jared leto dallas buyers clubAlberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images

Even amidst a bounteous fall film line-up, "Dallas Buyers Club" is a deeply impressive movie. It's based on the true story of a Dallas electrician named Ron Woodroof who, in 1986, was diagnosed with HIV and given 30 days to live. In the film, Woodroof (Matthew McConaughey) goes into business with a fellow HIV patient named Rayon (Jared Leto), a transgender woman who helps Ron sell the drugs that he, Ron, smuggles in from Mexico as an alternative treatment.

Woodroof is a good ol' boy and a homophobe, making their business partnership -- and eventual friendship -- all the more unlikely.

Much has been made of McConaughey's portrayal of Woodroof, especially his startling weight loss that's thrown into sharp relief on film -- and with good reason. However, "Dallas Buyers Club" simply wouldn't be the movie it is without Leto's career-redefining performance. It's been several years since the actor and musician has been on the big screen -- his most recent film, "Mr. Nobody," opened in September after several years in limbo -- but his turn as Rayon will hopefully mean we'll be seeing more of him at the movies.

Moviefone: Thank you for making me cry so much, all the tears, last night when I saw "Dallas Buyers Club."
Jared Leto: [Pause] Well, um, I don't know what to say, but you're welcome. My pleasure.

It was staggering. I meant that as a joking compliment. I understand that you stayed in character the whole time, right?
I did, yeah. And thank you so much for the kind words. I appreciate it.

What I found really interesting about Rayon's relationship with Ron is there's no big Teachable Moment. It's really this beautiful friendship that sort of opens up. How did you accomplish that without really getting to know each other offset or hanging out or anything?
It wasn't so hard. We both had a great sense of our characters and what we were doing there; the circumstances, the situation, the story. So it was actually, I think, really beneficial that we didn't really know each other and we didn't spend any time rehearsing.

At the end of the day of shooting something like that, what do you do? Physically, literally -- do you go home and watch TV? How do you shake that off?
Well, you don't, really, for a film like this, especially. It stays with you, and that's one of the things about it.

You play such a great character, and we didn't really have the same language in the '80s -- I grew up in Dallas in the '80s, and no one was talking about Judith Butler and stuff, like we do today -- and everyone around Rayon uses the male pronoun.
I agree with you, and one of the things I think was important to note was the difference between a transgendered person and a drag queen. At that time, I think everybody fell into the same bucket as a drag queen or a tranny, but I think Rayon was really someone who wanted to live their life as a woman.

Even now, if you see people who are writing about the movie, they refer to her as a "tranny," which is something that a lot of people see as a slur. Are you hoping that this is going to be an opening for people to learn about how to be more sensitive and nuanced to transgender people?
That would be nice if that happened. You know, I think film does have the power to change us, the power to influence us and to show us a part of the world we've never seen before, and this is a very special film about an important part of our history and about a group of people that are determined to fight for what they believe in, in order to survive. So, yeah, that would be really nice.

I think for people who are maybe a little bit younger, these stories have really receded, and if you see a documentary like "How to Survive a Plague," it's like, okay, these are people that were radical, radically fighting for their lives, sometimes with their dying breath. That's really important.
Yeah, it is important. It's one of the special things, I think. It's amazing how adversity and challenge can bring out so much in challenge, and it's a real pleasure to get to know someone like Rayon, someone as full of grace and charm and wit, who's funny and kind.

I'm really interested in the experience of walking through the world in these bodies you've had. You're this, if you don't mind me saying so, extraordinarily handsome actor and musician, but you've also transformed yourself into Mark Chapman or Harry Goldfarb (in "Requiem for a Dream") or Rayon and worn these bodies out in public. I was wondering what you noticed or maybe how it affected you when you went back to being Jared Leto.
Well, what was the question? What I learned?

What surprised you or startled you -- how people treated you. Anything. Your impression of it.
I went to Whole Foods once [as Rayon], and that was interesting. Number one, because I wasn't eating. Number two, I had a break in the set, so I ran over to Whole Foods to just kind of stare at the food and probably get some water or something. But I remember getting three distinct looks. One was, "Who is that?" The other was, "What is that"? And the third was, "I don't know what that is, and I don't like it." So, yeah, that was a pretty intense experience, to have that kind of judgmental gaze cast my way, but I think it was really important to understand what that was like.

I understand you avoid watching your own films. It was difficult to watch you and Matthew and your transformations -- it was painful. Is it traumatic to see photos of yourself from the film or the set?
You know, when I look at photos, I see Rayon. I see the character, and I think I'm just really happy that I had the opportunity to help bring this person to life. It was the role of a lifetime, and it was an absolute pleasure.

"Dallas Buyers Club," which was directed by Jean-Marc Vallée and co-stars Jennifer Garner as their empathetic doctor, Eve Saks, opens November 1.
Dramatic Movie Role Body Transformations
CATEGORIES Interviews