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Exclusive interview: Jared Leto morphs into the villain in the dark crime thriller The Little Things

Jared Leto as in The Little Things.
Jared Leto as in The Little Things. Pic credit: Warner Bros.

What makes Jared Leto’s movies so fascinating is that he is a chameleon who morphs into the body and mind of his diverse characters, especially the ones who delve deeply into the dark side.

Looking at his roles in Fight Club, Suicide Squad, Blade Runner, The Thin Red Line, and American Psycho, to name just a few, you can see his devotion to his process, and how his exhaustive research informs his “method-like acting.”

This is especially true when he was portraying a transgender woman in Dallas Buyers Club, for which he earned an Academy Award, a Golden Globe, and a Screen Actors Guild Award.

And it is certainly the case in The Little Things, his dark new psychological thriller from Warner Bros. Pictures that follows two cops as they investigate a series of gruesome murders in L.A.

Starring opposite Denzel Washington as Kern County Sheriff’s Deputy Joe “Deke” Deacon and Rami Malek as L.A. County Sheriff’s Homicide Sgt. Jim Baxter, Leto plays Albert Sparma, the prime suspect in a series of murders committed in the fall of 1990 being investigated by the police.

Written and directed by John Lee Hancock, (The Blind Side and Saving Mr. Banks), Leto said “I’ve learned over the years that you follow a great director into a great team. That’s really important to me.”

The 49-year-old Leto admits that, with a hectic schedule, including his thriving music career, he is picky about his film roles. But he said that working with Washington and Malek made The Little Things too irresistible to pass up.

“I do have a pretty busy life for which I am incredibly grateful,” he explained. “So, that gives me some flexibility to not feel an incredible amount of pressure to work all the time,” Leto added. “For me, Denzel is like Brando, Beethoven, and Steve Jobs. Watching him work was the gift of a lifetime and I’m so appreciative of his career.”

“And Rami is the new kind of force to be reckoned with,” he recalled. “It was great to get in the ring with both of these guys, who were so generous and down for anything. I’m really grateful to both of them for that.”

Leto was eager to talk about the exhaustive process to find just the right hair after trying numerous wigs, what attracted him to The Little Things, playing dark film characters, and enjoying the cat and mouse game in this edge-of-your-seat crime thriller.

Monsters & Critics: Jared, what makes you want to spend so much time jumping into this kind of dark character?

Jared Leto: Once I spoke to [the film’s director] John Lee Hancock and we immediately knew we were both on the same page of what we wanted to try and accomplish here and the journey that we wanted to go on, I was in.

For me, it was an experiment in how far I could push things; right up to the line and see how transformative that I could be in terms of the way he talked and walked and the physicality of the man was a really big one for me.

M&C: Please talk about how you were transformed into Albert Sparma?

Jared Leto: There was a lot of experimentation and a lot of failures. I think we tried on maybe 50 different wigs, and some of them were the worst wigs. I think at one point I looked like I was starring in the Broadway musical Annie. When you make films, you can fail as much as you want, you just have to win once on the day of filming. It was fun to take that approach and really see how far that we could go.

M&C: I love hearing about that number of wigs.

Jared Leto: Well, it was fun because we thought that if Sparma did wear a wig, we were potentially picking one out because he was losing his hair. The process is exciting because it’s like being a detective. It’s about the voice. And I had contact lenses for his brown eyes. I had different teeth than he did, so I had artificial teeth. I had a subtle fake nose. I had some other prosthetics and a different hair color.

M &C: And what about the final choice for the wigs?

Jared Leto: After all of those wigs, I ended up using my own hair; go figure. But that process of experimentation, and of elimination, I find that really gratifying. To me, it’s the most exciting part of filmmaking.

Making changes inside and out

M&C: Is there a process you go through to get used to all of these physical changes?

Jared Leto: I like to have options and I want to have fun with it, but I also want to live in the (character’s) skin. In your preparation, you act a lot more than you actually do in the production.  This one was really special because it was one of those parts in which the character kept surprising me. I discovered the way that Albert might walk, the way he interacts with people, and his sense of humor.

M&C: How else did you see this so-called villain and the two good guys chasing him?

Jared Leto: Well, when I read the script, I thought that Rami and Denzel’s characters are in rather challenging, tense, and dramatic situations. But to me, Albert Sparma was someone who didn’t really fit into society, maybe a black sheep or dark horse; an outsider. But he had a rather cheerful disposition and he had a lot of fun with these detectives. He’s an amateur detective himself, and he loves to explore a mystery or two.

M&C: There is a key scene where you are trying to get Rami’s character to join you in the car that you are driving. The way you two play it back and forth it seems like if you made one false move this whole soufflé of this movie could fall. How long did you have to rehearse these scenes?

Jared Leto: Well, I didn’t rehearse at all with the other actors. Oddly, I haven’t rehearsed in a movie for over a decade. Generally, when I talk about rehearsal it is something that I do alone. I don’t have a closed door. If somebody wanted to rehearse and it was really important to them, I would absolutely do it in a second.

So, it was exciting for me to be over-prepared and then walk on set with either of them. The fun thing about Albert Sparma was he’s a wildcard. So, it was an incredibly creative environment to be in, and in a lot of those scenes, like in the car, there was a lot of improvisation.

Jared Leto and Rami Malek in The Little Things. Pic credit: Nicola Goode/Warner Bros. Pictures

Taking a deep dive into research

M&C: Did you do a lot of research for this role? What is your process?

Jared Leto: It changes from film to film and according to the demands. But we take the work, but not ourselves, seriously. Surprisingly, I had a lot of fun with this character even though it was very dark. The research process was about reading FBI transcripts and all of the crime research that we did, and the character study stuff. At some point, it was like “Okay, I’ve had enough, time to stop.” I get a lot of joy out of that process.

M&C: Is it difficult to leave a character behind? Do you ever make a movie and say, ‘I wish I had more time with this character?’

Jared Leto: There’s always something about every character I play that I wish I could spend more time with them. And not always on a perfectionistic kind of desires, but once you work so hard on going head-to-toe with these characters, in a way it’s a shame to just walk away from them. Yeah, sometimes I feel like it’s a little sad to let them go.

M&C: How do you think viewers will see The Little Things?

Jared Leto: When I first read the script, I really was taken in by the characters and John did a great job of keeping you on the edge of your seat. The story poses questions not just about guilt or innocence, but about assumptions, and identity. It was surprising and I think people are going to be shocked by the ending. It’s a film that challenges audiences and there aren’t easy answers. I don’t think people will have a clear picture at the end of it, but it’s fun because it makes you ask questions.

Jared Leto plays a murder suspect in The Little Things. Pic credit: Nicola Goode/Warner Bros. Pictures

M&C: With all of these dark characters in dark movies do you ever think you want to do a romantic comedy next?

Jared Leto: You know, sometimes I’m like “Can we just sit on a beach in Hawaii? Where my preparation is just like can I get the six-pack visible?” So, yeah, maybe that could be a fun way to go [heading] off into the sunset.

M&C: But seriously, what movie do you have coming up?

Jared Leto: I have quite a few projects getting ready to go ahead. The next one up is the Gucci film with Ridley Scott (playing Paolo Gucci) and this absolutely stellar cast. Again, it is transformative; it’s a kind of be careful what you ask for.

Sometimes I do wonder what it’s like to just show up and be charming on set and have a billion-dollar smile, which I’m not good at. I’ve got to figure that one out. But I am grateful that people pick up the phone and call me when they have a role that’s quite colorful, and quite juicy.

The Little Things, from Warner Bros. Pictures, opens in theaters and on-demand on Friday, January 29.

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