Jared Leto is a man of extremes. This is a compliment: By throwing himself into the deep end of demanding roles like The Joker in Suicide Squad, and method-committing to them to the point of urban legend, he’s won Oscars (for 2013’s Dallas Buyers Club, in which he played a transgender woman) and transformed himself into one of the most interesting and in-demand actors working today. Of course, those extremes—which apply, too, to his fashion choices—also makes him a man of memes. “That stuff has a tendency to go viral or something,” as he admitted himself in this interview with Lynn Hirschberg for W‘s New Royals issue. Here, Leto, who is also the frontman of the very successful rock band 30 Seconds to Mars, lets us in on what’s really happening on set, on tour, and behind the scenes, and what he definitely can’t tell us about his next movie, the highly-anticipated Blade Runner 2049.
Who to you is a royal? Let’s start with music.
In music, the people that I think are royal… there’s a very, very long list. When I was a kid, I was really inspired by bands like Pink Floyd, The Who, Led Zeppelin. Those bands really changed my life because they were rule-breakers. They create music that was at once atmospheric, really exciting, and full of emotion. They taught me a lot. So I would say those three are definitely royals to me.
Were you a big concert-goer as a kid?
You know, back in the hippie days, my mom would bring my brother and me to festivals and concerts, and some of my earliest memories are, you know, the pounding loud music and rooms filled with smoke, because of course everyone was smoking indoors then. I remember that from a very early age. I saw Pink Floyd, I saw Iron Maiden, The Kinks, but I didn’t really see a lot of concerts when I was a kid.
And in movies, who do you think is royalty?
In film, there are people that have inspired me and taught me so much, people like Christopher Walken, Sean Penn, Daniel Day-Lewis, um, again, mavericks, rule-breakers, people that really threw themselves into their work. And showed me that the possibilities were endless.
Do you feel happier on stage doing music than when you’re making films?
It’s hard to beat standing on stage. There’s something that is so incredibly powerful about sharing your music with people. It’s immediate. It’s creative. You come face to face with people, night after night after night, that really affects you when you’re on stage. On tour, you’re in this constant routine, you get up on stage and really just devote yourself to the audience every night—you’re giving as much as you can. So it’s just a really beautiful process. Um, you know, there are some bad parts for sure about the music business, but it’s hard to beat being on stage with Thirty Seconds to Mars and touring.
Do you remember the first time you heard a song of yours on the radio?
You know, I do remember, and it’s always still exciting to hear your song on the radio. There’s something really special about it. You know, we never thought we would ever have a song on the radio. We just didn’t think we would ever make that kind of music, or that people would want to hear our music in that way. But it’s been an incredible surprise. You know, we were signed in 1998 and were a band many, many years before that. So it’s been a really long and beautiful journey.
]Yeah, and we’re about to put a new album out this year.
What’s it called? Do you know?
I know, but nobody else does. [Laughter.] It’s a secret.
What’s your karaoke song?
I don’t f— with karaoke. For some reason, I’m just the worst. I tried it once and it was the biggest disaster. It was horrifying how bad it was. So I don’t f— with it. There are some things you just know you’re not good at, and I am not good at karaoke.
I bet you’re great at karaoke.
But I do get to be on stage quite often singing and performing with Thirty Second to Mars. So that satisfies my karaoke itch, you know.
What was the song that you bombed on? Even though I don’t believe it.
No, no, no, it was—oh, the song that I bombed on was “Eye of the Tiger”. It was a moment of panic. It was at a wedding in front of hundreds of people. Someone pushed me to do it, like, someone called my name out. And I just looked at the list and I was like, “Eye of the Tiger”, and then it hit me: The only line that I even knew was “eye of the tiger.” The rest of the song I didn’t, so I just mumbled and it was a disaster. Deep shame.
What were the Oscars like for you? I told you you were going to win before, and you looked at me kinda like you’re looking at me now, like, “Go to hell.” [Laughs.]
You know what? You were the first person that said something about the Oscars to me.
You were breathtaking. You were also ahead of your time with the transgender movement. It’s amazing how much has changed in a very short period of time.
