AFTER A FEW YEARS OFF TO PRODUCE AND DIRECT FILMS AS WELL AS RECORD AN ALBUM WITH HIS BAND THIRTY SECONDS TO MARS THE OSCAR WINNER IS BACK WITH A VENGEANCE, PLAYING THE JOKER AGAIN IN ZACK SNYDER’S JUSTICE LEAGUE

BY JOEL KELLER

Jared Leto has had such a long and varied career that it’s hard to remember that, over a quarter century ago, he made his first splash as Jordan Catalano, the brooding high school love interest of Angela Chase (Claire Danes) in the cult hit series My So-Called Life.

Despite winning an Oscar in 2014 for his performance as Rayon, a trans woman dying of AIDS, in Dallas Buyers Club, defining him as an actor would be incomplete. He is the definition of the term “multi-hyphenate,” having spent time directing, writing, and producing projects, as well as fronting Thirty Seconds to Mars, the band he co-founded with his brother Shannon.

“I probably approach everything in my life with a certain level of intensity,” he told EW.com in 2018 on the occasion of the release of his band’s album America. “I like to work really hard. That’s been a really consistent component of my life for as long as I can remember. I’m a curious person. I love to learn. I love the independence that comes along with being entrepreneurial, whether it’s starting a band or a company.”

Leto is back on screens now, starring as suspected serial killer Albert Sparma in the January release of The Little Things along with fellow Oscar winners Denzel Washington and Rami Malek, a role which garnered him a Golden Globe nomination. He made an even bigger splash in March, reprising (sort of ) his role of the Joker in Zack Snyder’s Justice League on HBO Max, the epic four-hour director’s cut of the 2016 film that Snyder had to leave after his daughter’s suicide.

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What do we mean by “sort of?” Yes, Leto has played the Joker once before, in the 2016 film Suicide Squad, and he’s set to play the villain in two future films. But the version of the Joker that Snyder added into Justice League is different than the tattooed version with green slicked back hair that he played previously.

“I would say that there’s been some water under the bridge,” Snyder told Vanity Fair about the transition. “Who knows what’s happened. I don’t know if he’s wearing makeup, I don’t know what’s happening. It’s hard to say exactly.”

Leto was eager to revisit the Joker, as he told entertainment journalist Jake Hamilton in January. “Parts like the Joker and like Sparma, yeah they can be intense, but there’s also a lot of freedom and abandon there; that’s really fun for me, it’s fun for the other actors, it’s fun for the crew.”

It’s also an opportunity to redefine himself in the role, which was cut way down in Suicide Squad and was over – shadowed when Joaquin Phoenix won an Oscar for his grim take on the villain in 2019’s The Joker.

“I guess it’s this generation’s version of taking on an infamous Shakespearian character,” he told GQ. “Lots of people have played the part before, lots of people [will] play it in the future, so it’s an opportunity to do something new and to explore challenging territory.”

Judging by the warm posts Snyder wrote on social media, and Leto’s description of the shoot to Variety, it seems like it was a fruitful collaboration. Leto said: “He’s got a crazy, infectious energy. I love his passion and commitment to what he does. Those are some of the reasons why fans have responded so passionately and deeply to him and his mission because he’s true to his word and really is intent on creating something special that he believes in.”

One of the other reasons why Leto wants to revisit roles like the Joker is that he throws himself completely into those roles. Some of the rumors surrounding his time on the Suicide Squad set and the interactions he had with his castmates are already legendary.

But Leto is the same person who dieted himself to a dangerously thin weight to play heroin addict Harry Goldfarb in 2000’s critically acclaimed film Requiem for a Dream, and gained over 60 pounds to play John Lennon’s killer, Mark David Chapman, in the 2007 film Chapter 27. Then he took six years off to throw himself into his music career. When he returned to acting with Dallas Buyers Club, he dropped 30 pounds to play Rayon.

“Parts like the Joker and like Sparma, yeah they can be intense, but there’s also a lot of freedom and abandon there.”

“I had a definite problem with my feet,” he told Digital Spy in 2008. “Towards the end of the shoot, one of the glaring issues was the pain I had with my feet. I couldn’t walk for long distances; I had a wheelchair because it was so painful. My body was in shock from the amount of weight I gained. It took about a year to get back to a place that felt semi-normal. I don’t know if I’ll ever be back to the place I was physically.”

Leto has already completed principal photography on the film Morbius, where he plays a biochemist who turns himself into a vampire while trying to cure himself of a rare blood disease. He’s also among the all-star cast of Ridley Scott’s film Gucci, which also stars Lady Gaga, Adam Driver, Al Pacino, and Jeremy Irons. Finally, like many a movie star, the lure of a prestigious streaming project has brought Leto back to TV; he’ll play opposite Anne Hathaway in the Apple TV+ series WeCrashed, playing shamed WeWork cofounder Adam Neumann.

Like all of us, Leto has spent the better part of the last year with large stretches of time off due to the pandemic. He was at a silent meditation retreat right as the lockdowns started last March, and he told Jimmy Fallon that he felt “like Rip Van Winkle” when he returned home to a suddenly changed world.

He told the TODAY Show in January that he’s written over 100 songs for Thirty Seconds to Mars, which will likely lead to a new album. “I hope the world gets back to a place where we can tour again and give people a little break from the madness.”