Q&A: Jared Leto on the smell of smog, reprising his Gucci gig and guilty pleasures
Three years after appearing in his first ad campaign for Gucci fragrances, actor and musician Jared Leto is about to be everywhere again on behalf of the brand — and alongside singer Lana Del Rey — in a series of commercials for Gucci Guilty Pour Homme and Gucci Guilty Pour Femme (the latter of which has been reformulated from an eau de toilette to an eau de parfum) shot in Los Angeles and unveiled this week.
The day after Halloween — and one day before a preview party for the TV spot at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery, where part of the campaign was shot, Leto sat down at the Chateau Marmont (itself the inspiration for a Gucci 2019 resort capsule collection) in West Hollywood for a wide-ranging, fragrance-focused conversation. Excerpts appear below.
Where did you grow up?
I was born in Louisiana, and then we moved after a couple of years and were pretty much vagabonds — and pretty much still are. But I used to go back to Louisiana in the summers to spend time with my grandmother. She would watch us over the summers.
Because fragrance-related memories tend to stick around a long time, are there any scents that immediately take you back to your childhood there?
Beignets. I remember my grandfather would go out at, like, 5 or 6 in the morning and get all these beignets and bring them back. And there would be this smell of fresh beignets.
Now that you live here, is there a specific scent that you associate with Los Angeles?
Smog, the smell of burning fossil fuels — it just makes me feel at home.
What are a few of the scents that captivate you — that you feel are particularly powerful?
The smell of a camp fire, [the smell of] gasoline, [the] smell of fireworks …. Do you remember those black snake [fireworks] that you lit as a kid? Who knows what kind of chemical reaction that was — it would get all over your fingers, and you’d have to wash your hands. God, the … that we breathed in. We used to burn everything.
Are there any scents you like that aren’t combustible?
As I’ve gotten older, if I walk by night-blooming jasmine — or another [kind of flowering plant], that’s like it in L.A. That stuff just knocks me out, and I could smell that for hours.
Were you into wearing fragrances before you got involved with the Gucci Guilty campaign back in 2016?
Not really. It wasn’t really on my radar. I used to think I didn’t like colognes or perfumes, but it turned out I just didn’t like bad ones. Fragrances are like movies or paintings. There are good ones that make you say, “I want that in my life more often.”
What sort of scent profiles do you prefer?
I tend more toward the more woodsy, darker and muskier notes. I actually got into [scents] because I was involved [as an investor] with a chocolate company, and chocolate has notes like wine. It’s incredible how a different bean can have a different flavor and smell to it. … My brother Shannon, the other half of [Leto’s band] 30 Seconds to Mars, has got more of the nose. He’s really into this … He’s made his own cologne and everything.
Does the guy you portray in the first Gucci Guilty ad campaign from a few years ago have any connection to the character in the new one with Lana Del Rey? Would this be a sequel of sorts?
I think it’s a totally different thing. At least that’s how I see it. That other campaign was sort of sensual and provocative, and this one is really kind of playful and nostalgic. And hats off to [the brand], they’re certainly not a broken record. They know how to keep doing pretty inventive and unique things.
Part of the commercial was shot in Hollywood Forever Cemetery, which is someplace you were already familiar with, right?
Yeah, I’ve been going there ever since I first moved to L.A., and at the time, I didn’t really know the significance of it. I wasn’t walking around looking at the names on the graves, so I didn’t realize there was anyone of any note buried there. I would just go there in between auditions or rehearsals to read or work on scripts. It’s such a cultural landmark for the city, both in terms of celebrating the lives of people who have passed on and in terms of celebrating art, film and music [with the events that take place there]. And it’s nice that it’s not this forbidden place. There’s something nice about that.
Because we’re sitting down the day after Halloween, I’m curious what you dressed up as, as I remember seeing photos of you in a pope costume from a previous Halloween.
I had a party, and for half the night, I had a ghoul mask on and was having fun just scaring people. And nobody knew it was me. Then, at midnight or 1 in the morning, I put on the pope outfit, which is always fun. But I didn’t really “do Halloween” this year. I feel like I’ve been playing dress-up a lot this year already.
I’m familiar with your red-carpet looks, but how do you dress when the band is performing?
Onstage, I always feel like I’m there to entertain and encourage everyone in the audience to have fun, so I always push it a little bit at the concerts. But I don’t put that much thought into it. I just like to have a couple of options and go for it.
Do you work with a stylist?
No. I mean I have — in the past — mostly to help round up a bunch of clothes. But I don’t have a stylist. … Well, Alessandro [Michele, Gucci’s creative director] is my over-qualified, highly talented stylist.
How did that relationship come about?
Someone said they wanted to introduce us, so we met in L.A. He came over to my place for lunch, and we hit it off and became friends pretty quickly after that. … We’re just of a very similar age and disposition. We love our work. We love to work hard. We both like to make things. We’re both really creative people. So there’s some common ground there. The work [with him] is just sort of a bonus. I think, for the original campaign, they had a model lined up, and we’d become friends. So someone was like, “Maybe Jared is interested in doing it.” They asked, and I said, “Sure,” even though I don’t do this sort of thing too often.
Is there anything specific you’ve learned from Alessandro Michele?
He does a really good job of keeping people close to him that he trusts and that he can count on and that he admires and cares for, and I think that’s reciprocated. And I think that’s always a good lesson to learn. … He’s like me in that he takes great risks and is ambitious in his work, but in his personal life kind of appreciates the simple things.
Final question: Because the name of the fragrance you’re fronting is Gucci Guilty, what’s one of your guilty pleasures?
The guiltiest pleasure in my life is probably food — eating something indulgent. Do you remember [Hostess] Ding Dongs? They make a red velvet Ding Dong, and that used to be my guilty pleasure for many, many months. This café over in the Valley makes their own version that’s huge and square — an artisanal Ding Dong. Now I’ve got to go get me one of those. I’d forgotten all about them.
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