The world is changed in so many ways, and there are so many brave people out there pushing forward issues of identity in really inspiring ways. And I think that’s just such an incredible achievement. Those people are royals to me and heroes and, you know, I’m always just astounded at people’s bravery and honesty and how they’re willing to speak their mind and make change. I think that’s just incredible. It’s really powerful.
Because you got kind of a hard time when you were walking around in character, didn’t you?
When I was shooting Dallas Buyers Club, I did get some unwanted attention, negative attention from people, and oftentimes people just kinda walked to the other side of the room. Certainly they didn’t know who I was, but, you know, I guess what I looked like made people uncomfortable at that time. So it was an interesting experience to have for sure. And then it was also really beautiful. I remember being on set and, you know, after the first day, people just stopped really seeing me so much and treated me so kindly. I remember some of the guys on the crew,, they would reach out for my hand when I stepped off the trailer.
You were super pretty. And now the complete opposite…
Just a man of hair.
So what were the Oscars like? Were you nervous?
The Oscars were incredible. I guess I was nervous, but I wasn’t that nervous. When you do that stuff, I guess you just try enjoy the ride, and what’s beautiful about it is there is a light that shines your way. And then you can take that light and shine it on people and things that are important to you. I had an incredible experience. Everyone was really, really kind to me, and you hear stories of people, you know, maybe feel like it’s a bit much, that whole process. But I thought it was really wonderful.
Do you remember it? People say they don’t remember the whole thing on stage.
No, I remember. Oh, I remember. I remember one moment: I was standing on stage and giving my speech. And I’m looking at this guy and he’s giving me this look. [Makes face.] I’m staring at Robert De Niro… It was a very intense kind of gaze. “Maybe I oughta go to Oprah Winfrey or someone.” But I found myself locked in with him—it is just bizarre because you look out and you see all of these faces that you grew up watching and people that have inspired you. And then you know that your words can be impactful, maybe. So you wanna use the time wisely.
Let’s talk about the Joker a little bit. Were you scared to take on the Joker?
I was both—the Joker was an intense and incredible experience. I mean, playing the part was I think probably the most fun I’ve ever had making a film.
You were, um, let’s just say you were extreme on set with people.
I had a lot of fun, but it wasn’t as extreme as the media made it out to be. And I know some of the stories were just kind of goofy and weird, so it was titillating. That stuff has a tendency to go viral or something. But it really wasn’t like that for us on set. I mean, it was a kind of scary prospect to take on a role that had been portrayed so well by such a phenomenal actor in Heath Ledger. But it also was an opportunity and something that, as challenging as it seemed, was quite an honor to be asked to take the baton and run with it. And, you know, filmmaking’s a collaborative process and we all did what we had to do to try to bring these crazy characters to life. But we had a lot of fun. I mean, nobody was taking it too serious on that set, you know. We all were laughing a lot and we had a good time.
But in this, did you stay in character as the Joker off camera as well?
The only thing that I did was try to stay as focused and committed as humanly possible because I knew how much was at stake. And I had learned, through my history of working in film, that the more that I stay committed, usually the better the work is. So I was just out to try to do the best job that I could. I mean, treally my motivation was to serve the other actors and directors and, you know, it was really let’s hunker down and let’s work really, really hard.
Was it fun to have green hair?
Yeah, it was fun. No eyebrows and green hair and lipstick. Three movies, back to back to back: lipstick, no eyebrows, and no body hair. Maybe that’s why I have so much hair now. I’m rebelling against this hairless animal that I was.
Where was your first kiss?
I do remember kissing a girl and, like, getting almost dizzy. It was so powerful. That was kind of the first,, you know, seventh, eighth-grade kiss. But we were pretty experimental kids. There were probably some kisses before that, yeah. I don’t kiss and tell.
Do you have a secret skill?
Definitely not karaoke. Oh, I can levitate.
Yeah, my secret skill is I can levitate.
How did you find out that you could levitate?
It was when I was a kid. And there was some trouble, let’s just say, and I figured out that I could I could levitate. Now I can’t do this on camera—unless you have $500, and then we can talk about it.
And how high up can you go?
At least three or four inches. So it’s incredibly useful.
Because, you know, there might be dog poop on the sidewalk or a piece of bubblegum and you don’t wanna have to step over that. It’s a lot of work, but yeah.
Your next movie is Blade Runner 2049. Are you a replicant, or are you not allowed to say?
