Jared Leto and Matthew McConaughey in 'Dallas Buyers Club' (Photo: Focus Features)
It was probably inevitable that there would be Oscar talk for Matthew McConaughey's transformative performance in "Dallas Buyers Club," a role for which he lost over 50 pounds. But the "Magic Mike" scene-stealer may have to share the Oscar spotlight.McConaughey's co-star Jared Leto has delivered — what many are saying — is a performance that is just as powerful and moving.
"Dallas Buyers Club," which premiered at this year's Toronto International Film Festival, tells the story of Ron Woodruff (McConaughey), a Texas electrician who took on the medical establishment after being diagnosed as HIV-positive by smuggling and selling foreign drug treatments to his fellow patients. Woodruff's eventual business partner and best friend is Rayon (Leto), an HIV-positive transsexual.
Leto, who for many Gen X-ers will forever be Jordan Catalano from "My So-Called Life," underwent his own physical transformation for the role, losing more than 30 pounds (after gaining more than 60 in 2007 to play John Lennon's assassin Mark David Chapman in "Chapter 27"). But what's even more striking is how he got the part: via a Skype audition with director Jean-Marc Vallée ("The Young Victoria"), who had previously approached Casey Affleck and Gael Garcia Bernal for the role.
Jared Leto at the 2013 Toronto International Film Festival (Photo: REUTERS/Mark Blinch)
It's all thanks to that Skype audition ... which is, let's not forget, eerily similar to how Jennifer Lawrence scored her last-minute and eventually Oscar-winning role in last year's TIFF darling, "Silver Linings Playbook." (And Anne Hathaway — who turned down the role — Angelina Jolie, Rachel McAdams, Olivia Wilde, Elizabeth Banks, Blake Lively, Rooney Mara, Kirsten Dunst, and Andrea Riseborough were all said to have been considered.)
Take note, Oscar hopefuls — you might not have to even leave your home to get the part any more.
"Dallas Buyers Club" marks Jared Leto's first on-screen appearance since "Mr. Nobody" (2009). The actor has spent the last five-plus years concentrating on other interests — most notably, his band.
"I'd been touring the world with 30 Seconds to Mars and that's been wonderful," the 41-year-old actor-musician told Yahoo. "I've had more success than we ever dreamed was possible. Then this little film comes along, and I was finishing my new album and [I was] very busy, and [I thought] 'I don't have time, I don't think I could do this.'"
But he changed his mind based on the strength of the script. Leto told Entertainment Weekly that he found the role of Rayon particularly special because it wasn't a cliché. "It's usually someone dancing on the table with high heels on, the butt of every joke, or has a one-liner and then they run out the room screaming. I thought there was an opportunity to flush out a real person."
And he feels his Hollywood sabbatical ended up being the perfect preparation for the part of Rayon. "I think those five years that I wasn’t acting taught me a lot," Leto told EW. "It's funny: in some ways, I felt like ['Dallas Buyers Club'] was the first thing I'd ever done in my life, the first role, the first film."
Leto's performance is also fueled by his own personal experiences — specifically, his friendship with a gay neighbor who was dying from AIDS during his early years in Los Angeles.
"I watched week after week as he withered away, got sicker and sicker, sores on his body, his neck and face," Leto told EW. "We would sometimes walk and get lunch, or walk to the store. He had a lot of dignity and humor and levity in his situation, so I think there are parts of him in this character as well. I think for people that haven’t been around or had an experience with someone who had been effected by this disease, it's an easy thing to forget about right now, but I felt an obligation to bring as much grace and humanity to the role as possible."
And it's the grace, humanity, dignity and humor that Leto brings to the part that's earning him raves from critics who got to see "Dallas Buyers Club" at TIFF. David Rooney at The Hollywood Reporter calls the actor "simply wonderful ... Fully inhabiting Rayon, [Leto] makes the slender creature anything but synthetic, his flirtatious banter poignantly underscored by helpless self-destructiveness." Jordan Hoffman at Film.com calls it "a perfect performance coming to us at a perfect time." And Tim Robey of The Telegraph says that Leto does "the work of his life" as he "somehow resists every tragic-sidekick cliché that comes within reach."
Watch Jared Leto in a scene from 'Dallas Buyers Club':
Meriah Doty contributed to this report.
- Arts & Entertainment
- Jared Leto
- Dallas Buyers Club
- Matthew McConaughey