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In heels and pounds lighter, Jared Leto plays transgender in new role

Thursday, September 12, 2013

TORONTO — Jared Leto’s return to acting started, as so many things do, with a flirtation.

It had been five years since Leto last acted (the sci-fi indie “Mr. Nobody”), a movie career put on hold while his band, 30 Seconds to Mars, unexpectedly surged in popularity. The possibility of playing Rayon, a transgender person dying of AIDS for the film “Dallas Buyers Club,” came to him while he was on tour in Europe.

Chris Pizzello, Invision/APJared Leto[

Chris Pizzello, Invision/APJared Leto[

After initially dismissing the chance, Leto read the script and he reversed course immediately. When he met with the director Jean-Marc Vallee via Skype, he was already trying on Rayon.

“I used it as a test for myself,” Leto said in an interview. “I got some lipstick. We said hello and then I reached over and grabbed the lipstick and I proceeded to put it on. He was kind of like, ‘What the hell is going on?’ I took off my jacket and I had a little pink sweater on.”

Vallee was properly seduced. He offered Leto the part the ne xt morning.

The based-on-a-true story “Dallas Buyers Club” premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival over the weekend, ahead of its Nov. 1 release from Focus Features. It stars Matthew McConaughey as Ron Woodroof, a Texas man who after being diagnosed with HIV and given days to live in 1986, is frustrated by the federal Food and Drug Administration’s available treatments and begins illegally importing drugs from Mexico and elsewhere. Though he’s initially homophobic toward Rayon, they become friends and business partners.

The performances by McConaughey and Leto, both of which involved dropping dozens of pounds (Leto shed more than 30 pounds), were roundly applauded in Toronto and hailed as likely Oscar nominees.

“I can’t believe five years went by,” the 41-year-old Leto says of his return to the big screen. “It’s amazing to me.”

Leto founded the rock trio 30 Seconds to Mars with his drummer brother Shannon Leto in 1998, but it was their 20 05 film record, “A Beautiful Lie,” which brought mainstream success, selling more than a million copies in the U.S. The band has since released two albums, including “Love, Lust, Faith and Dreams” earlier this year.

“We had more success than we ever dreamed of with 30 Seconds to Mars. We were playing the biggest shows of our lives,” Leto said.

But Leto threw himself into the role of Rayon. Vallee said the premiere was the first time he met Leto, having previously only experienced Rayon. The actor sought out transgender people to listen to their experiences, intent on not playing Rayon as a stereotypical, one-liner-spewing drag queen.

“I saw the part as not a cross-dressing drag queen but someone who wanted to live their life as a woman,” says Rayon. “In my initial meetings before I accepted the part, I made that pretty clear that that was really important to me.”

Leto was particularly drawn to the film for the chance to work alongside McConaughey, who m he says he wanted to “get in the ring with.”

“He gave me the courage to jump on board,” Leto said.

The two both appear startlingly gaunt in the film. Leto has previously fluctuated his weight for parts, losing 25 pounds for his drug addict role in Darren Aronofsky’s “Requiem for a Dream” (“You can see it in my eyes in that film,” he says) and gaining some 60 pounds to play Beatle John Lennon’s killer David Chapman for “Chapter 27.”

“It’s a tool. That’s it,” says Leto of the weight loss. “It’s a crazy thing to do and incredibly stupid and dangerous. But it’s a great tool because it changes how you walk, how you talk, how you sit, how you breathe, how you eat, how you laugh, how people treat you. It creates a sense of fragility.”

Leto, though, still hasn’t seen “Dallas Buyers Club.” He deliberately avoids watching the films he acts in. He only caught “Requiem for a Dream” years afterward because, he says, “Darren made me.” During the Toronto premiere of “Dallas Buyers Club,” he went back to his hotel room to work on an upcoming music video. He has no plans to catch the film any time soon.

“Based on the past 48 hours of the most effusive praise I’ve ever gotten, the film can never live up to any expectation that I would have for it,” he says. “I’ll give it a few decades.”

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50 more reader comments:

  1. Sounds like it’ll be a film worth checking out. Always skeptical about cismale people playing transwomen but it sounds like he’s taking the role seriously.