Well, I can’t really tell you anything about the movie, except tell you that it’s coming out in October. I think I already screwed up and said the name of my character. I’m surprised that I didn’t get a letter from a lawyer. It’s a very secretive film, I am really proud to be in the movie because I was just fanatical about the first film. I loved and love the first Blade Runner. It was a really impactful film for me and a big inspiration. So it was fun to be a part of this movie and to work with Harrison Ford. It was just a dream.
That’s great. Thank you for being a part of the New Royals issue.
What is a royal—I have worn a crown onstage. Just a subtle crown, not too big, not too small, but a crown.
Have you ever been to a Renaissance fair?
I’ve never been to a Renaissance fair, but I’ve always been a big fan of the fashion.
How about Medieval Times?
It seems a little hot for me. I need loose clothes.
Well,Gucci’s kind of Renaissance fair-ish.
Yeah, they have a little of that swagger in there.
Royals 2017: Why Pharrell Williams, Winona Ryder, Tracee Ellis Ross and More Are the Role Models of Today
Winona Ryder wears Fendi dress; Angela Friedman bra; M&S Schmalberg brooch; Fogal tights; Gucci shoes. Beauty: Chantecaille.
Tilda Swinton wears Loewe jacket, shirt, and pants. Beauty: Chanel.
Hailee Steinfeld wears Valentino dress. Beauty: Maybelline.
Tracee Ellis Ross wears Vetements dress. Beauty: Lâncome.
Saoirse Ronan wears Saint Laurent by Anthony Vaccarello shirt and pants. Beauty: Nars.
Chris Hemsworth wears Boss shirt and pants; his own belt and necklace. Grooming: Hugo Boss.
Pharrell Williams wears Sacai shirt; Bulgari necklace (top); his own necklace. Grooming: Giorgio Armani.
Robert Pattinson wears Dior Homme turtleneck; Haider Ackermann pants. Grooming: Dior Homme.
James Corden wears Ann Demeulemeester shirt and hat. Grooming: Neutrogena.
Jared Leto wears Gucci jacket, shirt, and pants; M&S Schmalberg brooch; Artemas Quibble belt. Grooming: Gucci.
New Royalty: Movie Star
My first kiss was on set. It was my very first film as well. My character really liked this boy, and she didn’t know if he noticed her. In the end she got to kiss him. At that time, I was only 11 years old, and not ready to kiss a boy. I asked the director, “How long do you want me to kiss him? How many seconds?” And the director said, “Three seconds.” So while kissing, I counted in my head. Every single take I was like, One, two, three. And then: “Okay, kill, cut!” I definitely suffered for art.
Ronan wears a Louis Vuitton top, cape, and shoes; Falke tights.
Classic Royalty: Movie Star
Is there anything that scares you? I’m not easily scared, and I’m wary of being bored. I think risk-taking is a subjective thing. One person’s risk is another one’s comfort zone. And, to be honest, I’m too lazy to get easily scared. Maybe I’ve got a bit of my brain missing, but I love not knowing what I’m doing next. What about when it comes to clothes? Did you always have a fashion-forward outlook? Again, what somebody might think of as unusual is, to me, supercomfortable, inspiring, and interesting. I’ve never truly been that aware of fashion; I’m interested in style.
Swinton wears a Haider Ackermann shirt; Alexander Calder necklace from Stephen Russell, New York.
New Royalty: Renaissance Person
Where do you get your ideas? The shower is a frequent place. Actually, near any running water—whether it’s the faucet or the shower. And sometimes I get ideas on a plane because of the sound deprivation.
Do you record your ideas on your phone? I just hold on to them. The best way to remember something is if you home in on the excitement. That you don’t forget.
Is there a song that makes you cry? It’s been maybe 10 years since I heard something that made me cry. There is an old Donny Hathaway song called “Take a Love Song,” and it would make me emotional. But I think I was eating a lot of weed candy at the time, so that may have pushed me over the edge.
Whom do you consider Royal? Wes Anderson. I love what he does. Bill Murray running from a playground in Rushmore made me very happy. Anderson’s composition is amazing: his color, the music that he uses. I’m not an actor, but, in a heartbeat, I would just walk by or whatever he asked me to do in one of his films.
