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How Jared Leto Sank His Teeth Into Marvel’s Vampire Anti-Hero

Jared Leto has done the comic book thing before. Playing the Joker in the 2016 film Suicide Squad and again in Zack Snyders Justice League is a memory the 50-year-old actor looks back on fondly. That role was an opportunity of a lifetime he says. And I got a chance to do it twice.

Getting to dramatize a villain as ubiquitous as the Clown Prince of Crime is delicious but it doesnt always leave a lot of new ground to break. Letos turn as the Joker came after Heath Ledger (in 2008s The Dark Knight and before Joaquin Phoenix (in 2019s Joker who both won Oscars for their interpretations. So Leto was eager to get an offer for the lead role in Morbius a superhero tentpole set in Sony Pictures Universe of Marvel Characters whom no actor has ever played in a movie or a TV show. Channeling the part of Spider-Mans eventual foe a living vampire would allow Leto to really sink his teeth into a bad guy with a blank slate.

I loved that it was the very first time this character was going to be on screen Leto says. Ive always been interested in transformation and this was a way to explore that territory in a big Marvel film. It was impossible to say no. After a series of pandemic-related delays Morbius will finally open in theaters on April 1. Sony executives are hoping the movie which cost $75 million to produce will turn a profit by continuing the box office hot streak of comic book adaptations including Venom Let There Be Carnage Spider-Man No Way Home and The Batman starring Robert Pattinson.

If it doesnt work out we have a good excuse Leto says with a grin over a lengthy Zoom conversation. We waited too long. The long-anticipated arrival of Morbius in theaters represents a pivotal moment in Letos 30-year career marking his first solo starring role in a big-budget Hollywood movie. Its time Leto says. I feel ready for the challenges that come along with this sort of thing. I have perspective and balance now that I dont think I had when I was younger. He adds Ill never regret taking a swing.

The young man who got his start in his early 20s playing the high school heartthrob Jordan Catalano on the ABC series My So-Called Life has built a filmography with a lot of range   and thats an understatement. Hes played a burglar in David Finchers Panic Room a drug addict in Darren Aronofskys Requiem for a Dream and a transgender woman dying of AIDS in Jean-Marc Vallées melodrama Dallas Buyers Club which won him the Oscar for supporting actor in 2014. And most recently no one could stop talking — in a love-it-or-hate-it way — about his gonzo prosthetics-laden disappearing act as Paolo the black sheep of the Gucci family in Ridley Scotts House of Gucci.

That performance brought Leto who has a second gig as the frontman of the rock band 30 Seconds to Mars a SAG nomination and a friendship with another singer-actor the artist known as Lady Gaga. It was a shock and a surprise he says about Gagas Oscar snub in February for portraying the socialite Patrizia Reggiani in the film. By the way Leto says of Gaga she should get an invite to every Oscars just to have her there. Shes an amazing artist [who does] such brave work. She should be celebrated for everything in my book.

He might have to be fielding his own compliments soon. Leto is an early front-runner in this years Emmys race for WeCrashed where he plays Adam Neumann the morally questionable businessman who co-founded the workshare office space company WeWork. The limited series which premiered at SXSW over the weekend to strong reviews will debut on Apple TV Plus on March 18. Leto isnt one of those actors whose only life experience comes from movie sets. Eight years ago in his Oscar speech he paid tribute to dreamers in Ukraine — a message that has renewed resonance given Russias recent invasion of the country. As you struggle to make your dreams happen to live the impossible were thinking of you tonight he said that night as he was about to go back on the road with his band.

I mentioned Ukraine in my speech because I had a show there four days after the Oscars Leto says. And then I had a show in Russia. He found himself in the region during the early days of the 2014 Russo-Ukrainian war. I was on the ground when buildings were burning. The streets were barricaded. You showed up at the airport theres no customs. You just walk right through. There were civilians with AKs. It was a wild thing. Everyone told us not to go. Music gave him a nuanced perspective. You learn about audiences while youre onstage or while youre in town passing through. And you hear those voices and its a powerful beautiful thing. How does one reconcile this Leto with the one whos about to star in a comic book movie? The actor admits to being a bit of a snob when it comes to film but hes also concerned about the financial health of the entertainment industry.

