After this year's Academy Awards are handed out on March 2, it's very likely that we'll be saying, "Jared Leto: Oscar winner." The actor-slash-singer's turn as an HIV-positive, transgender woman in Dallas Buyers Club has earned him a Best Supporting Actor nod, as well as wins at this year's Golden Globes and Screen Actors Guild Awards, among other accolades. It's one of many roles over the course of his 20-year career in which he alters his pretty-boy appearance, as if he can't get enough distance between himself and his breakthrough role as teen heartthrob Jordan Catalano on the short-lived, cult TV series My So-Called Life. From a porky celebrity-stalker/killer to a yuppie beaten to a bloody pulp, Leto clearly gravitates towards roles that drastically alter his appearance.—Katy Kroll
In his first high-profile role after playing dreamy d-bag Jordan Catalano on My So-Called Life, Leto transformed into Olympic runner Steve Prefontaine, complete with bleach-blond hair, mutton chops and a '70s-era 'stache. While it may seem subtle now, it was an unexpected choice at the time, considering high school- and college-aged girls were still ripping his posters out of Teen Beat magazines. Along with this first foray into altering his appearance came another running theme in his carefully selected film career: His character dies. (Of his 27 films so far, about one-third of his characters die, with a majority of the rest reaching some equally grisly end.)
"I felt like destroying something beautiful." That was the reason behind Leto's character Angel Face getting his handsome features pulverized into oblivion during an ultra-violent brawl with Edward Norton's split personality, insomniac office worker-turned-cult leader. The savage beating left a toothless Leto writhing on a basement floor in a pool of blood and grotesquely deformed for the rest of the film.
On the surface of this psychological drama directed by Darren Aronofsky, Leto looks like Leto. Until, that is, he devolves into an emaciated drug addict who ultimately needs to have his rotting heroin arm amputated. After starring in such unmemorable films as Switchback and Urban Legend, and having bit parts in The Thin Red Line and American Psycho, Requiem was one of his first post-So-Called Life roles that made fans and critics sit up and take notice of his acting chops.
In one of his more mainstream film choices, Leto plays a corn-rowed robber whose face gets badly burned while trying to lure his victims, played by Jodie Foster and Kristen Stewart, out of a panic room in a New York City brownstone that houses million-dollar bonds. As if disfiguring him with a fireball wasn't enough, in the end—spoiler alert—he's shot in the head by one of his fellow thieves. Talk about a double tap.
Leto suffered from gout after gaining close to 70 pounds to play Mark David Chapman, the deranged fan who killed John Lennon, in this biopic that co-starred Lindsay Lohan. In order to quickly balloon up for the role, the actor ate pints of microwaved Häagen-Dazs ice cream mixed with soy sauce and olive oil. To some extent, though, it was all for naught: Amid controversy over the subject matter, the film grossed a measly $56,215 at the U.S. box office.
In this little-seen sci-fi film (not released in the States until 2013), Leto plays a 118-year-old man named Nemo who reminisces about alternate lives he could have led had he made different choices. Unrecognizable as the old man, the actor's storyline cuts back to Nemo as both a young boy and his 34-year-old self, where his appearance is continually altered. On one path, he's shown as a homeless man, on another with a scarred face. It's quite possibly Leto's most ambitious—and obvious—attempt to mask his own face.
Leto has earned rave reviews for his portrayal of Rayon, an HIV-positive, trans-woman struggling with addiction—his first major role in several years, after taking time off to focus on his band 30 Seconds to Mars. He immersed himself in the role, remaining in character throughout the 25-day shoot, waxing his entire body and losing 30 pounds to weigh in at a scant 116 lbs. on his 5'9 frame. He even flirted with director Jean-Marc Vallee while dressed as a woman in order to nab the part. That dedication could pay off in spades, as he's been nominated for Best Supporting Actor at the 86th Academy Awards.