Williams wears a Chanel jacket and necklace; G-Star pants; Adidas Originals = Pharrell Williams shoes; his own shirt, belt, bracelets, ring, watch, and socks.
Classic Royalty: Renaissance Person
When did you start dancing? When I was 3. I loved it. I did recitals and I loved being onstage. I particularly loved the collective mind of the audience. Applause was nice, but I liked the silence of the audience better. The silence means, Oh, my! You have their rapt attention.
MacLaine wears an Akris turtleneck.
Classic Royalty: Activist
I came to New York in the ’70s to become president of Planned Parenthood. It was a time of great difficulty for the city—and for the country—but also one when women made tremendous progress toward being in control of their lives and their bodies. My position allowed me to be a spokesperson for women in the midst of the great changes that were taking place and the turmoil that occurred as a result of them. Today, 40 years later, the continuing opposition to Planned Parenthood comes from people who want to roll back the clock.
Wattleton wears a Row coat; Vhernier earrings; Verdura necklace.
New Royalty: Activist
When I was 11, my parents gave me an iPhone. I think it shaped who I am as a person because I had access to everything very, very early on. But now I’m 18 and I have gotten rid of it. I was worried about the mental-health effects it was having on me. The phone was taking over my life. I felt like I was floating away, and part of that had to do with being in a virtual world without any tangible substance. I felt like I was always refreshing Instagram instead of refreshing my life.
Stenberg wears a Prada top; Buccellati earrings.
New Royalty: Renaissance Person
To me, Paula Abdul is royalty. I just saw her live, and the whole time I was watching her, I was hitting the person next to me and saying, “Oh. My. God. Yes!” I’m late to the game, but Paula Abdul is completely amazing.
Steinfeld wears an Yves Salomon coat; Nili Lotan dress; Mahnaz Collection ring; Lynn Ban earring.
New Royalty: Renaissance Person
There were eight boys in The History Boys, and we were all at a similar point in our careers. The other seven would get incredible scripts for Spielberg movies or big HBO shows, and I would get a one-page script for the guy who drops off a TV for Hugh Grant. I remember thinking, These decisions are being made based on the way I look. I realized then and there that I needed to try and start creating stuff on my own. And I did.
Corden wears a Berluti jacket; Burberry shirt; Balenciaga scarf.
New Royalty: Society
The notion of being born into the right stratosphere no longer exists. More and more, young people want to dedicate their lives to doing something meaningful that has a positive effect on the world. That’s what is valued now—not your name or your lineage.
Bush Lauren wears a Ralph Lauren shirt; Zimmerli of Switzerland tank; Hermès scarves; Vicki Turbeville earrings; vintage bracelet from Stazia Loren, New York.
Classic Royalty: Society
You got involved with God’s Love We Deliver during the ’80s AIDS epidemic. It was a terrible time. We delivered meals to people who were sick. A lot of my friends thought I had lost my mind. There was so much fear.
How did you meet Robert Trump? At a fundraiser. We were married in 1984. But years later things changed, and, in 2007, we divorced.
Did you go to your former brother-in-law’s presidential inauguration? Yes. It was kind of an out-of-body experience. [Laughs] It’s like, Am I really here? I went to all the balls, and there was a wonderful small lunch, and Donald and Melania were there. She looked beautiful.
Is it strange to see your last name everywhere? Yes—very, very strange. I mean, forget paying with a credit card. It’s always, “Are you related?” It never ends.
Trump wears a Chloé dress; David Webb earrings.
New Royalty: Model
I always go into a zone when I’m posing for a photographer. I like to try and get into whatever character is wanted for the photos. For this shoot, I tried to be kind of vulnerable and soft because I can be quite hard with my resting bitch face. I wanted to look innocent, but mysterious. And royal. Very royal.
Aboah wears a Calvin Klein 205W39NYC dress; Stephen Russell earrings; Vhernier bracelets; her own rings.
Classic Royalty: Model
What is your secret skill? Fucking.
Fucking? Mm-hmmm. It’s an awfully good thing to be good at, no? And it goes on forever, guys and girls. You should remember that.
Hutton wears a Row coat.
