Jared Leto - Scoring Drugs And Cross Dressing for Dallas Buyers Club, 7Hollywood Magazine - Fall 2013/14

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Global media pontificate that he’ s retired from acting, preferring instead to rock out as front man with his Band 40 Seconds To Mars. Yet a seemingly unlikely role as a drug addled transsexual street walker named Rayon in the epic film Dallas Buyers Club  is set to again propel multi talented Jared Leto into the realm of greatness.

As an actor, musician, producer, director, visual artist and owner of a band merchandise business  Leto is the consummate renaissance man. His youthful visage defying his 41 years he’s also a living contradiction as to acting and limited career longevity.

Dallas Buyers Club  presents some big challenges for Leto.  The first in that he had not  had a major film role in five years, the second in that he dons heels and fishnets as a transgender character.

Set in 1986, Dallas Buyers Club explores the story of Texas electrician Ron Woodroof ( Matthew Maconaughey) and his battle with the medical establishment and pharmaceutical corporations after being diagnosed as HIV-positive.

Woodroof subsequently seeks alternative treatments, shopping for drugs outside the USA and paving the way with a promising alternative for fellow HIV-sufferers. Collaborating with others he devises a plan to allow  them to access his drug supply.

Despite the fact its set in 1986, Dallas Buyers club is hardly dated, highlighting a myriad of volatile issues facing society and those with AIDs today. The cost of government regulated drugs, cumbersome healthcare infrastructure, societal prejudice  and simple survival remain unresolved.

Looking back, the first cases of what would later become known as AIDS were reported in the United States in June of 1981. Since then, more than 1.8 million people in the U.S. are estimated to have been infected with HIV, including over 650,000 who have already died. Today, more than 1.1 million people are living with HIV. Meanwhile Data from 2010 reveals that the number of people living with HIV in the US tallied 1.1 million,  with an additional 47,500 infections in that year alone.

Leto elaborates, "the subject of AIDS is still a volatile and controversial issue in 2013. The film is  incredibly relevant  to the political conversation about healthcare, and about how we take care of people with that condition. It also examines the pharmaceutical companies and  what governs them in the process of taking care of those suffering from HIV Aids, how they were disseminated and how  their lives are being held at bay by policy - I think  this makes the film specially relevant even now."

Politically, Dallas Buyers club is compelling, yet on an emotional level too,  the complex and layered film is equally moving. Regardless of gender or sexual orientation, from the interpersonal relationships and exchanges between characters, to the  gut wrenching struggle confronting the terminally ill, the film is an absolute tearjerker.

"When I first read the script for Dallas Buyers club, I fell in love with the character and fell in love with the story," says Leto. "I also became full of admiration for people that were intent on making something special, we hit home all the more." 

An extension of the film’s emotional and humanist quality comes through interaction between the two lead characters, namely Matthew Maconaughey’s Ron Woodroof and Leto’s Rayon. "Despite the veneer of how Rayon dresses, she has qualities that defy the stereotype. There are touching scenes that reveal a true bonding between the characters. She sees a father figure, a supporter, a comrade and a peer. The struggle and fight with aids is their mutual battle ."

Leto says he was also effected on a personal level, with the project unearthing many emotional wounds . "When I was a kid and we started hearing about people being sick and dying from this disease, it was an epic and devastating event. Later, I was living in NYC Washington and Philadelphia and these cities were heavily effected and the illness was very much a death sentence at that time."

Jared reveals he has experienced the wrath of Aids first hand. "Back in 1991 When I first moved to Los Angeles I rented a room in a house and one of the other people who lived there was a man dying of AIDS. Hence I did have a very up close an personal look at that predicament and point of life,  that was not too long after the film was made."

Solemn words from a man renowned for his eccentricity and precociousness. Still, while  the playful aesthetics of heels and street trannie attire of Rayon presented a fun element, bound to strike references to classic drag characters on tacky tabloid websites,

Leto says he was focused on the plight of a fellow human rather than isolate one aspect of the character.

"I was just doing my best to bring a real person to life. Rayon is a very special character, and playing her was one of those few times when you immediately connect to a situation, which is as much about being  a drag queen as it is about being a drug addict, it was about connecting with a human being. The character was  really well written  and I ever even thought about the fact I was playing a trannie, cross dresser or whatever term you want to throw at it. I was just playing a human being who had to endure under extenuating circumstances."

He adds, "I did not reference any prior films for the role. I wanted  to stay away from the flamboyant drag queen stereotypical, or someone who is very over the top, loud and overstated. In this day and age the character of Rayon would be considered  someone who wanted to live life as a woman, not just a person wanted to dress like one."

On a lateral level Leto says playing the character of Rayon also inspired him to delve into the concept of gender and identity, and the notion of embracing another lifestyle.

"Cross dressing was deemed more risque back then. Understanding and accepting  a trans gender character was different than now, we compensated for that with the film by capturing the attitude and that was embedded that into the interactions during the film."

"It’s a brave move for a person choose to live the way they wish. Especially if that’s a gender  thing and they are choosing a different lifestyle.  That’s an incredibly brave thing, particularly at that time. Times have changed to some degree." 

"That being said, when I went to the store while still in the costume of Rayon after shooting, I still encountered  some stunned onlookers, that were hard to shake off. Whether its walk into a store or into a lobby of a hotel with a pair of high heels on you’re gonna get noticed."

"It takes a lot of work and a learned skill  to go unnoticed if you are a man trying to dress as a woman. It attracts an enormous amount of attention from  both genders, where   you draw attention without meaning to or wanting to  - it was like a bright light  shining on you."

Leto says the hardest thing about playing the role  were the emotional challenges "It was a  really harrowing and difficult role – a once in a lifetime opportunity  I feel really grateful to have had the chance to fall in love with this character and be part of the wonderful project. It was a group  of people intent on making something special and creating something true and right  telling a story that needed to be told."

Despite the taboo subject matter, Leto feels confident about the film’s success, "This is one of those circumstances where I would hope people  and the media would get behind it. It commands greater understanding.  The writers did a wonderful job in creating a real sense of empathy , the audience in turn don’t  see a stereotype but they see a daughter a mother a brother,  the negative  thing disconnects."

Finally addressing the obligatory tabloid craving as to whether he’s opted out of acting, and chosen instead to be a musician Jared Leto says he hasn’t. "I haven’t made a film in over five years, haven’t had film out in over six years. I love making movies and haven’t  relinquished acting over being a musician.  I was originally studying photography at artschool and ive always loved film.  Whether its acting directing or producing. Its all about creativity for me and Im really happy that I get to do that for a living."