DETAILS: Your mother was a circus acrobat when you were growing up. How did she get into that line of work?
Jared Leto: Well, my mother was and is an artist, but she was also a single mother with two boys, so I'm sure there were times her occupation wasn't as creative as she wanted it to be. We clawed our way out of the muddy banks of the Mississippi with food stamps in one hand and whatever you could hold in the other. She's a photographer; she's worked in design; she was a rock-climbing guide; she rescued wolves for a while.
DETAILS: You've said that when you were young you'd break into people's houses and just sit in their living rooms. Why did you do that?
Jared Leto: My brother and I didn't have many rules for ourselves and really didn't acknowledge that there were any rules in the world. We would often break into schools. I assumed everyone did. I mean, we broke out of schools a lot as well. We were the kids that other kids weren't allowed to play with. There wasn't any deep ill intent, but we were compelled to do certain things. I think it was about experience, a feeling you get when you're on the edge.
DETAILS: As Jordan Catalano on My So-Called Life, you became an iconic nineties crush for sensitive, smart alterna-girls. Was there a downside?
Jared Leto: I didn't notice that stuff. I was just grateful to have the work. It was a very short period of time in my life. It was 17 episodes, and I barely spoke!
DETAILS: After that you took darker roles, from a heroin addict in Requiem for a Dream to Lennon's murderer, Mark David Chapman, in Chapter 27. Did you feel the need to ugly yourself up to be taken seriously?
Jared Leto: I didn't want to take on really corny movies that focused on people's looks, if that's what you mean. My heroes were Christopher Walken, Dennis Hopper, Sean Penn, Daniel Day-Lewis. Those are the actors I thought, "Wow, those guys are pushing themselves as far as they can go."
DETAILS: Was it hard to gain 67 pounds for the Mark David Chapman part?
Jared Leto: People ask if that was fun, but there wasn't any pleasure—it wasn't that sort of eating. I was force-feeding myself, overeating, melting Häagen-Dazs and mixing it with olive oil and soy sauce and drinking that. One or two of those before bed seemed to help. And there was a lot happening on the inside. That was one part of an experience in exploring the darker recesses of humanity. I would never do that again.
DETAILS: Your band, 30 Seconds to Mars, has this fantasy-fiction lexicon—your fans are the Echelon, for instance. You seem to be in touch with your dorky side.
Jared Leto: Much more than people realize. I was never really the cool kid or the jock. I was always very much the lone wolf. If I could have ever figured out how to play Dungeons & Dragons correctly, I'd probably still be playing it.
DETAILS: What does music allow you to express that acting doesn't?
Jared Leto: I don't think it has to be defined that way. Just because you like a sunset doesn't mean you can't enjoy a sunrise. There are different things in life that are worth the pursuit. This has been the longest project I've ever worked on, the longest commitment I've ever had to any creative endeavor. We've been signed since 1998.
DETAILS: Wow, you've been signed since then?
Jared Leto: Signed to Virgin Records in 1998, and we were a band years and years before that. So this has been quite a journey.
DETAILS: In concert you wear eyeliner, crazy hairstyles, elaborate outfits. Do you regard it as another acting gig?
Jared Leto: No, no, no. As a musician, it's about revealing more of who you really are. I'm not handed a script with dialogue; there's no cinematographer or editor. I'm not so interested in creating a persona. There have been shows where I've been very plain and shows where I've worn a dress. I've got a skirt on right now. I was in Japan and all the busboys were wearing them.
DETAILS: Would you wear it without the sweatpants underneath?
Jared Leto: No, I leave that to the Scottish.
DETAILS: You've gone out in public in drag.
Jared Leto: I walked down Madison Avenue in a spaghetti-strap tank top and black-fringe wig, and I thought that I would pass with flying colors, but I didn't. My shoulders were too big. My jaw was too big. I was just trying to disappear. It wasn't like I was getting in touch with my inner transvestite, which I'm sure is inside of us all somewhere.
DETAILS: What do you think about that girl on YouTube who puts on makeup and winds up looking exactly like you?
Jared Leto: I thought it was very endearing and creative and bizarre all at the same time. She did a really good job.
DETAILS: You're known as a ladies' man. What's the quickest you've ever gone from saying hello to someone to being in bed with them?
Jared Leto: Well, you know, I've lived a life. I've certainly had my experiences out there, but I wouldn't be so much of a gentleman if I talked about them. I would furthermore say, if you hope to have any respect at all, you probably shouldn't talk about them.
DETAILS: You turn 39 this month. Any plans to settle down?
Jared Leto: I don't really believe in settling down. That term implies that the current path I'm on isn't valid. It's not always about living your life the way people have lived before you.
DETAILS: 30 Seconds to Mars recorded this very passionate, invested cover of Lady Gaga's "Bad Romance." Have you heard from her?
Jared Leto: No, she didn't send me an approval with any constructive criticism, if that's what you mean. We've talked a couple times. I met her at the VMAs. She was a nice, sweet girl.
DETAILS: Why did you cover that song?
Jared Leto: BBC Radio 1 in London does something called "Live Lounge," where bands are asked to cover pop songs. "Bad Romance" was everywhere at the time. It's a fun song. But I had to rewrite the lyrics. I hope Lady Gaga didn't mind. They were very filthy, how I wrote them. I managed, I think, to make it even filthier.
DETAILS: You and Kanye West recorded a song together called "Hurricane," which is in part about persecution. Did you bond over all your haters?
Jared Leto: I see Kanye as a fellow artist. I think there's a connection there, but I don't think it's about feeling persecuted. It doesn't matter if you're President Barack Obama or Bono or the Pope—there's someone out there who wants to fuck you and someone who wants to kill you.