The part of Paolo Gucci in House of Gucci wasn’t intended for Jared Leto. The actor originally received the script for another role, but after reading it, he couldn’t see himself as anyone other than the striving former head designer of the Italian house. “I didn’t know what he looked like, what he sounded like, but I really related to his desire to be an artist,” Leto says. When he connected with the film’s director, Ridley Scott, Leto made his intention for the portrayal clear: “I’m going to go completely fucking nuts,” he says he told Scott, who, in turn, indulged the performance. (“To his credit, he really let the inmates run the asylum for a bit,” Leto says.) For W’s annual Best Performances issue, the star, who recently turned 50, discusses how he dug deep into Paolo’s loafers, why he has no plans to see the film, and his Capricorn tendencies.
What was it about Paolo Gucci that resonated with you?
There were a lot of things about Paolo that I really responded to. I loved that he danced his way through life, that he was a big dreamer, and that he was not afraid to fail and make a mistake.
How much research did you do on this guy?
I did a lot of research. I feel like when you play a real person, you have an obligation to do the work to bring to life an impression that's true to the spirit of the character. So I really leaned into that and did my homework.
How long did all of the hair and makeup take?
It took about six hours every morning, about an hour to take off at night. But as much as the physical transformation is exciting and an obvious thing to talk about, the most important part of it, it's the heart, it's the soul.
What was it like having Al Pacino play your father?
On the first day of shooting, I showed up in character, as I do. I'm deep in Paolo Gucci, and I see my father, Aldo, Al Pacino, and I went up and said, “Papa!” He looked at me and had no idea who I was, and basically said "Fuck off" and walked in the other direction. I said, "Maybe he's playing the cold, distant father. Maybe he's a little grumpy. I don't know." I went back up to him again, and he brushed me off again. Then someone leaned into him and said, "Al, it's Jared." And he turned around, he hit the floor, and raised his hands. He said, “My son! My god! I bow in the presence of genius.” It was so touching to hear that from Al Pacino, one of the greats. I thought, If he can look at me and see and believe in that character, then we’re off to the races. He’s the kindest, most gentle, generous actor maybe I’ve ever worked with.
Do you have a favorite Pacino performance?
Dog Day Afternoon. But he never disappoints! In one scene in House of Gucci, he let me have it, and I’ll tell you, it’s ferocious. He made me shake with fear, but it was beautiful.
Have you seen the movie?
No. I haven't seen the film. I'll probably watch it when I'm dead. But I did read the script, so I have a good idea of what happens. But, no, I like to just let go. I'm really touched that people are having a good time with the performance.
And have you ever designed any clothing yourself?
The only clothing I've designed is T-shirts for Thirty Seconds to Mars. When you're in a rock band, you sell merch. It’s an essential part of the business. But, no, I have too much respect for Alessandro and the team at Gucci to ever pretend that I'm a designer so far.
You’ve had a partnership with Gucci for a while now. I assume you could make some suggestions.
Oh, I suggest plenty. And it's been a beautiful collaboration working with them for the past seven, eight years.
Have you ever been starstruck by someone?
I don't really get starstruck. I remember when I met [Bill] Clinton, it was so awkward because they make you stand on a little line, and then you step forward and get your picture taken. He goes, "Tell me your name." I was like, "Jared." Obama was pretty impressive, too.
What’s your sign?
Capricorn. Someone texted me the description of a Capricorn the other day, and I thought, "Oh my Lord. They jumped into my life." It said these are some Capricorn traits: They can literally achieve anything they desire. Low-key intimidates people just with their mere presence—I don't know if I do that, but… Will give the world their love, but can easily snatch it right back if wronged. Tends to be secretive and highly suspicious of strangers. Really good at ghosting people. I don't know, could be true. Could not.
So you're a true Capricorn.
Guilty as charged. It's funny. You don't know if you start hearing that stuff as a kid and then you take on the attributes. Some of the stereotypical attributes and characteristics are true. I'm very committed, very focused, but so are lots of people.
You are very committed, but you're maybe better at ghosting people.
I could be committed soon if I'm not careful.
Hair by Ali Pirzadeh for Dyson Hair at CLM; makeup by Daniel Sallstrom for Chanel at MA+ Group; manicure by Michelle Saunders for Nailtopia. Set Design by Gary Card at Streeters. Produced by Wes Olson and Hannah Murphy at Connect the Dots; production manager: Zack Higginbottom at Connect the Dots; photo assistants: Antonio Perricone, Jeff Gros, Morgan Pierre; digital technician: Michael Preman; lighting technician: Keith Coleman; key grip: Scott Froschauer; retouching: Graeme Bulcraig at Touch Digital; senior style editor: Allia Alliata di Montereale; senior fashion market editor: Jenna Wojciechowski; fashion assistants: Julia McClatchy, Antonio Soto, Nycole Sariol, Sage McKee, Josephine Chumley, Rosa Schorr; production assistants: Tchad Cousins, Juan Diego Calvo, Gina York, Brandon Fried, Nico Robledo, Kein Milledge; hair assistants: Tommy Stanton, Sol Rodriquez, Andi Ojeda; makeup assistants: Tami Elsombati, Bridgett O’Donnell; manicure assistant: Pilar Lafargue; set assistants: Olivia Giles, Sarah Hein, Seth Powsner, King Owusu; tailors: Suzi Bezik, Cardi Mooshool Alvaji; tailor assistant: Elma Click