Jared Leto. Interview and Cover Story
By Yu Tsai. Fashion by Martina Nilsson
YU TSAI: When Contributor Magazine asked me to come up with a concept for photographing you, my first response was, “Domesticated.” Because I felt that the world of Jared Leto is already so interesting. Everyone can read about it on the Internet and so many different artistic shoots have been approached with you, so I thought spending a simple domesticated day with you would be enough.
JARED LETO: OK.
YT: So simple that it should just be about planting some tomatoes.
JL: Well, I happen to love tomatoes and eat them incessantly so it’s very much in line with me personally. I remember as a child a garden where my brother and I were given the glorious task of pulling weeds. It seemed like punishment (and probably was) but I suppose it taught us important lessons about life, about patience, and about the reward of hard work.
YT: For the interview part, I came prepared; I read your blogs and watched your latest video last night. I felt I had to, just because I didn’t want to be that idiot with the opening line of “I loved you in My So Called Life.” Oh shit. I am that idiot… Sorry.
JL: (no reaction)
YT: Well… OK… I studied at Art Center Pasadena. I had always felt painting would be the best art form for me to express myself and to tell my stories. But I was such a bad painter; I had to change my major to graphic design. As an artist, you are multifaceted: music, acting, writing, photography, and the list goes on. Which art form do you think is best suited for telling your stories?
JL: I’m an Art School survivor as well. Dropped out in my third year. I wanted to be a painter but felt constrained by the two-dimensionality and by the process at the time. I explored everything from sculpting to pottery to photography and then focused on filmmaking, all the while making music in my own time. It was there and with music I connected in a deep way.
YT: I wish I had taken the time to study music. When I grew up I only listened to movie soundtracks. To me, it is still graphic design, it just happen to be with sound wave. Do you still paint?
JL: I do a lot of design work still, a ton of directing + editing, and in general I am always creating some kind of content and experimenting. I love what Andy Warhol said, ‘Labels are for cans not for people’.
YT: I love nothing more than directing. Telling stories is what I love to do the most. Photography can be two-dimensional at times, but the process itself sure isn’t. Process is what I love the most. People ask me all the time about what inspires me in my process and when I shoot. I truly believe that photographers really try to capture their own reflection when they’re shooting. What they see in the viewfinder is what they hope to see in themselves. It is often what they can’t have. What do you see in your viewfinder? What inspires you to create?
JL: People, places, things, art and life itself. My travels around the world are always inspiring. The impact of culture makes a huge dent in my process and me. The first post tour recording session for our new album “Love Lust Faith + Dreams” started in India. It was unforgettable.
YT: You are about to release a new album with 30 Seconds to Mars and getting ready for a tour. What is the significance of this album to you? How involved is your brother in the process of creating this album?
JL: Very involved. I write most the songs but he is an incredible important part of the process. We really feel like we have made a transformative album with ‘Love Lust Faith + Dreams’. We are about to release it any day now and so excited to share it with the world. Two years in the making. It was written and recorded all over the world. I think this album is going to surprise quite a few people.
YT: I got a chance to watch the “Up In The Air” music video. The visual complexity is spectacular. As a wildlife biologist in my previous profession, I couldn’t keep my eyes off the video. I find it fascinating that you chose to feature wild animals and use a zebra as the album art. What lead you down this creative path?
JL: It had a lot to do with aesthetics. The beauty of symbolism of animals is incredible powerful. We also are so far removed from animals I felt it important to film real animals rather that try to CG them. There is something about a living creature standing in front of you. They are wild and full of spirit that reminds you how important it is to take care of each other + the planet.
YT: I couldn’t agree with you more. As an artist, my biggest fear is losing my unique ability to remember everything. I don’t take many pictures outside of work, because I can still see clearly all the places where I’ve been and I remember all the details and even the smells. Therefore, the past really lives in the present for me. What do you fear the most?
JL: I suppose things like mediocrity, which is related to failing at to be fearless and not working hard enough. But generally I think that failure is a great teacher. It can be painful and sometimes even brutal but one of the best ways to learn. Often in my work as a director I am paying homage to the thing I love in life, the things that have inspired me, and examining the many things I am curious about. Mostly Art / Design / People / myth + stories.
YT: What is the present for you?
JL: The present is being focused and clear on what is at hand. That’s why I love creating things. It puts me in a place that is immediate and completely engaging. When I’m working, whether its shooting, performing, or writing a song I feel completely immersed in the experience itself without concern for anything else.
YT: On a lighter note, I read that you were living in your car when you first moved to LA. When I was in college, I lived in my red Toyota pickup truck with a camper shell attached. I made sure I always scheduled my courses with a gym class every morning, just so I had a place to shower and get cleaned up for the day. My Toyota was the first place I called home. I felt really safe in it. What was it like for you?
JL: Actually I showed up in LA without a car. I had a backpack and a few hundred bucks. I slept in Venice. Stayed at motels and on the beach when I ran out of cash. It was a magical time. By the way the car I drive now is from 1996. It’s a truck. Never bought a new one. Works pretty good!
YT: Where is home to you now?
JL: Wherever I happen to be. I’m about to start a year and a half tour of the entire world, and very much looking forward to that. Being rootless is a gift. I’m very fortunate to share my work with so many wonder people around the world. It’s like belonging to a giant global family of friends and freaks.
YT: What is it like being Jared Leto? If someone can look into Jared Leto’s brain, and see his thought process, would they find a complex maze or just a simple plan?
JL: A creative problem solver. A lot of creativity to me is similar to mathematics but with emotion, color, form, and intuition involved as well. I’m constantly working on solving these problems and while doing so discovering surprising elements that add to the final solution. If that doesn’t make sense, it probably doesn’t make sense. Ha-ha.
YT: I have read many original quotes from your website. Would you write one just for this occasion?
JL: “Be as you dream.”
YT: Lastly, thank you for spending a simple and domesticated day with me.
JL: My pleasure! It was a blast.
Words and photography by Yu Tsai and fashion by Martina Nilsson. Grooming by Emily Moses at Opusbeauty, produced by Trever Swearingen for 88phases.com, photo assistance by Gregory Brouilette, production assistance by Todd Touron and retouching by 88phases.com. Shot on location in Hollywood, California.