Luis Venegas makes me smile. He’s a rare thing in the worlds of fashion, publishing and transvestites: He is genuinely happy. He publishes several magazines from his native Spain with the intention of spreading joy and smiles and good cheer. It’s the reason why whenever he asks me to contribute to anything he’s working on, I say yes without hesitation. (Last time we worked together, I interviewed Chloe Sevigny for the Candy cover story, which you can read here.) Not that our most recent collaboration took much convincing: Interviewing Jared Leto for the cover of Candy magazine to accompany Terry Richardson’s photographs. After all, who hasn’t been a fan of the part time actor, most time singer and full time hearth throb? Feel free to reminisce on your own Jordan Catalano fantasy here. And when you’re back, check out my chat with Leto.
Derek Blasberg. So, Jared, do you think you make a beautiful woman?
Jared Leto. I don’t think so! Ha! But I do think Rayon [the character Leto played in the film Dallas Buyers Club] was beautiful on the inside. And I think she wanted to be beautiful, and that’s how I felt when I was in character. But I never felt like I made the best woman – which was funny because I always thought I would.
DB. I would have thought so too because, well, you’re very pretty.
JL. It doesn’t matter how much weight or muscle you lose; the hardness of your jaw, your shoulders, it’s more than obvious masculinity. I so wanted to be beautiful because, and this is something that I think the character thought, if you’re beautiful, you’re loved. So I don’t think I made the most attractive woman, but I certainly tried my hardest.
DB. Tell me more about Rayon.
JL. She is a male to female transsexual, and she was a wonderful, strong woman. The film takes place in 1985, the beginning of the AIDS epidemic in the United States, and she lives in Dallas just as it is hit by this plague. This part and this film seduced me. This is the first film I’ve made in half a decade, Derek. I was waiting for a character that really spoke to me, and a story that was really powerful. This was it.
DB. What was it like to dress in drag?
JL. High heels are tough. I lost 30 pounds dressing in drag.
DB. How did being in your costume make you feel?
JL. I felt good! It was different for me because it wasn’t just putting on a dress. I had to work out the part in my mind too. I wanted to bring to life a character who was a real life, living person – not just a caricature of a cross dresser. I think sometimes people confuse that sort of character as a joke, or they confuse a transgendered individual as “just a drag queen.” But I will say that I took to the high heels pretty quickly!
DB. Apart from the heels, what other physical parts of the character are the most memorable?
JL. Well, I waxed my entire body, my eyebrows included. That was certainly transformative.
DB. But this isn’t the first time you’ve changed your appearance for a part. You lost 25 pounds for Requiem for a Dream and I remember when you gained almost 70 pounds for Chapter 27.
JL. The tricky thing about extreme weight loss or weight gain is how much it affects you on the inside, not the outside. Altering your shape that much changes your behavior, the way you think. It changes how you laugh and how you move and how people look at you. It’s a double-edged sword, the internal and the external, and it’s not always a lot of fun.
DB. What was it like to go out as Rayon?
JL. As soon as you wax your brows and lose that much weight and you’re walking through a hotel lobby with your high heels cling clanging, you can’t help but draw attention. When people change their gender, they make a real statement. You surprise and confuse people, and I had to deal with that. I went out in drag and lived in that character to do research, and in the process I fell in love with Rayon. She had a heart of gold.
DB. Were you ever surprised when researching the role?
JL. In New Orleans, where we filmed the movie, I met a wonderful 13-year-old girl who was more than six-feet tall and was so gentle, and so sweet. She had been living as a woman since she was 7, going out in Bourbon Street dressed in her sister’s clothes. She opened a side of life I had never seen before. And there was a woman called Kalie, who was a tremendous help to me in LA. I spent the initial formative first days of prepping for this part with her, talking about the difference between transgendered people and transvestites, and the concept that these are real people and not a lifestyle. She taught me a lot. That’s what I liked about this film: I learned.
DB. What first drew you to this part?
JL. The challenge. The script. The role. The director. All of those things. It was impossible to say no. To reach that far inside myself – or outside myself, depending on how you see it – it was something I hadn’t explored. I found that exciting.
DB. It’s been a change of pace to the other stuff you’ve been doing these past few years: Being a rock star.
JL. That’s why I haven’t made a film in so long. We’ve been touring the world. [My band] 30 Seconds to Mars has been on a phenomenal adventure, with more success that we could have ever imagined. We sold out the O2 Arena and the Wembley in London, played the biggest shows of our lives. We got in the Guinness Book of Records for the longest tour ever. I have the plaque in my bathroom.
DB. How was balancing those two worlds?
JL. The hardest challenge was time. Time to do it all and do it well. I loved what Andy Warhol said: “Labels are for cans, not for people.” So now I try and do whatever I’m attracted to. If you have a desire, just go for it and fucking do it. A long time ago I gave myself permission to live like that – to act or design, or do music, or technology. It keeps life interesting.
DB. What do you hope will be the reaction to this film?
JL. I hope that people in that community see on the screen something that is true and honest. Something that is authentic, that comes from a really pure place. It also shares this tragic but inspiring story about how difficult it was when this plague started depleting these communities.
DB. What will you take from this part to your daily life?
JL. I haven’t worn much makeup since 2006. I used to wear a lot of eyeliner.
DB. You mean guyliner, don’t you?
JL. Yes! Maybe I grew up loving The Cure too much. Although, can you love The Cure too much? But, what I learned from this experience was less about the look and more about tolerance and understanding. I can be very intense and very work-oriented, and not too socially graceful. But there was a gentleness to that part. There was something open about Rayon that I’ve tried to carry on. There was something really fragile and approachable about her, and I hope those sides of her continue to exist in me.