TORONTO – Much has been made of Matthew McConaughey's fifty pound weight loss for Dallas Buyers Club, which premiered this week at the 2013 Toronto Film Festival. And while the Texan's visible ribcage reflects an impressively-shocking commitment to his role, the transformation of actor/musician Jared Leto – who goes hairless and in heels for the part – is in some ways even more impressive.
The film, set in Texas in the early 80s, is centered on Ron Woodruff (McConaughey), a man who loves to drink, have sex and attend the rodeo. After contracting HIV, he begins to smuggle experimental AIDS drugs from Mexico and Japan, and eventually goes to war with the FDA. In the process, the unlikely hero finds a "buyers club" of other patients interested in these drugs. His new business partner, Rayon (Leto), is a transgendered junkie also suffering from the disease.
In bright lipstick, ripped tights and a mini skirt, Rayon is Ron's right-hand, and Leto offered input on everything from her wigs to weight. Like his co-star McConaughey, he shed over thirty pounds for the part by eating a reported 400 calories a day (not that anybody's counting).
"You get into this it's a bizarre thing, when you're that skinny, where you kind of start to not feel skinny enough, there's a bit of a head game," Leto told Rolling Stone earlier this year. "But I played a transsexual woman that was dying of AIDS who was also a drug addict, so it was kind of important for the part."
He added, however, that it wasn't losing the weight but gaining it back that was the challenge.
"I'd done it before for Requiem for a Dream, so I had some experience," Leto says. "When you lose weight, you can kind of waste away. But when you gain it back, in order to gain the muscle back, you have to earn it. If you sit around and eat you just gain fat."
The film marks Leto's return to the screen after an extended hiatus. "I felt more at ease, more confident, and I think a better actor as a result of taking those five years away from the screen," he says. "Working, touring the world with 30 Seconds to Mars, the experiences, growing up – they all taught me a lot."
And his opinion on heels? "I recommend them," Leto told reporters. "You give yourself a deeper understanding and appreciation for women around the world."