It’s a balmy Saturday afternoon in Los Angeles when the Oscar-winning actor and everything-else-winning musician Jared Leto picks up the phone.
He’s just spent a long night in the studio recording a new album with his Thirty Seconds to Mars bandmates Tomo Miličević and Shannon Leto (also his brother). A day later he will be on stage at the MTV VMAs, introducing rising star The Weeknd and snapping selfies with host Miley Cyrus. On Friday September 25, he will hit Dubai World Trade Centre for his band’s “explosive” new gig at Dubai Music Week. Such is the life of a multi-hyphenate with singularly good looks.
Beneath the veneer, though, Leto is less typical than most of his peers. After all, how many A-list actors or musicians spend a weekend with 1,000 of their fans camping out in a forest in Malibu, California? None that we know of. Somehow we just can’t visualise the likes of Kanye West or Chris Brown sitting around a fire, meditating, singing karaoke or melting marshmallows. But that’s exactly what Leto and his bandmates did just a week ago.
“We thought it sounded really fun, just being in the outdoors,” Leto says, surprise in his voice at the surprise in ours. “Playing music and having a really intimate experience with our audience – it was exactly that and it was incredible. In some ways it was like a mini-Coachella.” Albeit a mini-Coachella with yoga, archery and talent shows. “It was fantastic because there were all kinds of fun adventures to be had throughout the day. I think a lot of people either have a memory of a childhood summer camp or a camp that they missed out on, and either way it’s something that you kind of have some sense of nostalgia for.”
For a man who won an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for 2013’s Dallas Buyers Club alongside Matthew McConaughey who stars in one of the most anticipated films of 2016 as the Joker in Suicide Squad (“he’s a beautiful disaster”), and who set the Guinness World Record for most live shows played in support of one album (309 to be exact), you’d be forgiven for thinking that Leto’s weekends were more generally spent reclining on superyachts with models than dib-dib-dibbing in the woods. “I suppose it’s really down to your personal taste,” he says. “We’ve never been indulgent, wasteful or over the top. It’s just not what we’re interested in. We like to make music. We like to make art and tour. That’s where our passion lies.”
Growing up, Leto’s life was a world apart from the glamour of Tinseltown. Shannon and he spent their childhood travelling across America with their mother Constance, living in hippie communes in the middle of forests, surrounded by creative types – photographers, writers and musicians. He says his interest in the arts was there even then.
In his Oscar speech, Leto credited his mother for his success, saying, “She encouraged her kids to be creative, to work hard, and to do something special. Mom, thank you for teaching me how to dream.” And dream he did. The star got his first taste of fame in the early ’90s, starring as Jordan Catalano in the TV series My So-Called Life opposite Claire Danes, before getting bigger movie parts in films like Fight Club, American Psycho and Panic Room. But acting was just the half of it.
From an early age, both Jared and Shannon played music together and, in 1998, Thirty Seconds to Mars was born. From the very beginning, Leto has been keen to keep his career as an actor separate, partly due to the early criticism the band received – perhaps from anyone who has ever seen Keanu Reeves wield a guitar or Googled Russ Le Roq (go on, you won’t regret it). The proof has been in the record sales. The band have shifted more than five million albums worldwide and won more than a dozen MTV awards in the process. “And I never won an award for anything I ever did on screen until Dallas Buyers Club. Oddly I’ve won awards for what I’ve been criticised most about – and that’s music,” Leto wryly observed backstage at the Oscars.
“Every song has its own path, it’s always different if it’s done on the piano, on a violin or a drum beat,” he says of the band’s in-progress fifth studio album. “It’s like unlocking a really complex puzzle, but it’s always exciting. I think it’s the best thing we’ve ever done.”
As for his love of the great outdoors, it sounds like Leto’s far from finished. “We can’t wait to come to Dubai. We played Abu Dhabi a few years ago; it was one of our best shows ever. We still talk about it today,” he says.
Then there’s a pause and what sounds like a spark. “You know,” Leto says, as an idea takes shape in his head. “It would be fun to do a desert camp in Dubai. We could share this really wonderful and crazy experience with people in different parts of the world. We could also be in cities longer than we typically would be, yeah…”
Another pause. And then the idea is in his head as clear as day. “Now that,” he says, “would be beautiful.”
Dhs295-550. Fri September 25. Dubai World Trade Centre, Sheikh Zayed Road, www.dubaimusicweek.ae.