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It’s been a few years since we last saw Jared Leto in a film, only because he’s been absorbed in his rock band 30 Seconds to Mars. When he took his indefinite hiatus away from cinema, a lot of people like myself believed that he would stick with music and that would be it. Thankfully we were wrong, as years later he appears in a crazy transformative role in the upcoming film Dallas Buyers Club.

It’s a touching, inspirational story based off the events of a heterosexual man named Ron Woodroof (Matthew McConaughey) who finds himself with AIDS. When he uses alternative below-the-counter medicine to sedate it, he forms an illegal group that sells the medicine to others suffering from the epidemic in the mid 80s. Leto plays Rayon, a transgender person whose chance meeting with Woodroof turns into an intriguing partnership in his illegal practices. The actor trades in his booming, masculine voice for that of a southern belle as he mentally and physically altered himself into this complex character.

We got the chance to speak with Jared Leto, the poor guy whose life of travel left him with the seasonal flu that day. In between the hacking and coughing he spoke more about this performance which could win him an Oscar in a couple months’ time.

You’re a fairly young man, but has AIDS touched your life?

When I first moved to California, I rented a bedroom in a three bedroom apartment. One of the rooms was rented by a man in his 40s. He was very frail and obviously not well. I remember I started seeing sores on his forehead and then when I learned that he had AIDS, I watched week after week as he withered away. I used to walk with him to the grocery store sometimes to get vegetables, trying to get vitamins to stay alive but he ultimately passed away. That was a pretty intense experience. He was full of humor and charm and grace, a lot like Rayon.

When you take on a role like this, and you have a total transformation like you did, how much does the makeup, the costume and the voice and all that do the work for you? 

You hope that it does a lot of the work for you. Sometimes you can find a way in through the outside, and that’s interesting, but in this case … there really wasn’t one part of it that was frivolous. It all, everything had it’s purpose, from waxing my eyebrows and loosing the pounds, it all played a part.

Rayon is such an intense, immersive character but also has a great fashion sense. How much influence did you have in designing not only Rayon’s attitude but her entire look?

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I had a great team, a really inspired team of makeup artists and wardrobe people. In 1986 it was probably a struggle to find a size 12 heel in Dallas. A lot of thrift store shopping for her. You start to find things that make you feel a little more connected to the character. You start to get to connect a little bit more. I liked getting rid of the wig, and I think she was in a place where she was trying to figure out who she was, which is why she went through so many wigs. Who am I? Who’s this woman? So that was interesting. But yea, contribution and collaboration.

Is there something that now you can sit back and reflect on it, what’s your takeaway from the experience? Also, how did you find Rayon’s voice?

The voice was key. I was born in Louisiana, so that melody is pretty familiar. I had the dialect and I also had this register. I toyed with the idea of keeping her voice down low, like maybe she hadn’t found her voice yet, but ultimately it was a trial and error process. I didn’t think I can do it now though. I’ve kind of forgotten. It’s a muscle like anything else, you just kind of exercise it a bit and then it’s normal after you talk like that for a little while.

Is it easy for you to let go of a character once filming is done, particularly with Rayon?

It’s kind of hard to let go because you’re making an enormous commitment. Anytime you commit like that, at least for me, it’s hard to stop. It takes a little while sometimes. I remember eating again, you think you’re going to eat a big meal but you can’t. You take half a bite and you’re full. I swore I was going to eat a Thanksgiving meal, Thanksgiving dinner, I was all cued up and everybody’s eating, I took one bite and I put it away. I couldn’t do it. It takes a little while.

What was it like working with [Jean-Marc Vallée] throughout this process of making the movie and your character?

It was great. I really, I stayed very very focus. I stayed in the place I needed to be. Jean-Marc was a great director. he lead the charge, he had a vision. He was very decisive, very confident and he knew the story. I think him and Matthew [McConaughey] were great partners. I was just happy to contribute really. It was just a great opportunity to contribute to a really special story. I’m happy to be a part of it.

Dallas Buyers Club is out in limited theaters this Friday.