    Posted on Thursday, September 12, 2013 at 9:52pm
  2. Yeah. I take this back. Still iffy. Sure. No doubts he'll play the part well but they couldn't get a transwoman to play him? I mean, sure. There are cispeople who've been able to play trans characters well (Adam, Degrassi) but speaking as a transman, we as a community are going to get nowhere if the stories of trans* people aren't told respectfully and trans* actors remain underrepresented.

    Replied on Thursday, September 12, 2013 at 11:44pm
  3. hooray, Jared

    Posted on Thursday, September 12, 2013 at 10:01pm
  4. “transgender” is not a noun.

    Posted on Thursday, September 12, 2013 at 10:02pm
  5. Yes, thank you. Grammar, people.We're not another species...

    Replied on Thursday, September 12, 2013 at 10:08pm
  6. yes, it would be like saying the author of that headline is a stupid

    Replied on Thursday, September 12, 2013 at 10:09pm
  7. Because their aren’t any amazing trans women that are actresses in Hollywood??? I’m really tiered of seeing Cisgender men and women playing the roles of trans women. It really speaks to the misogyny in the industry of portraying caricatures of trans women.

    Posted on Thursday, September 12, 2013 at 10:06pm
  8. I have to say that I don't agree with this. Jared is a good actor who deserves and is taking this role very seriously, I feel strongly that he will do it justice. To say he doesn't deserve the role just because he is cisgender isn't very fair, in my opinion.

    Replied on Thursday, September 12, 2013 at 10:10pm
  9. *and the LGB media celebrates this as a victory???

    Replied on Thursday, September 12, 2013 at 10:10pm
  10. Yeah. I mean, it's not as if we're devoid of talented trans* actresses... (Laverne Cox for one...) Definitely easier to swallow when, say, a cisgender woman plays a transwoman but doesn't make the problem any better. The problem is a lack of representation in parts of both well rounded trans* characters and trans* actors and actresses.

    Replied on Thursday, September 12, 2013 at 10:12pm
  11. They are... but I'd rather be let out of the film that be portrayed as a caricature individuals with cisgender privilege. Please don't include the T in that statement, as a significant portion of the T community takes issue with cisgender individuals being cast in trans roles. Further, when there are trans roles, we are always cast as the whore in the virgin/whore dichotomy.

    Replied on Thursday, September 12, 2013 at 10:32pm
  12. it's a movie, not real life, and actors are playing certain characters, that's why they are called actors. As for Laverne Cox, I doubt she could lose enough weight to look like someone dying from AIDS. Also, I don't know what race real Rayon was, but since Jared is white I guess she was white too. Why change it?

    Replied on Thursday, September 12, 2013 at 10:33pm
  13. Hmmm... There is a whole organization, GLAAD, dedicated to this very issue in relation to the portray of LGB individuals in "just movies", TV, and other forms of media. It is critically important to change the general publics (and as you are illustrating) and LGB communities perception of trans people. Interesting how dismissive the LGB portions of the community become when the T raises the concern. Laverne Cox is far from the only trans woman in hollywood. That you would cite her as if she were speaks volumes to ignorance on this issue. Film and TV use cisgender actors and actresses to help construct transsexual women as predators out to deceive “normal” (i.e. heterosexual) men. We are projected through these mediums as through terms of "masquerade", "imitation", "superficial", "abnormal", "artificial", and "deviant".

    Replied on Thursday, September 12, 2013 at 10:45pm
  14. He is a great actor who will OWN this role!!!! Academy Awards? I would not be surprised!

    Posted on Thursday, September 12, 2013 at 10:30pm
  15. not suprised another NON-trans to play trans role… go figure

    Posted on Thursday, September 12, 2013 at 10:45pm
  16. So, who cares as long as the story is told with finesse and dignity. Maybe a trans person turned down the role.

    Replied on Thursday, September 12, 2013 at 11:22pm
  17. Brittany - So much Cisgender privilege in such a statement. I guess we don't need GLAAD to make sure GAYS and LESBIANS are portrayed in positive light or by L & G actors. Who cares? TRANS WOMEN Care. We don't want our experience depicted by Cisgender individuals that have NO idea what our experierience is like... and thus represent us as caracatures. Case in point Felicity Huffman in Transamerica... or Lee Pace in Soldier's Girl.

