The disarmingly handsome Jared Leto has had his share of gritty roles — a self-destructive runner in Prefontaine, a Fight Club participant who gets his pretty face bashed in — but they pale in comparison to his role as a hopeless heroin addict in the bleak but critically acclaimed Requiem for a Dream.
"It's not a Hollywood cinematic, melodramatic experience," Leto says of the film, which was directed by Darren Aronofsky (Pi). Requiem follows four characters (played by Leto, Jennifer Connelly, Marlon Wayans, and Ellen Burstyn) into the depths of drug addiction and degradation.
"It's a f--k you. The film tells you to f--k off countless times," says Leto, sounding just as nihilistic as his Dream character.
"It spits in your face and tells you to keep watching. It's a challenging and difficult film that's not for the teen pop world," the 28-year-old actor continues.
For the role of drug-addicted Harry, Leto did everything he could to live in Harry's empty shell, short of actually shooting heroin.
"I wanted to understand who this guy was, so I lived on the streets in New York," says the actor, who lost 25 pounds for the role. "It was fascinating to get that close to [drug addiction], and it's heartbreaking to see what people go through. There was one night when a girl overdosed and a few days later, the guy she was with said, 'Remember that girl that OD'd? Well, she died at the hospital.'"
Dream, which was originally saddled with an NC-17 rating by the MPAA, is now in limited release with no rating at all, because Artisan refused to edit the film.
Leto says this kind of controversy "shows the hypocrisy we're surrounded by. And the fact that it stops people from seeing the movie is disappointing, because I'd love for people to see it. This movie is unrated because of a sexual problem that they had with it. I don't think this movie is for children, but I think if you went home and looked at the video games that your kids are playing, you'd be much more shocked."