Classic Royalty: Superhero
My first audition was for some random sort of commercial. I remember walking in and having to tell them about myself, and none of it was very interesting because I never got those jobs. My first regular acting gig was on a soap opera called Home and Away. I did that for three and a half years, and I went through every melodramatic tragedy that one can go through: plane crashes, fires, robberies, landslides. I had three different kids with three different women. And my character was 19 for three years. I never had a birthday. Never aged.
Hemsworth wears a Boss jacket, shirt, and pants; Western Spirit bolo tie; stylist’s own belt.
New Royalty: Superhero
I don’t fuck with karaoke. I tried it once, and it was the biggest disaster. The song I bombed on was “Eye of the Tiger.” It was at a wedding, in front of hundreds of people. The only line of the song that I knew was “eye of the tiger,” so I just mumbled, and it was awful. Deep shame. Now I stick to singing my own songs onstage with my band, Thirty Seconds to Mars. There are some things you just know you’re not good at.
Leto wears an Ann Demeulemeester shirt; Gucci pants; Mikimoto pearls; his own ring and necklace.
New Royalty: Television
As a boy, I was very, very sensitive. Ever the emotional young thing. In eighth grade, a drama teacher put me in a play, and I got really involved with theater. Within a year, all the kids who were making fun of me were my allies. I remember thinking, Instead of being a weird guy in the corner of the classroom, now I’m the weird guy that everyone has to pay attention to! And, like, Wow—maybe someone will kiss me!
Middleditch wears a Prada shirt; Coach 1941 pants; Artemas Quibble belt; Calvin Klein 205W39NYC boots.
Classic Royalty: Television
Since signing on to Stranger Things, I’ve become a binge-watcher of TV. My favorite show is The Americans. It’s brilliant, and Keri Russell is just mind-blowing. I watched the entire last season all at once, and I was crushed when it ended. I met Keri, and I was like, “What’s going to happen?!” I had turned into a fan-geek. But she wouldn’t tell me. Everyone in TV has to keep things a big secret—which I’m learning.
Ryder wears a Dior dress and hat.
New Royalty: Movie Star
I didn’t think I could play Dr. Dre in Straight Outta Compton. I was asked to audition, and I remember saying no because I didn’t want to be the one to mess it up. I was nervous because it was Dr. Dre. And now, after the film, I walk down the street and people ask, “Is that Dr. Dre?” Nobody did that before Compton. Now everybody does it.
Hawkins wears a Giorgio Armani jacket, shirt, and pants; Tom Ford shoes.
Classic Royalty: Movie Star
What was your first acting job? When I was 15 or 16, I was cast as Reese Witherspoon’s son in the film Vanity Fair. I went to the screening, and no one had informed me that I had been cut from the film. But the casting director felt so guilty that she gave me a first run at the part of Cedric in Harry Potter, which I booked. So, in the end, I was quite glad to have been cut from Vanity Fair.
How did you prepare for your role as a bank robber on the run in Good Time? I stayed in character for several days and got a job at a car wash. I wanted to change myself so that people would not be able to recognize me for the whole shoot. And it worked. We were filming in a packed subway at rush hour; I was directed by text message, and no one could tell we were making a movie. Not one person took a cell-phone picture, which would have ruined the whole thing. It was great to not be recognized.
Pattinson wears a Berluti jacket; Charvet scarf.
Classic Royalty: Television
After Everybody Loves Raymond ended, it wasn’t hard to say no to other sitcom offers. This sounds awful, but I had all the money I needed, my wife had all the money she needed, and creatively I wanted to do other things. I thought, Suddenly I have time, I have money, I have a bit of fame, and this is going to be fun. After three months, it wasn’t fun anymore. I had a kind of emotional breakdown until I started creating the next show. People ask me sometimes, “How do you keep going?” And I like to say, “I have to keep moving, or I catch up with myself.”
Romano wears a Balenciaga shirt.
New Royalty: Television
Your mom is Diana Ross. Did you ever borrow her clothes? I’m not going to lie: It was more like stealing. One time, she left the house and I saw her car go down the driveway. I marched myself into her bathroom and started taking clothes. I liked to put them in my closet and live with them as if they were mine. Just as I was loading up, my mom walked into the bathroom. She said, “What are you doing?!” I was like, “I’m organizing your closet for you!” To this day, I visit her closet and call it shopping.
Ross wears an Alexander McQueen dress; Gianvito Rossi shoes.