    Replied on Friday, September 13, 2013 at 1:41am
  18. Wow, @ Brittany, yeah, the cis privilege just pours off that statement. Go watch an episode or 13 of "Orange is the new black" then maybe you will "get it"

    Replied on Friday, September 13, 2013 at 4:13am
  19. Eddie Izzard, just saying.

    Replied on Friday, September 13, 2013 at 12:58pm
  20. So now it's cis privilege if a cisgendered person plays a transgendered person in a film? I supposed it's heterosexual privilege if a heterosexual plays a homosexual in a film, right (e.g. Christopher and His Kind)? And it's male privilege if a male plays the role of a female, too, right (e.g. any Tyler Perry movie)? So the role was given to a cisgendered person, great! If the role had been given to a transgendered person, great! It's called EQUALity for a reason. The personal life of the actor should not automatically dismiss them from the role, so long as they are able to do the part justice.

    Replied on Friday, September 13, 2013 at 2:40pm
  21. How many famous trans women are there? Having this guy in the movie will take the story to a broader audience than if someone new was in the starring role (and it's called "acting" for a reason).

    Replied on Friday, September 13, 2013 at 4:56pm
  22. Hi Jared Leto. Stop exploiting the lives and narratives of trans people to springboard yourself back into relevance. Please fade back in to obscurity as quickly as possible.

    Posted on Thursday, September 12, 2013 at 10:56pm
  23. cool but you know there are trans people that can act how about getting one

    Posted on Thursday, September 12, 2013 at 11:07pm
  24. Yes, but how many of them are big names in the movie business? Honestly I think it's good to have someone who is better known playing the role to get people to pay attention and say "hey, maybe they aren't so bad." That's my take on it anyway.

    Replied on Friday, September 13, 2013 at 5:03am
  25. Any attention that say we aren't so bad is good. We need positive messages being sent out to the uninformed.

    Replied on Friday, September 13, 2013 at 8:10am
  26. Even if they do a shoddy job of it, Devon? I'm all for having trans* people playing trans* roles in movies, but I'll be the first to tell anyone that merit matters more than who you are in acting. If someone is a better actor than you, that's what matters. I wouldn't hire someone who can't do a job better than another person I was considering hiring out of diversity's sake unless I was legally obligated to. I'm all about diversity and inclusiveness, but the job goes to the best, most qualified candidate.

    Replied on Friday, September 13, 2013 at 1:20pm
  27. Hollywood will ALWAYS choose a big name over a "no body" for movies. In the end it's about getting butts in the seats and money in the register. They only care about the bottom line.

    Replied on Friday, September 13, 2013 at 1:39pm
  28. glad to hear! he is a way better actor than singer in my opinion! I can’t wait!!

    Posted on Thursday, September 12, 2013 at 11:08pm
  29. @Bryon Jones
    Most transpeople aren’t in the wcting industry because they are turned down at initial signing. Just how a lot of gay actors don’t exist unless they came out after successful film making.

    Posted on Friday, September 13, 2013 at 12:18am
  30. er small high 5 cause he did play mark david chapman in a movie too n that made me mad cause that is 1 person who should never get their own movie

    Posted on Friday, September 13, 2013 at 12:41am
  31. I love Jared.

    Posted on Friday, September 13, 2013 at 12:44am
  32. GREAT Actor!

    Posted on Friday, September 13, 2013 at 1:10am
  33. Honestly, I’m okay with this. I don’t know exactly how talented he is as an actor, but if he does it well, then it’s fine in my book. Sure, if a transwoman could take the role instead, that would be awesome. But perhaps none tried out, or perhaps Jared was so convincing the directors thought he fit the role perfectly, or perhaps if any did they simply weren’t at the level of acting the director wanted. I won’t make assumptions as to why or why not – it is the way it is. If Jared fails at the role, we’ll have a field day with it. If he does well, then awesome. Personally, the selling point for me is exposure. Jared may not be a transwoman, but the fact that he’s in the role at all is not only a sign of change, but also going to show people that we do exist. We are here. We aren’t a myth, and the stereotypes are just that. If by being in this movie, and I have a sneaking suspicion it will happen like this, even a few people can be persuaded to see us as we are, then I’m happy.

