Jared Leto takes his biggest swing yet in ‘House of Gucci’: ‘It was a beautiful, unforgettable journey’

From his early film roles in “Fight Club” and “Requiem for a Dream” to his Oscar-winning turn in “Dallas Buyers Club” and even his twisted take on the Joker in “Suicide Squad,” Jared Leto is known for his transformative performances. But none of those previous parts could have prepared audiences for how Leto looks and sounds in Ridley Scott’s epic new drama “House of Gucci.” Leto spent hours in the makeup chair and altered his matinee idol looks to play the bald and overweight Paolo Gucci, a punching bag for the Gucci family whose own father frequently calls him an idiot.

“When I read it, I just fell in love with this character, the idea of playing this part,” Leto tells Gold Derby in a new interview. “I didn’t know what he looked like, what he sounded like. But there was something on the page that I just connected to. I related to that desire he had to be an artist, to share his work with the world, to make something meaningful, and to contribute in a deep and meaningful way to the family, to the business. I loved his passion and his sense of humor.”

Based on the book by Sara Gay Forden and written for the screen by Becky Johnston and Roberto Bentivegna, “House of Gucci” is a sprawling drama that details not just the rise and fall of the Gucci family, but the tumultuous relationship between Maurizio Gucci (Adam Driver) and Patrizia Reggiani (Lady Gaga), which ultimately ended with Maurizio dead and Patrizia convicted for hiring hitmen to murder her ex-husband. Reviews and early responses to the film, out in theaters now, have praised Leto for his performance, which is often equal parts comedic and tragic.

“Although there was heart and humor on the page, I have to credit Roberto and Ridley for really taking the cuffs off and letting me lean in with that, especially considering I have a pretty… either dry or bizarre, I don’t know. But my sense of humor may not be everyone’s cup of tea,” Leto says. “But they really let me go to town. That freedom, that gift to just go in there and create and fail and experiment and really just be alive as an actor was one of the greatest gifts that they gave me.”

According to the star, Paolo originally played like more of a villain on the page. But Leto saw something deeper in the character as well. “I connected very deeply to the character even though some people may look at him and be like, he’s a clown or he’s this kind of spectacle,” Leto explains. “But I just understood it came from a place of real pain and a desire to be something, to be someone. I could relate to that, every day of my life. And I know a lot of people out there relate to that too. We want to do something special with our lives, we want to do something meaningful. I have to say this is one of the greatest experiences I’ve ever had in a film, period. It was a beautiful, unforgettable journey.”

Leto has gotten praise not just from critics and awards pundits, but his own castmates. At one of the first public screenings of “House of Gucci,” co-star Al Pacino — who plays Paolo’s father, Aldo, in the film — relayed how he didn’t even recognize Leto on the set. “You have no idea how mind-blowing it is when this guy came in, dressed as Paolo, stood next to me — I was new in Italy — and I thought, ‘Who is this?,’ because he kept calling me ‘Papa!’” Pacino said. “Somebody, a sensitive person in the area, said, ‘Al, it’s Jared.’ I swear to you, I bowed to the floor. I remember, I said, ‘You are an inspiration. I can go on now.’”

Leto says co-star Jeremy Irons was also similarly taken with the subterfuge of his transformation and performance. The first scene Leto shot for the project was a key moment in the film where Paolo meets Irons’ Rodolfo Gucci and tries to pitch him on some designs. “He recently told me he went through that whole scene and he didn’t know it was me,” Leto says of his other Oscar-winning co-star. “I haven’t talked about that but he said he had no idea he was in the scene with me.”

After being embarrassed by the elder Gucci in that sequence, Paolo relieves himself on a famous Gucci silk scarf. Leto says that moment and a number of lines in the sequence were the results of on-set improvisation — and credits Scott with embracing the creative spirit he brought to the performance.

“On that day, I did my scene and I had a hundred thousand adlibs and improvisations. Paolo is just nuts. I had tons of jokes I would bring in. [Ridley] came up to me after the first and he grabbed a hold of me and he said, ‘My boy, you’re flying,’” Leto recalls. “That was so sweet to hear that. That was his only comment, then he walked away. If Ridley can believe in what you’re doing. Because you’ve got to remember, this certainly could’ve been the worst thing I’ve ever done in my life. Absolutely. I said that it may be the worst thing. Could be the best, but it could be the worst. To have that vote of confidence from him [was special].”

“House of Gucci” is in theaters now.

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