A Brief History of Things Modern Neanderthal Jared Leto Has Done to Get in Character

3 minute read

In a new cover story for Rolling Stone, Suicide Squad’s resident Joker Jared Leto brings us along for a wild trip through his quirky, unorthodox approach to everything from education to acting.

Leto admits that much of what we know about him is probably false. “I lied about it [my childhood] so much, I don’t know what the truth is,” he claims. “I remember River Phoenix saying in an interview that he tried to lie as much as possible, and I just took that approach ever since.” That may be why he’s so comfortable with his seriously immersive method acting approach; with almost no formal acting training, he instead has a reputation for getting in character and staying there from start to finish on a project.

For instance, for the drug-fueled 2000 film Requiem for a Dream, Leto spent weeks on the New York streets with a group of heroin junkies — although he insists he only ever shot up with water.

“People would be uncomfortable if they’re all shooting up and you’re not,” he explained. “I wasn’t sharing a needle.”

And for his Oscar-winning turn in Dallas Buyers Club with Matthew McConaughey, in which he played a transgender woman, Leto went all-in on his character from his first conversation with the director, showing up on set in a dress and never breaking for the entire filming process.

“I didn’t know how to address him or her because he was such a lady. He was such a girl, and he was sexy!” director Jean-Marc Vallée told Rolling Stone. And it wasn’t just a skin-deep thing for Leto, either; he got crafty in other ways, too.

“He tried to steal things from me,” McConaughey recalled for the magazine. “Literally, my pocketknife, lighters, et cetera.”

Finally, for Suicide Squad, he picked up the Joker mantle with serious dedication, saying that he spent a lot of time becoming intimately acquainted with real, casual violence by watching YouTube videos. On set, he went by “Joker,” not “Jared.” And then there are the well-documented Joker pranks he played on his costars, including sending Margot Robbie a boxed rat, and delivering bullets.

So why is Leto so weird? We learn that, based on the results of a genetic test, Leto can claim a rather different gene makeup than most of us. “I have a lot of Neanderthal in me,” he told Rolling Stone. “Maybe that’s why I’m so good at climbing.” Among other things.

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Write to Raisa Bruner at raisa.bruner@time.com