    Posted on Friday, September 13, 2013 at 1:50am
  34. You're missing the point. Acting is about fitting into a role, a character. It has nothing to do with who /you/ are. It has to do with how well you portray said character - perhaps the character of Rayon as played by Jared was simply better than someone else's portrayal of that character. That being said, you're also missing my entire caveat of what I said, so I'll make it a tad clearer: I am not the director. I have no idea what he's thinking, feeling, or seeing. I don't know who came in and tried out for this role. It could have been the most amazing trans actress in the world and the director chose Jared anyway. I don't know, and neither do you. Don't just assume you know all of the facts regarding the situation, particularly when it'd be impossible for you to actually know. I'll reiterate my original point some, too, just for good measure. I do believe that a transwoman would be more suited to the role. I don't why why one wasn't chosen, and PERHAPS none tried out, and PERHAPS the director simply thought Jared portrayed the role better. But I'm not going to say 'A transwoman wasn't chosen because the director is a bigot' when they're doing a movie about a transwoman and, at least outside of the movie, portraying it in a good light. That makes absolutely no sense. The point of all this, the reason why it even matters at all to me, is that they are putting a relatively famous figure in the role of a transwoman, and not only is the person taking the role seriously, the exposure that will come from it will be beneficial to everyone in the trans* community. That's what matters here. Who's acting in it, so long as a person wasn't passed up simply because of who they are in real life, is what matters. I don't want you to misunderstand: if they passed up a transwoman who tried out and met all of the qualifications and did a better portrayal of Rayon, then I'll be just as outraged as everyone else. Until I find accurate information suggesting that, though, nothing wrong has been done.

    Replied on Friday, September 13, 2013 at 1:16pm
  35. Here’s my rebuttal to people saying “no trans people tried out for the part.” No. It is so incredibly dumb to assume that trans people didn’t try out for TRANS PARTS… there are plenty of actors that could fill this role and I’m sure many of them heard of this opportunity. These actors could more accurately portray the struggles of being transgender than someone who is not. It’s redundant to deny these people something that would give the trans community, and LGBTQ community overall, a huge advantage in gaining more attention and favor. I like Jared, but it’s a lose for the casting crew on this one.

    Posted on Friday, September 13, 2013 at 1:59am
  36. How about Transgendered people playing themselves???!!!!!!!!

    Posted on Friday, September 13, 2013 at 2:29am
  37. so amazing !

    Posted on Friday, September 13, 2013 at 5:06am
  38. i think ppl should atleast see something before they judge it so harshly. i’ve seen cisgender ppl do great jobs with transroles. jordan todosey, the main guy in Romeos (forgot his name), but my point is he may represent well and u don’t know why they did or didn’t go with an actual transperson.. he has a lot of fans who will probably see this and maybe some will be less ignorant because of it. think of it that way :)

    Posted on Friday, September 13, 2013 at 6:29am
  39. Max Halliwell

    Posted on Friday, September 13, 2013 at 12:08pm
  40. it was in series right ???

    Replied on Friday, September 13, 2013 at 1:28pm
  41. not sure

    Replied on Friday, September 13, 2013 at 8:12pm
  42. There are plenty of trans actors that would be willing to play the role so… why not choose one of them? ENOUGH ERASURE, THANKS.

    Posted on Friday, September 13, 2013 at 12:42pm
  43. Felicity Huffman wasn’t available?

    Posted on Friday, September 13, 2013 at 4:25pm
  44. I hope he remembers to shave first. Or Nair bath.

    Posted on Friday, September 13, 2013 at 4:25pm
  45. Leto is a great actor..can’t wait to see the film.

    Posted on Friday, September 13, 2013 at 4:29pm
  46. that sounds like it would be a very awesome movie, i hope you get the part my friend, the world needs more movies like that.

    Posted on Friday, September 13, 2013 at 5:34pm
  47. The reason that people will actually spend the money to see the film is because of two name draws: McConoughey and Leto…..get a grip people…that’s why it’s called ‘show BUSINESS’………

    Posted on Friday, September 13, 2013 at 6:05pm
  48. Not to insult trans people, but it is about ACTING, not being.

    Posted on Friday, September 13, 2013 at 7:38pm
  49. Kelsey Marie

    Posted on Friday, September 13, 2013 at 7:55pm
  50. I love him <3

    Posted on Friday, September 13, 2013 at 9:01pm