Last fall, just as Dallas Buyers Club was being released, I spoke with Jared Leto about the character he played, transgender AIDS patient Rayon, and what the role meant to him. Now that he has won an Oscar, it seems appropriate to revisit it. Here are excerpts from our conversation.
Dallas Voice: Before you took on the movie, what did you know about AIDS buyers clubs? Jared Leto: I wasn’t aware of them at all, and I think that’s one of the fascinating things taking a look at a quintessential American story. I think it is a classic American story: A group of people, fighting for what they believe in. There’s a lot to learn there. AIDS has affected so many of us, and it’s time to take a look at this story at a time when healthcare and getting proper access to it [is so important]. I did my research about the buyers clubs, but I wanted to know Matthew’s Ron, too. That made the most sense to me — to know the Ron Matthew created and live in that reality.
How did you prepare for the role? I started at the very beginning, and the beginning for me was listening. I met with transgender people, and they shared their stories with me — stories about transitioning and stories about telling their parents who they were and are. I learned so much about the physical, the emotional, the ability to overcome great challenges. About having a sense of humor. Some levity is essential.
Your best scene, I think, is where you put on men’s clothes to visit your father … I was in character the entire time [we were filming], so when I finally wasn’t wearing women’s clothing — the only day on the entire shoot — that’s when I felt like I was in drag. I felt very vulnerable. I didn’t have the armor: the heels, the makeup, the wigs. It was a very intense scene. Very emotional, where I am saying goodbye to my father.
Have you ever done anything similar to this? It was the type of role where you dive in 1,000 percent. This is the first time I played anything remotely close to this kind of character. It was a fascinating journey. [Rayon] was fun and funny, sweet and kind — a huge heart and quick to love and be loved.