It’s Time for a Jared Leto Reckoning
He’s a villain in more ways than one
At one point in Morbius, the much-decried new Jared Leto movie in which he plays “living vampire” Dr. Michael Morbius, a man working at a newsstand says what we’re all thinking. He tells Morbius’s friend Milo (Matt Smith) that he’s always thought that the renowned doctor, famous for creating artificial blood, is a freak. Milo asks him why he thinks that.
“Well, look at him. What else do you need to know,” the man says, before being promptly killed and exsanguinated by Milo, who is also a vampire.
This is what it feels like to talk about Leto. The man is a freak — just look at him. Just watch anything he’s ever been in, or read up on his “process” and the way colleagues talk about him; darker, still, recall the rumors about his alleged preference for much (much) younger women that have swirled for years. It’s difficult to think of one redeeming fact about the 50-year-old actor and musician.
Certainly not in his film work, to start with. Somewhere along the way, Leto seems to have convinced himself that he is akin to Brad Pitt in that he is a character actor trapped in a leading man’s body. Inside him lies a charismatic livewire aching to be released, if only it wasn’t buried beneath high cheekbones and uncannily blue eyes, he seems to lament — and so he insists on some twisted idea of method acting in order to unleash his full freak potential.
Stories of his extreme behavior on set have circulated for years. In 1997, director Steve James, who worked with Leto on the biopic Prefontaine, told the now-defunct Details magazine — for a profile that can now only be found on fan blogs dedicated to Leto’s band Thirty Seconds to Mars — that his star tended to get “wrapped up” in his role “to the point of being noncommunicative.”
To prepare for Requiem for a Dream, Leto slept on the streets of New York, abstained from sex for two months, and lost almost 30 pounds to play drug addict Harry Goldfarb; seven years later, he got gout from gaining almost 70 pounds to play John Lennon’s assassin Mark David Chapman in Chapter 27.
When filming Dallas Buyers Club, a movie for which he would eventually win an Oscar, his co-stars said that they had never truly met Leto, since he was always in character as Rayon, a trans woman. When asked how he summoned his “inner transsexual” to play Rayon — a performance that was lauded for its “beauty” and “delicacy” in the portrayal of a “transvestite” (it was a different time) — Leto told the Daily Beast, “It’s inside of all of us, our inner trans. It’s about identity. All of us, at some point in our lives, ask ourselves who we really are.” He also told anyone who would listen that he waxed his legs and eyebrows for the role.
After that, Leto fully lost it. His next role was as the Joker in David Ayers’s critical flop Suicide Squad. You’ve probably heard the behind-the-scenes horror stories: Leto sent Margot Robbie a live rat (which she kept as a pet), he sent bullets to Will Smith, he had his “henchmen” bring a dead pig to set. Leto himself said that he sent the cast anal beads and used condoms, a claim that he later walked back. “I did a lot of things to create a dynamic, to create an element of surprise, spontaneity,” he told E! News. “The Joker is somebody who doesn’t really respect things like personal space or boundaries.” Keep in mind that he is only in the movie for about 10 minutes.
Suicide Squad marked Leto’s full-tilt entry into freakdom, and not for the better. Since then, his most notable roles have been as a long-haired freak/possible serial killer in The Little Things (for which he was nominated for Golden Globe and Screen Actors Guild awards), a combover freak/sad sack Waluigi in House of Gucci (his best performance in a decade), a long-haired freak/grifter in WeCrashed, and now a long-haired freak/vampire in Morbius.
The thing about his latest projects is that, despite all of the — some would say unnecessarily exhausting — off-screen effort he puts into them, he is rarely the best performance. Denzel Washington outshines him in The Little Things, House of Gucci is the Lady Gaga Show, Anne Hathaway is delivering a genuinely interesting performance on an otherwise confused WeCrashed, and Matt Smith is the only person in Morbius who seems to understand what the tone of the movie should be.
In comparison to his co-stars, Leto often comes off as someone trying incredibly hard to deliver a capital-“P” performance. Nothing is ever natural for him, even when he is playing a real person. Despite all the physical transformation he puts into his work — radical fluctuations in weight, copious prosthetics, major contortions of the body — he is never quite able to do the job often being asked of him: to act like a human being.
All of this makes the apparently industry-wide tolerance for his more reprehensible qualities even more of a mystery. He has had bizarre displays of a short fuse, like when he grabbed Elijah Wood by the neck at an awards show in 2006 because the Lord of the Rings actor said his music was “fucking awful.” There have also been reports that he pays a little too much attention to underage girls; a 2005 New York Post article alleged that he was “constantly texting these 16- and 17-year-old” teenage models. Leto appeared to have not yet kicked this alleged habit by 2018; former Disney star Dylan Sprouse, who had reportedly started dating the model Barbara Palvin at the time, tweeted at Leto, “now that you’ve slid into the dm’s of every female model aged 18-25, what would you say your success rate is?”
James Gunn, who would go on to direct the Suicide Squad movie that Leto is pointedly not in, replied, “He starts at 18 on the internet?” Gunn has since deleted the tweet, but it lives on in screenshots that pop up every now and then.
As if it couldn’t get worse, several women have accused Leto of outright sexual assault. In an article for Contemptor in 2015, writer Evangeline Van Houten compiled several now-deleted posts from women who claimed to have been assaulted or coerced by Leto in their teens.
Leto would not be the first man in Hollywood to continue to work despite having an alleged history of violent misconduct. The gross reality of Hollywood is that, even in what is supposedly a “post-MeToo era,” you can be an asshole on set, you can have accusations of physical or sexual violence in your past, but as long as you’re talented enough, all that other stuff often gets swept under the rug. (Google “Michael Fassbender domestic abuse” if you want an example.)
Leto is pushing the limits of that disgusting grace. His performances and offscreen antics have gotten wilder, but not necessarily better. At the same time, the whispers of his reputation as an alleged predatory creep are growing louder. And yet he continues to book work; he is currently signed on to reunite with Requiem for a Dream director Darren Aronofsky in the movie Adrift, a movie based on a short story by The Ring author Koji Suzuki.
Knowing Leto, we are in for a lot more bullshit, both on and off the screen. We can only pray that, sooner or later, enough people will come to their senses and realize that he is not good enough to be this bad.