Lon Chaney transformed himself for so many roles that he was called “The Man of a Thousand Faces.” Jared Leto is probably a few more immersive characters away from reaching that benchmark, and even though he is unrecognizable under prosthetics and makeup in “House of Gucci,” capturing the spirit of the most lovable Gucci family member was as important as the physical elements.
“I love a physical transformation, but all of it is meaningless if you don’t have the heart and the soul,” says Leto, who plays Paolo Gucci in director Ridley Scott’s soapy real-life drama (in theaters now). “We were able to push the character to a place where people that I was working with didn’t recognize me. It was very difficult for them not to see me, even if I did.
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“House of Gucci” follows three tumultuous decades at the iconic Italian fashion company. Ambitious Patrizia (Lady Gaga), marries into famed Gucci families when she weds Maurizio Gucci. Leto’s eccentric Paolo is one of the family members Patrizia cozies up to, a man with big dreams of being a world-renowned fashion designer but disrespected by his powerful father, Aldo (Al Pacino), and other relatives.
Leto states, “I connected deeply with who this guy was,” “They really took off the cuffs and let me go, and I’ll always be grateful for that freedom.”
The Oscar-winning actor, 49, arguably has an even more metamorphic role playing a scientist who turns into a living vampire in “Morbius” (in theaters Jan. 28), based on the Marvel comic-book character. His to-do list also includes reteaming with director Darren Aronofsky for the supernatural thriller “Adrift” (which Leto describes as “Dead Calm” meets “The Shining”), starring as Andy Warhol, and releasing a new album with his rock band Thirty Seconds to Mars.
Leto talks with USA TODAY about “House of Gucci,” “Morbius” and what his 20-something self would think about his most dynamic roles.
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Question: You’ve always been a really fashionable guy, but for a movie like “House of Gucci” that’s all about fashion and style, did you feel the need to step up your red-carpet game?
Jared LetoAlthough I did not, I was able to work closely with Gucci for seven- or eight years. It’s just an accident that I’m in the film. Ridley probably didn’t even know that I had worked with Gucci. It was a very positive experience and they were happy to help. When it comes to the public events, however, I do not take it seriously. It is all good fun.
Q: In the film, Paolo is derided as being a mediocre fashion designer by his family. What did your research reveal about Paolo’s talent?
Leto: He’s really quite an overlooked contributor to the Gucci story. Gucci’s first ready to wear show, he was there. He convinced Gucci to make a bathing suit. It was a groundbreaking piece at that time, and it sold quickly. Gucci knew he was going to push the boundaries and would not be afraid to make mistakes.
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Q: The last time you transformed into a comic character, you played infamous villain the Joker in “Suicide Squad.” You had the opportunity to personalize Michael Morbius a bit more.
Leto:Anyone who takes on the role of an actor who’s played before will know that there is a lot to expect. There have been some amazing performances (with Joker). This was a huge selling point. It’s transformational and a character that no one has ever seen before. It was perfect because I could play three different characters of the exact same person.
Q: If you went back to the 1990s, visited yourself on the set of “My So-Called Life” and showed him stills of Paolo, Morbius, Joker and Rayon from “Dallas Buyers Club,” would he believe that’s all him?
Leto: No, he would’ve just (said), “Holy (expletive), what are you talking about?” I’m acutely aware of how lucky I am to be able to take on these challenges. This was possible because I worked hard. All of these things weren’t easy. I am grateful for the opportunity to face huge challenges. Although I didn’t think so, I have always loved this type of acting.
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Q: Your band recorded a live cover of “Bad Romance” for the BBC back in 2010. After co-starring in a movie together, would you want to duet with Gaga?
Leto:She sings so beautifully that I just want to listen. She is a wonderful artist. It was you who reminded me of that. That was it. It’s funny, but it hasn’t been mentioned to me. It’s a great song. Since then, I have played the song many times on stage and it is a lot fun.
Q: How’s the new Thirty Seconds to Mars album coming along?
Leto: We’ve written, my God, at this point it’s got to be a couple of hundred songs. Thirty Seconds to Mars is very much a live act, touring is really important to us, so we’ve got to take into consideration when the pipes are going to be a bit clearer for touring. New songs are in the works, they have been recorded, so we’re very excited. All I need is an album title, and then we can go. Maybe that’s it: “Off to the Races.”
Q: Who have you found musically inspiring lately?
Leto:It is hard to not be inspired every day by all the happenings around the world. There were many songs that spoke of isolation and chaos. There was also some good stuff that came from it. There was humor, irony, and self-reflection in some songs. But we were definitely affected, influenced, and inspired by all the difficult times. That’s why I wanted to call the album something like, “What the (Expletive) Is Going On.”
Q: Andy Warhol has a different aesthetic icon to Paolo Gucci. What will it be like to discover something new and different about someone well-known?
Leto: It’s a great question. While we believe we know Andy Warhol from what we have seen, many others don’t. The kid from Pittsburgh who was shy and unable to speak to anyone is not something they know. The graphic designer/illustrator who had huge success in New York long before his first painting sold is something they don’t know. They are unaware of the years-long struggle he endured and how no one took him seriously as an art professional.
Q: Thanksgiving’s on Thursday. What are your big plans?
Leto:Enjoy a quick chat with Mom to get her on board for some delicious, healthy food.
Q: What is your Thanksgiving favorite side dish?
Leto: Ooh, sweet potatoes. Also, I love gravy and stuffing. And cranberry sauce.
Q: So your answer is “all of them,” pretty much.
Leto:It IsThis is one of my favorites meals.