An actor pausing for years between projects dallies with career suicide. But that didn't seem to worry Jared Leto when he took a powder from acting nearly six years ago to concentrate on his rock band, Thirty Seconds to Mars. Leto doesn't follow a set plan for his career: His teen heartthrob days on
Is it more draining to come off of the stage than it is to finish a day in front of the camera?
It's more exhilarating when you're on stage. That's the part that's filled with the most obvious sense of joy. Making a film is not very much fun. The fun for me in making films is the preparation, the research, the discovery — but the actual process of shooting, there's not a lot of fun in that.
So where are the rewards?
I'm a big believer that the steeper the climb, the greater the view. It's kind of the Everest thing: Why climb the mountain? Because it's there. I felt that way about Rayon — an impossible challenge. A drug-addicted transsexual in the 1980s, dying of AIDS. OK, I'm in.
How was Rayon different from other roles you've played?
She wasn't too dissimilar from Harry Goldfarb in "Requiem," actually. They're both dreamers, both caught up in circumstances beyond their control, both doomed. But both have big hearts. I fell in love with Rayon the minute I read the script; there was a real opportunity to bring to life a real person.
There's one scene where Rayon, dressed as a man, meets her father. What was that like?
It was very emotional. The character work I did really helped me because I was quite concerned once I got rid of some of the armor — the nails, the eyelashes, the lipstick, the clothes, tights, heels, purse — that I would lose her. But it was wonderful to know she was there when I put on that suit. I felt like I was in drag for the first time in that suit.
You took off a lot of time since your last acting job. How do you feel about the way your career has arced? Are you where you want to be, right now?
I have a lot of gratitude right now. I haven't made a film in five or six years, and then to make a film and come back and get this amount of this enormous amount of love and support, it's incredible. It's not supposed to happen this way. Sometimes I think taking almost six years off was one of the best things I've ever done in my entire life. It made me a better person; it made me a better actor. I couldn't have played this role without that distance.
How did it make you a better actor?
You're only able to contribute as much as you absorb. You're only as good as the experiences you've collected in your life. If you live a deep and rich, meaningful, fulfilling, interesting, challenging life, you have that much more to share.
Did your mother ever hope you'd take on some kind of stable profession?
My mother always encouraged me to do something creative. My brother [Shannon] is in Thirty Seconds to Mars, and we're doing the job that she would have dreamed for us. And what I was thinking about the other day: What a great thing to encourage her kids to do what they dreamed, to be creative, because it's a very unstable path, a dangerous one.