Jared Leto took a bold approach playing flamboyant black sheep Paolo in Ridley Scott’s House Of Gucci. The actor tells Screen about how he tackled a role that became one of the film’s major talking points.

Jared Leto on the 'House Of Gucci' set with Ridley Scott

Source: Fabio Lovino / Metro Goldwyn Mayer Pictures Inc.

Jared Leto on the ‘House Of Gucci’ set with Ridley Scott

When Jared Leto signed up for the role of the flamboyant but delusional Paolo Gucci in Ridley Scott’s drama House Of Gucci, he told the director: “Just so you know, I’m going to go completely crazy here.”

The Dallas Buyers Club Oscar winner — who is speaking to Screen International prior to the death of that film’s director Jean-Marc Vallée — was originally considering a different part in House Of Gucci, but after reading the script fell in love with Paolo, the black sheep of the Gucci family who ends up turning on his relatives after his dreams of becoming a designer are thwarted.

“I could relate to Paolo’s desire to be taken seriously as an artist, his desire to be heard, his desire to create something special and share it with the world,” says Leto. “He reminded me a lot of my grandfather, who had a kind of mischievous charm to him and was gregarious and full of life and laughter. In my life I can be quite reserved and quiet unless I’m on stage [with his band 30 Seconds To Mars], so I love that Paolo was virtually singing and dancing all the time.”

Leto says Scott gave him the freedom to go off and build his character, with the actor putting in months of preparation before “basically showing up on set as Paolo”. There was not a huge amount of information about the real Paolo Gucci for Leto to go on, just a few photographs and a couple of minutes of interview footage. “It was just enough for me to get a cadence, a register for his voice, a dialect, his sense of humour,” he says. “You could tell he was witty and charming.”

Of course, the balding, portly Paolo looks nothing like Leto, which was another attraction for the actor, who previously undertook dramatic physical transformations for roles in Dallas Buyers Club, Requiem For A Dream and Chapter 27. “I knew it was going to be a transformational thing though I didn’t know what he looked like when I first read the script,” he says.

The role required Leto to be in make-up for around six hours per day, and initially all day and all night during testing. He says he used the time to prepare and focus (“There wasn’t a single second where I thought, ‘Can we hurry up, goddamn it?’”), and says he forgot about the make-up he was wearing as soon as cameras were rolling. “Once it went on, I believed in it… I never watched the monitor or looked at photos, I was just there,” he adds. “I love transformation, in case you hadn’t noticed.”

Leto has earned a reputation for going deep into his characters (Vallée said that while filming Dallas Buyers Club “Jared never showed me Jared”), but he thinks people misunderstand his process. “‘Method acting’, ‘staying in character’, I just reject those terms because they have been perverted by a bunch of morons who don’t know what they are talking about,” he says. “For me it’s practical. It’s my job to be the most prepared person on the planet and be ready to go. You don’t want to step onto a set with Denzel Washington or Denis Villeneuve or Al Pacino and not be prepared. I enjoy disappearing into that part. There’s nothing strange about it. What’s strange is people’s interpretation of my art. Everyone has a method.”

Back in style

Leto stars alongside Adam Driver, Lady Gaga, Al Pacino and Jeremy Irons in House Of Gucci, which recounts the stranger-than-fiction story of how members of the Gucci clan fought for control of the iconic fashion brand, with the struggle ending in tax evasion, incarceration and murder.

Produced by MGM, Bron and Scott Free, the film was shot mostly in Rome (Cinecitta studios and some exteriors) from March to May 2021, beginning when the country was in lockdown. “There was nobody on the streets, you weren’t even allowed to go for a walk,” says Leto. “In a way it’s great for work because there are no distractions.”

It was Leto’s first time working with Scott, and the actor was a fan of the director’s fast-paced shooting style that utilises multiple cameras and fewer takes. “It’s exciting for the actors. You’re able to do simple things like overlap in conversation, and they can use mistakes or happy accidents,” he says. “The way Ridley works is the way everyone should work.”

Scott’s approach gave Leto scope for plenty of improvisation, both physically and with dialogue, and the actor did not rehearse with his fellow cast members. “I haven’t rehearsed in about a decade,” he says. “I find it to be exciting when you don’t rehearse. If everyone has prepared and done their homework, which was the case [on House Of Gucci], it can be electrifying. If a first take is a disaster, in a way it’s beautiful, because in those broken bits you put it back together in a way I find is often filled with much more creativity and truth than otherwise.”

Leto’s bold performance — which has earned him a SAG nomination in the supporting actor category — has attracted plenty of praise from critics, but also some dissenters, which intrigues Leto when the topic is raised. “I can imagine [the reaction] because it’s a big swing,” he says. “I don’t look at reviews, I don’t look at critics or read comments, but I tried my very best. Paolo is the best I can do. If you don’t like the work, that’s okay.

“I had a blast playing it, I dug in as deep as I could,” he adds. “It’s also that thing of if you’re not pissing people off then you’re doing something wrong. As an actor, if you want to put a dent in things you got to break things a bit, and not everyone’s going to understand that. So if that’s happening, then great.”

House Of Gucci was released by United Artists in North America and Universal internationally in November, taking more than $125m at the global box office at press time. It has proved a rare grown-up Covid-era theatrical hit, in contrast to director Scott’s other 2021 film The Last Duel, which scraped past $30m the previous month.

“It probably helped that the film was only in theatres,” says Leto on House Of Gucci’s success. “Not to weigh in on that big debate but it does make sense that if you can only see it in theatres, you’re going to do that. I had people asking me for links to the movie and I said, ‘Listen, you got to go to the theatre. I don’t have a secret link to the film.’”

His next project is Sony’s comic-book adaptation Morbius, initially set for release in January, but recently rescheduled for April. “I’m in this rare position where I have two movies coming out a few months apart that are both exclusively in theatres,” he says. “I’m flying the flag.”