Performances by Jared Leto tend to elicit a response. His latest, as the serial killer Albert Sparma in John Lee Hancock’s The Little Things, is no different—like much of Twitter, even Leto himself didn’t see his Golden Globe nomination for Best Supporting Actor coming. Meanwhile, he has already moved on. He’ll soon be joining designer and friend Alessandro Michele in the Italian countryside, where he’ll hide out and prep for Ridley Scott’s forthcoming film about the Gucci family. For W’s annual Best Performances issue, Leto discusses his transformation into Sparma and his feelings on rom-coms.
Your character, Albert Sparma, really is the villain, but you present him in such an ambivalent, ambiguous way, as if maybe he didn’t even do it.
He has some issues. He's a bit of an outsider, a lone wolf, a black sheep, someone who really doesn't fit in so well. But I found him to be a pretty charming guy. I don't know, there's something about him I found really endearing, and I thought he had a great, very dark sense of humor. I think he always found it really hard to find his place in society. He’s a pretty smart guy, and he got interested in being an amateur detective, which was a way to really use his brain. He falls into this kind of world and lives in the shadows a bit. I do think there's a lot of gray area. It’s like this classic crime thriller that subverts the genre, and leaves you with more questions than answers.
Did you gain weight for the part?
I did a lot of things. It was a big physical transformation, from head to toe. I had a fake nose, fake teeth, and brown eyes. I changed my voice, the way that I walk. I changed my body quite a bit. You know, John Lee and I talked about how far we could walk toward that line without crossing it. We wanted to push it as much as we could. I was just interested in transforming, which is something I love in acting. It’s exciting and really a lot of fun for me.
The car was very specific.
It is a specific car. It was interesting to shoot in Los Angeles, because it's basically a character in the film, and a really important character. We spent a lot of nights exploring the shadows of this city, which was interesting to do in that period car. It was a part of who he was.
Yes, and also the trunk space.
Standard. There was a line in that scene with Denzel Washington, and at the end, he kept asking all these questions about the car. I said to him, "Wow, you really like my car, don't you?" It was really fun to play Albert Sparma because he's the type of person who says whatever is on his mind, even if it's jarring or uncomfortable. He just dives in and he invades people's personal space without meaning to. He doesn't have quite a gauge to understand some of those things. I'm thankful to Denzel Washington and Rami Malek a great deal, because they really let me play. They let me take the gloves off and just go for it.
What was the first movie that you really loved?
I was just thinking that Albert Sparma and Hannibal Lecter—Anthony Hopkins in The Silence of the Lambs—would probably be really good friends. Albert is like the low-fi version of him.
When you were growing up, was there an actor who made you want to do this for a living?
Denzel Washington. Denzel, for me, is Brando. He's like Beethoven and Brando wrapped into one. I just think if you look at his career, I don't know if anyone's had that kind of consistency. I've never seen him not be great, ever, in anything—just how much he puts into his roles, the physicality. He puts his heart and his soul and his intellect into it, and just the charisma is absolutely insane. This was a master class in acting for me.
Would you ever do a rom-com?
You know, I was threatening to do, like, an opposite McConaissance. I just go dive straight into early-2000s-style rom-coms. Shoot on the beach in either Mexico or Hawaii—that's contractual. Eight-hour days, maybe six, just show up and have a blast. The hardest part of preparation is the keto diet. That's basically what it's going to come down to. Avoiding those carbs can be tough work.
Do you get offered those parts, or do people think you're not interested?
I do get offered rom-coms, and I'm completely available for them starting in 2023. I'm really quite fortunate and grateful that I get offered really tough challenges and transformational roles. They seem to be the most common. Next up is the Ridley Scott film about the Gucci murder and the famiglia, with Lady Gaga, Adam Driver, Al Pacino, and Jeremy Irons. We’re going to be filming in Italy.
How does Alessandro Michele [creative director of Gucci] feel about this?
He’s looking forward to it as much as I am. Italy is fantastic, he's fantastic, but both of them together are just perfection. I think the plan is to go hide out at his place in the countryside and prepare for the role. That’ll be fun.