If it wasnt for Marvel films I dont even know if theaters would exist he says. It doesnt seem like theres room for everyone and that starts to become a little heartbreaking. But its easy to see why Leto became Sonys de facto choice to portray Morbius whom he describes as a bit of a dark horse an outsider. When audiences first meet the renowned biochemist Dr. Michael Morbius hes dying from a blood disease. But after an attempt to cure himself goes wrong he turns into an otherworldly bloodsucker with an unquenchable thirst for the living. Its a dark and disturbing metamorphosis one that is more JekyllHyde than Peter ParkerSpider-Man.

Hes not the quintessential superhero Leto says. In conversation Leto eschews the performance art he regularly inhabits on screen and comes across as comparatively laid-back. He has a good sense of humor poking fun at himself in a way that indicates he doesnt take himself as seriously as he takes his job. Hes on the Zoom call from a nondescript room in his Nevada house sporting blue nail polish and wearing a casual plaid button-down and Ray-Ban Wayfarer glasses. Gucci of course he says even though the logo on the side of the plastic frames says otherwise.

Leto splits his time between Los Angeles and 35 minutes outside Las Vegas but he doesnt count himself a resident of Sin City. He prefers to say his second home is in Red Rock Canyon a scenic conservation area with plenty of hiking trails. These days he barely has any free time but when he does he likes to go rock climbing with Alex Honnold whose daredevil exploits were immortalized in 2018s Academy Award-winning documentary Free Solo. You have to be present Leto says. Thats the thing I like about it. Also you dont get cellphone service. It disconnects you from the world.

At various points in our conversations Leto gets meta in this instance questioning how often he brings up going to mountainous national parks. Im always talking about climbing now. Maybe theres something else I could talk about? But its a big part of my life. I was never a fan of hobbies he clarifies. I always hated that word even … hobby. I think if youre going to do something you do it. He pauses before continuing the thought. But as Ive grown up I come to appreciate that term a little bit more.

No matter what he does Leto lives to push his brain and body to the limit. Whether hes taking on a villain drawn from the pages of a graphic novel or WeWorks Neumann his approach is the same. Hes part of a class of actors — including Robert De Niro and Daniel Day-Lewis — who operate on the belief they have to re-create a characters reality in order to capture the person on screen. Just dont refer to it as Method acting. Immersive work as I call it Leto says.

In the case of Morbius he may not have shaved his teeth into tiny Dracula-esque daggers but he did extensive research by meeting with doctors and patients who could teach him about living with a rare incurable blood disease. Once he had the psyche down he delved into the physicality of capturing a tortured monster. For example Morbius struggles to walk so he uses a cane for support. A different actor Leto suggests may have taken an obvious approach and put a pebble in their shoe to help them hobble around set. But for me he says its an opportunity to learn.

In the end its not clear what technique Leto employed to master Morbius limp. I dont want to get too specific because Id like to keep some of that for myself he says. But I leaned in — no pun unintended. Im a sucker for a pun but I didnt mean that. I worked with people who had this specific physical challenge and modeled it after that. Adria Arjona who plays the love interest of Morbius scientist Martine Bancroft recalls being concerned by Letos commitment to using crutches and contorting his body even when cameras werent rolling. I remember fearing for this guys spine she says with a laugh. There should have been a physical therapist on call.

Morbius director Daniel Espinosa who drew inspiration from the 1987 supernatural black comedy The Lost Boys and the cold-blooded classic Nosferatu says filming often became an intensely visceral experience. He brings up a sequence where Morbius locks himself in a room to resist the urge for blood. I got scared for Jared Espinosa says. He really commits. You have to watch out for it. In another scene involving Morbius shattering glass I could sense the crew backed off Espinosa recalls. It was a bit spooky. Lest that sound tiring or maybe even irritating to work with day in and day out Letos colleagues speak highly of his borderline-obsessive techniques insisting they only encourage everyone else to elevate their game.

