that’s so important, what it’s like when you achieve dreams and what it’s like when you don’t. So I made this documentary that’s not so much specifically about Los Angeles, but about a community. I interviewed some of the biggest stars in the world, as well as people that haven’t had their dreams come true. People that live on Hollywood Boulevard who are homeless and are faced with enormous challenges day in and day out.
I thought that juxtaposition was extremely effective. Did you get any “No’s” when you were sorting out who to include?
I didn’t. I got a lot of “Yes” and I think that’s probably because of the consistency and history of the work, or at least that’s what we heard back. In the past Kanye had asked me to direct a video for him, so there was some history there with him. I think that people felt like they were in good hands, they trusted me to take care of them. I was really, really interested in making something special and finding out the truth of some of these circumstances and situations. I’m a curious person and we have pretty fascinating people in front of the camera, so it was an incredible process.
Having now had such a long and rather varied career, what advice would you give your younger self when you first moved to LA?
I would probably say nothing because you have to learn your own lessons. I think failure is underrated. Failure sometimes is more important than success, it’s when you learn. If I was to reassure myself of anything it would probably be to continue to believe in myself.
As you mentioned, Kanye is in this video. He was the first guest on Bret Easton Ellis’ podcast, and on it he mentioned that when he goes through customs, he is tempted to write “Creative Genius” as his occupation. As someone who does a number of creative things, what do you write on your customs form?
It’s funny, what came to mind first was “Outsider.” I’ve often written artist because you’re right, I do so many different things. People mainly focus on musician and actor, but I spend a great deal of time editing, producing, and directing . I spend more time with those and dealing with technology and creating content than I do most other things. I’ve always been an artist. I started off in art school before I switched my major to filmmaking, and ended up dropping out. But I think an artist pretty much sums it up.
I saw Dallas Buyer’s Club this past weekend. You clearly lost a ton of weight for that role. Have you been enjoying eating like a regular human being on tour?
You would think that you fast and you lose 30, 40 pounds and you get down to 115 pounds that you would gorge on food, but what happens is your stomach shrinks so much that the first big meal you eat is about the size of a tablespoon. So it’s not as much fun as you’d think. And then there’s a whole weird psychological recovery process that comes into play when you start putting on the pounds. But it’s the role of a lifetime. It was an incredibly intense process and we’re really blown away by the response to the performance and to the film.
Well congratulations, you’re having quite an awesome few months.
Well you know, that’s what you get when you’re a creative genius.
Photo by Terry Richardson.