From Jordan to Rayon: Jared Leto’s History and Career in Acting

Academy award winning actor and multi-platinum recording artist. Who can claim such a feat? Cher? Barbra Streisand? Jennifer Hudson? Well now the 86th annual Oscar ceremony added another name to that list in Jared Leto. The performer won the prestigious award for Best Supporting Actor for his role in Dallas Buyers Club in 2014 and is the lead singer/guitarist for the rock band, 30 Seconds to Mars. While I’m not much of a fan of the latter, Leto has more than proven himself to be more than a pretty face as with a reputable acting resume. With a career on-screen that spans more than two decades and has dedicated himself to several notable roles. Personally, I’m a fan of a lot of his work so read on as I examine his career and pick out my favorites:

Jared Leto’s very first foray into the acting world was on television, believe it or not, during the ABC Friday night block, TGIF. Leto appeared in a few episodes of the short-lived series, Camp Wilder, playing Dexter, a high school heartthrob (and yes ladies, he does appear shirtless here). The program, which starred Jay Mohr, Jerry O’Connell, and Hilary Swank fairly early in their respective careers, lasted a full season from 1992-1993 before being canned. Fortunately for Leto, he would rebound pretty quickly with another series, one that Generation X is very fond of.


In 1994, he began portraying Jordan Catalano, a rebellious high school student who catches the eye of Angela Chase (Claire Danes) on My So-Called Life, a drama portraying teenage life in a realistic manner. The role wasn’t very dissimilar to that of Camp Wilder but more depth was added here with Jordan having a learning disability that pushes him to the limits at times. My So-Called Life was cancelled after one season but has maintained its popularity over the years. Not my cup of tea personally but this was Leto’s breakthrough and where many fans first saw him. It wouldn’t be the last time.


Leto soon grew out of TV and started embarking on a film career. After acting in minor parts in pictures throughout the late 90s, he gained his first mainstream starring role of note on the silver screen in 1998 with Urban Legend. This would be Leto’s only foray into the horror genre. Released hot off the resurgence of the teen slasher genre brought on by the popularity of Scream, this scarefest took place at a college campus. Leto plays Paul Gardner, a student who, along with several classmates are slowly picked off by an unknown assailant who patterns his kills after popular (what else?) urban legends. The only two worthwhile things about the film was horror legend, Robert Englund, portraying the school’s Dean and Michael Rosenbaum’s death scene, neither of which involved Leto which tells you how memorable he was. The movie did enough successful business to warrant two sequels, neither which Leto returned for and has denounced the film in subsequent interviews. Even though he set out to make waves in Hollywood, Jared Leto wasn’t quite there yet.


Although off to a shaky start, people soon started to really notice how charismatic Leto could be when he appeared as the platinum blonde-haired, Angel Face, in 1999’s Fight Club. While the part of Angel Face in this David Fincher directed masterpiece wasn’t large, Leto made sure to be remembered. After being seemingly taken under the wing of Tyler Durden, Edward Norton’s character catches on and became resentful of him. In order to stop his possible succession, Norton brutalizes Angel in a bloody fight club match, putting the kibosh on that notion and win back Tyler’s confidence. It was a small role that show a grittier side of Leto and made people like me take note of him. That same year, Leto showed a little more of his talent by playing the ex-boyfriend of Susanna (Winona Ryder) who tries to win her back, in the film adaptation of Girl, Interrupted.


Fight Club wouldn’t be the only time the Louisiana native would have his body rearranged on-screen. In 2000’s American Psycho, Leto assumed the role of Paul Allen, A colleague of Patrick Bateman (Christian Bale). After being invited to Batman’s home one night, Allen is gorily murdered with an axe after being lectured about the music of Huey Lewis. He was certainly great at getting beat up but the world still wondered if Leto was the real deal. Well, the critics were silenced later that year when he teamed with Darren Aronofsky.


Leto led an all-around talented cast with a groundbreaking role in Requiem for a Dream. Here, he portrayed Harry Goldfarb, a Brooklyn-raised heroin addict who uses his dope dealings to achieve a better future for him and his friends and family. Leto’s emotional portrayal of a hopeless kid who had every chance to make it but squandered it all was damn near heartbreaking. His almost skeletal appearance is also worth pointing out. This would have to be my favorite performance of his just for how much you feel for Harry every second he’s on-screen and how he gives you chills everytime he shoots himself up with smack.


Still reeling from the success of Requiem, Leto re-teamed with David Fincher in 2002 for the suspense-thriller, Panic Room. This time he played, Junior, a petty crook trying to acquire a fortune in the house that his late grandfather once inhabited. Once he unexpectedly finds out a new family has moved in earlier than expected, it prompt him to turn to the help of his cronies, an unpredictable madman (Dwight Yoakum), and a reluctant security worker (Forest Whitaker) to neutralize them. Junior looked pretty ridiculous in his cornrows but I thought he did a damn good job portraying a clueless thief who’s all talk with no brains. Leto also returned to his “roots” so to speak of getting beat up. Jodie Foster burns him with fire and wait until to see what Yoakum does to him later! This guy can’t complete any shoot unscathed, can he?


Leto took a bit of a hiatus in the mid 2000s to concentrate on his music but he did the odd indie flick here and there. In 2007, he assumed the challenging role of John Lennon’s murderer, Mark David Chapman, in the drama, Chapter 27, which illustrates the final days before the Beatles member’s tragic demise. For the role, Leto gained over 60 pounds to play the hefty, Chapman, and even though the film wasn’t very well recieved, his performance was highly praised. Both Sean Lennon and Yoko Ono spoke out against the film as it both over dramatized the real life event and brought attention to Chapman, the very thing the ones close to John Lennon didn’t want. I agree that the movie wasn’t very good but criticisms aside Leto’s transformation was very impressive and he was definitely was the highlight in a story that didn’t have much going for it.


In 2013, he co-starred in his Oscar winning role in Dallas Buyers Club. This was Leto’s first movie in four years and was a drastic change from anything he’d ever done up until that point. Leto plays Rayon, a transgender woman stricken with HIV and a serious drug problem. Soon, he teams with up Ron Woodroof (Matthew McConaughey) selling drugs. As soon as the credits rolled, everybody who viewed the film knew that Jared Leto would win multiple honors for his performance. During filming, Leto underwent his most intense method acting yet by refusing to break character offscreen so it’s no wonder why his performance was so widely praised.

Leto’s next big role is set to be his interpretation of the popular DC comic book villain, the Joker, in the 2016 villain ensemble, Suicide Squad. Reactions to his look have been mixed but we haven’t seen much of the character so far. If his commitment is as good as some of his prior work then I’m confident he can pull out a better performance than you might think.



Written by Matthew Reine

is a New Yorker with a strong passion for film and television. Also the biggest Keanu Reeves fan you know.

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