I found it electric. He is saying to you For the next four months Im going to inhabit this person says Lee Eisenberg who co-created WeCrashed with Drew Crevello. Crevello adds The highest compliment I could pay is that it felt strange to call him Jared after production. Although the future of Morbius hasnt yet been decided by the box office gods Leto says hed continue playing the character in potential sequels. He also expresses interest in having his big-screen baddie interact with Venom Spider-Man and other Marvel heavyweights. Thats half the fun he says. But he (reluctantly admits hes a little behind on his comic book viewing. When asked if hes seen Tom Hardy in Venom Let There Be Carnage the most recent standalone adventure set in Sonys Universe of Marvel Characters Leto pretends that his internet connection cut out.

Theres a thing you could do online he says contorting his smile for dramatic effect. If you just make the worst face and then hold it people think its frozen. Hes not evading the question but its been a busy time he protests. To be fair hes been going nonstop during the pandemic between his acting gigs and putting the finishing touches on a new 30 Seconds to Mars album which he hopes to take on the road in 2023. I am going to watch it he promises of the Venom sequel. Ive been waiting to see it in a theater. He adds The first one was a lot of fun and Tom was fantastic. He built this role that looks like it was a blast to play. Leto also allows that hed be open to reprising the Joker if Warner Bros. came calling. Never say never he says.

As an actor who invests so heavily in each role Leto explains that shedding a character after only a short period of production feels like a painful breakup. For me theyre like living breathing people he says. I know theyre not of course but I get attached. Its a shame to never do it again. Leto especially appreciated the longevity of playing Neumann the eccentric Israeli businessman who founded WeWork in eight episodes of WeCrashed. Compared with the actors roles as say suspected serial killer Albert Sparma from The Little Things or sinister CEO Niander Wallace from Blade Runner 2049 Adam may appear to be more grounded. But that doesnt mean viewers should prepare themselves for anything less than the full Leto.

As part of his prep Leto met the real-life Neumann in person and recalls being charmed. Early on Leto told WeCrashed creators Eisenberg (The Office and Crevello (Deadpool he wasnt interested in making a hit piece or crafting a caricature. Its low-hanging fruit Leto says. Everyone has their complexities. Still he advised Neumann not to watch the show which hinges on the love story between Adam and his wife and muse Rebekah (played by Anne Hathaway. Their romance plays out as Neumanns grand utopian vision to turn shared workspace into hubs of innovation collapsed under extravagant spending and crushing debt. I dont even watch it says Leto who doesnt like to revisit his own projects. So why would I tell him to watch it?

Its not meant to be a takedown but WeCrashed is certainly not a love letter to a prodigal businessman. Even so its evident that Leto can find humanity in Neumann a hard-partying megalomaniac who is more granola than tech bro. In one episode Letos Adam (wearing a werewolf mask for no apparent reason mixes up his favorite coffee order. Its a reference to a widely circulated story about baristas at WeWork headquarters who apparently swapped the meanings of latte and cappuccino at the companys java shop rather than tell their boss he had been ordering the wrong drink.

I dont know the difference between a latte and a fucking cappuccino Leto says. But I also dont order them every day. Leto found it surprisingly challenging to play Neumann who seems to bounce with energy (just watch his old keynote speeches on YouTube. Leto is not Jewish but he participated in Shabbat dinners and hired a team of five Israelis so he could rehearse lines and hear that voice all the time.

A couple of times strangely towards the end of shooting WeCrashed Paolos [accent] started to come out a little bit Leto says. It was very bizarre. I dont know if its because I got tired or if Paolo was just demanding my attention but that can happen. Still he stayed in character between takes according to Hathaway. I didnt really work with Jared she wrote in an email. He was only ever Adam. It was fun. Wild and focused. Inspiring. Another source of inspiration while filming was Katy Perrys hit song Roar which is used heavily throughout the series to great effect.

It was played quite a bit [on set]. If anything can get you raring to go for the day its that that — and a cappuccino … or a latte Leto says slipping into Neumanns thick Israeli inflection. Maybe a little ashwagandha or maybe green juice. Would you like a green juice? WeCrashed is Letos first starring role in a TV series since My So-Called Life. In the early days of the pandemic as nearly every movie or TV show cast reunited over Zoom so did the actors from My So-Called Life. But Jordan Catalano was not in attendance. No idea Leto says when asked why he wasnt there. I hope everyone had a good time without me. But he had to have been invited right? Im sure I was. I wouldve hoped. Maybe I wasnt. No Im sure I was. What a crazy time were in. Not everyones able to make everything.


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