At a recent installment of the Envelope Screening Series, Leto and one of the film's screenwriters, Melisa Wallack, spoke about bringing Rayon to life.
Wallack said she and co-writer Craig Borten conceived of Rayon, a composite character, as a foil to McConaughey's Ron Woodroof, the real-life Texas electrician turned unlikely AIDS activist. She described Rayon as "the heart and soul of the film" and said, "We wanted a character that put everything that Ron was afraid of in his face. So we just thought, 'Oh, if it was a gay man you can look away, but if it's Rayon, you really can't look away.' "
She added that Rayon is "such a great character because he's such an outsider and he's so broken, but yet he's so strong and there's so many amazing moments with him where you're just like, 'Oh yes. That's what it would be like to kind of have this quiet suffering your whole life.'"
Leto said his performance was grounded in his meeting transgender people while researching the role. "When you are a transgender person, you become an investigator," he said. "You're searching for who you really are, who you dream to be. So you kind of have something in common with an actor — or a writer, or a producer, right? You're looking for identity. You're looking for the story of your life, I suppose."
During his preparation for the film, Leto said, "We talked about things, everything from the voice — and not just the dialect, because of the regional aspect or nature of the character — but the register as well. We talked about some of the classic mistakes that people make. We talked about walking in heels. And it certainly gave me a lot of respect for people who choose to live their life as they dream it, not necessarily their life as how it was handed to them."
For more from the cast and crew of "Dallas Buyers Club," watch the clip above and check back for daily updates.