Rocket Man: Jared Leto on Mars, McCartney and Making Room for Oscar

The actor/musician/actor (again) discusses the year that was, and what's next

Jared Leto
Michael Buckner/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images
Jared Leto
By |

It's been a transformative year for Jared Leto.

In May 2013, his band Thirty Seconds to Mars released their fourth album, LOVE LUST FAITH + DREAMS, and embarked on (yet another) world tour. A few months later, Dallas Buyers Club premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival, earning him critical acclaim and kicking off a run that culminated with a Best Supporting Actor win at the Academy Awards in March.

The Many Faces of Jared Leto

After all that, you'd think Leto would be ready for a break. Instead, he's guiding Mars through their first foray as independent artists, gearing up for a return to the road, and getting used to life as an Oscar winner. Rolling Stone spoke with him about the year that was, and what's next ... for both his band and his career on the big screen.

In April, Thirty Seconds to Mars parted ways with Virgin/EMI, ending an interesting relationship. Is it safe to assume you're going to be free agents for a while?
If you watch Artifact, you understand the battle that we had with the record industry, the $30 million lawsuit, the fight for our creative lives, and how that kind of changed us and put us on this path that we're on now. We have been signed to a label since 1998, so for the first time ever we are actually free, and it's exciting. There are limitless options out there. Tech options, crowd-funding options, but record companies are still a really great option too, because you have a group of people who believe in music, who help artists bring their dreams to life.

So I don't hate on record companies, I'm just anti-corruption, anti-greed. And I think record companies can make fair, clear deals with artists and still be really profitable. So, we're looking at our options; we have several labels that want to work with us, and yes, they've seen Artifact. They know what we've been through.

So are you working on new music? 
Always. I was in the studio two nights ago working on new ideas. I was talking to Paul McCartney at one of these events during awards season – always great to drop Paul McCartney's name. Don't worry, I'll do Bono next [laughs]. Anyway, I was kind of prodding him for some advice. And he just talked about something I've heard many creative people say before. He said 'You know what? Just write. Show up every day and write something. And keep writing. Even when you think you don't have something to say, just do it. And wonderful things will happen.' So I'm taking that approach. There are no rules right now. If a song is ready, we could release it. There might be a collaboration or a new song coming. You never know.

In a lot of ways, it seems like you're in a pretty enviable position.
Well, I would never take it for granted, but I do feel like I've earned the right [to do what I want], and I would encourage anybody to embrace this perspective. It's up to us to define who we are and what our lives are, and to really do whatever the fuck you want to do, unless it's hurting other people. Whether that's not making a film for six years, and deciding to make a couple of albums and fight an entire industry while they sue you for everything you've got; whether that's your path or it's something else, you gotta do what you're inspired to do, and I'll continue to take that approach.

I'm not going to jump into some film unless I think it's going to be an interesting and challenging experience. And the same with music. We're out touring the world, going back out in August and September, playing amphitheaters in America with Linkin Park and AFI, because we're excited to do it.

You're definitely the first Oscar winner to tour with Linkin Park. Has your life changed since winning an Academy Award?
Oh yeah, in a lot of ways. There's a lot of goodwill and joy and excitement that not only I get, but everybody around me gets. We've known each other for so long, there's an investment as a co-conspirator and a friend, like 'Oh shit, my buddy Jared had something really wonderful happen.' It's not just about me, it's about all of us; it becomes a community thing. And you get a chance to take the light that shines on you and turn it back on your mom, or your friends, or people that have believed in you.

But another nice thing that's happened is there's been some clarity and some understanding and some reclamation of public image, where people have gotten to know me a little more, rather than an idea they may have had of me. It's a fringe benefit, but it's also a really nice thing.

Jared Leto Gets Back

As an artist, which industry is more frustrating: movies or music?
They're very different. There's traditionally been a lot more stability in the movie business, because there are many more examples of long-term careers. A musician can be a teenager, can come out and have more success than you ever thought was possible. And that success can often times be short-lived, so there's not a lot of time for people to stick around and use that influence and success to change the way the model works.

In recent years, there's been a lot of instability in the music business ... music companies become shells of their former selves, are a company in name only, and don't have a staff or a team or a maverick or a leader at the helm. Those people still exist – John Janick at Interscope, Lucian Grainge at Universal, people who have a clear vision of how they want to do things and they go out and execute. There are people out there kicking ass and taking names.

I guess the answer is: there are parts of both that are frustrating, but I think anybody could say that about their job. You probably don't like typing. Or maybe you do, I don't know [laughs].

It seems like much is made about the "politics" of Hollywood. Did you experience any of that while promoting Dallas Buyers Club?
Honestly, I didn't. I know some people have had a negative experience, but for me, people were really nice, they were really genuine. You get to meet your heroes, people who have influenced you: Robert Redford, Meryl Streep. You meet people and you go 'Wow, these people are pretty incredible.' And on top of that, they're really nice. I was driving back from Coachella, and I got a call from Robert Redford, and he was calling me to tell me he had watched a film that affected him deeply, and it was Artifact. So that was kind of cool. And he gave me some words of wisdom, too. It was very kind of him to take a few minutes of his day to call.

Now that you've won an Oscar, does it make you want a Grammy even more?
I've never held out for any award in my entire life. I've never thought I'd ever get one; it's funny, the thing I was initially criticized for the most is the thing I've been awarded for the most. I've won more awards for music that anything. So when the movie came out and it was supported, it was a pretty impactful and different experience for me. But I don't really pine for awards. They've never been part of any of the things that I think about.

Plus, they're probably everywhere now.
They're all kind of shoved into the corner of my kitchen, because when you walk into the house, that's where you put stuff. So they ended up in the kitchen, and they're there right now. I'm looking at the back of the head of the Oscar and the MTV one; they're keeping each other company. But they're not in a very glamorous spot. I don't know what you do with these things.