Two nights earlier, the other side of Jared Leto is on full ear-ringing display at the Hollywood Bowl, where Thirty Seconds to Mars are leaning into a sold-out hometown gig. "I believe in you, California – do you believe in me?" Leto asks the crowd. (Spoiler alert: They do.) The hugely entertaining show features giant color-changing balloons cascading through the crowd, a worm-shaped dirigible, multiple confetti cannons and elaborate videos that include the message YES THIS IS A CULT.
Thirty Seconds to Mars make large-scale theatrical rock music; like their fellow travelers Panic! at the Disco and the Killers, they are successful in the States but even bigger in Europe. After 11 years, they've tallied four albums, 10 million copies sold and one protracted $30 million lawsuit with their record label that ended with the band extending its label deal. "I fail all the time," Leto says. "Every time I make an album, you hear the 10 best songs. I wrote a hundred songs for the last album [Love Lust Faith + Dreams]. Failure isn't the enemy – success often is."
The band has allowed Leto tons of latitude to explore his various interests outside music, especially filmmaking – he directs the group's elaborate videos, which often end up more like short films. "To tell you the truth, I edit more than anything else," Leto says. For "City of Angels," he interviewed a bunch of performers on the topic of fame, from Kanye West to a Michael Jackson impersonator; for "A Beautiful Lie," he shot on Arctic glaciers and edited the footage for six months. His pseudonym on these projects is Bartholomew Cubbins (a name borrowed from a Dr. Seuss book). "I made up the story that he's some insanely obnoxious Danish albino," Leto says. Cubbins' Twitter account gives Leto a safe place to vent his spleen, with erratically capitalized sentiments such as "ChEW mY coCKcuMBer u FaRTing bUtWhiSTle!"
After the show, the bandmates (a core trio that include multi-instrumentalist Tomo Milicevic and Jared's older brother Shannon on drums) sign CDs for thousands of fans, who have come from as far away as Portugal. An attractive brunette tells Leto, "My husband threw his wedding ring at you when you were in the crowd – did you happen to find it?" Her husband, who apparently was trying to also propose some kind of rock & roll marriage to Leto, is a big guy sporting a pink mohawk like the one Leto used to have. Leto doesn't accept the proposal, but he does sign his CD with an extra flourish.
Leto didn't have a serious girlfriend until he reached his twenties: "I was never very proficient with the ladies when I was younger, but I started making up for lost time." (He dated Cameron Diaz from 1999 to 2003; the couple were engaged before they split up.) And he doesn't think he's particularly good boyfriend material at this point in his life: "I'm too obsessed with my own creative ambitions and my own goals."
After thousands of autographs, Leto ponders his own life. "In five or six years, I might disappear," he muses. "How many people do you need to love you to feel OK about yourself? How many times do you need to stand in front of tens of thousands of people who are singing your songs? How many filmmakers need to hire you – how many Darren Aronofskys and Oliver Stones and David Finchers and Terrence Malicks need to say, 'He's good enough for me,' before you're good enough for yourself?"
This story is from the November 7th, 2013 issue of Rolling Stone.
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