“Get centered and alive”

Words of wisdom from the great Jared Leto

Photo by Hu Chen on Unsplash

My friend S. sent me an invitation to Clubhouse a couple of weeks ago. I had never heard of this eleven-month old audio social network, but was game. By accepting the invitation, I was granted two invitations I could in turn forward to friends. I sent one to my son and one to my friend E., who’s usually ahead of me on these new-fangled tech platforms.

Her reply was, “Seriously? Isn’t it full of tech bros?” Later, she said, “I’m afraid of Clubhouse. It’s all the rage with the tech VCs and blockchain people.”

I’m not sure that’s still the case (nor am I sure of why that’s something to be afraid of, but that’s a topic for another day). I haven’t dropped into many rooms yet, but Sunday night, while relaxing on the couch, a notification popped up, “Jared Leto is in the room…” That piqued my interest for sure.

Jared Leto, of course, is the gifted and beloved method actor who won Academy, Golden Globe, and Screen Actors Guild Awards for Best Supporting Actor in his portrayal of a transgender woman in 2013 movie Dallas Buyers Club.

It seemed incredible that simply by tapping the notification, I’d immediately begin participating in a conversation hosted by moderator Neil Strauss with this exalted being. Sure enough, there I was, along with 5000 other participants in the room. Basically, the moderator and his guest are on a kind of virtual “stage.” The rest of us are listeners, but you can raise your hand and ask a question, at which point the moderator, if s/he so chooses, can invite you to the stage to pose your question directly to the guest in real time.

It’s quite something in a world where everything is carefully tailored, edited, curated, pre-recorded, legally protected, whatever. My favorite Sunday evening radio show is now pre-recorded due to the coronavirus. Even “live” news, it seems, can be backed up if you missed something, which I don’t understand at all. It’s become highly unusual, in fact, to take part in something “live” — that is, in the moment, unfolding in real time — where anything can happen.

I was utterly charmed by Leto from the get-go, mainly because his voice is lovely and sonorous. It’s warm and intimate, kind and mirthful. And relaxed. Above all, relaxed. I began taking notes. Here is what I captured:

Leto said,

“If it’s not interesting to you, it won’t be interesting to anyone else”

(“It” presumably refers to any project). That seemed apropos for the writing journey as well.

He spoke a great deal about the importance of courage. Speaking of his role as Albert Sparma in The Little Things, he said,

“Take risks. Fail a lot. I failed a lot in this film — thank God for editing. Once in a while, things surprise you.”

He referenced his meditation practice as part of his preparation process and said Denzel Washington is one of the greatest actors of all time.

Apropos of nothing I could discern, he said,

“Jokes are like avocados. You gotta switch them up, or they get brown.”

About Los Angeles, Leto said he “never liked the place, but it grows on you… something about the ecology, the weather, the setting… It’s bizarre, but beautiful.” He came from New York.

He loves Mexico City.

He spoke of the stress of acting. He quoted Nicole Kidman as saying, “Your body doesn’t know the difference between real and imagined trauma.”

He stopped acting for six years before winning the role as Rayon in Dallas Buyers Club. He’s currently reinvigorated and into acting again. He said he’s always felt “there are only two good things about acting: 1) Getting the job, and 2) Finishing the job,” but that he doesn’t feel this way any longer. He said,

“Roles that are problems to be solved are a gift.”

He’s been working on We Crashed, an upcoming Apple TV movie series about the WeWork debacle. He and Anne Hathaway play WeWork’s founders, the Neumanns.

He’s about to leave for Italy to film “the Gucci movie.”

He doesn’t watch the dailies because he wants to “break all the rules,” and dailies make him self-conscious. He said,

“I’m in search of absolute freedom as an artist.”

At one point, a woman named Kimi Weintraub, founder of “The Vulnerability Room” (on Clubhouse, presumably, though I didn’t find it just now on a search) raised her (digital) hand and was invited to pose her question. She said, “Can you please answer the question, ‘If you really knew me, you’d know that…’”

Leto sensed a trap. I could almost hear him recoil, and his warm voice was ever so slightly guarded and rueful when he responded, “If you really knew me, you’d know that I appreciate privacy and value my personal life.” He went on to say he “doesn’t put his entire life on display.” He softened slightly then and said, “I like to rock-climb.” Pretty safe answer.

The next person invited to ask a question was Kimberley Wan, calling in from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. What happened next was fascinating. Leto must have quickly perused her bio (you can do that on Clubhouse easily by clicking on the person’s face).

He commented on the time first. He said, “It must be, what, about 7 a.m. there?” Then, he remarked on the fact that Wan was a national ice hockey player. The moderator, Neil Strauss, then pointed out she had won competitions (they could see this from her profile). She said those accolades were for figure skating, which she used to do.

Leto was also an ice hockey player once upon a time. They connected over this point. Unfortunately, I don’t remember Wan’s question, and I didn’t write it down. But whatever she asked, it allowed Leto to relax and open up again. Maybe just connecting over ice hockey did the trick. Perhaps it was the fact that she was calling from the other side of the globe at the crack of dawn. Or maybe it was just that she was not a Hollywood insider or writer or someone who particularly wanted something from him.

Whatever it was, something about Kim or her question elicited exactly the opposite reaction of what the “vulnerability expert” he’d spoken with moments before had, and it was exactly what the vulnerability expert was seeking — something special, something personal, something no one else knew about.

Leto said he doesn’t like to waste time. He wants to be productive. He’s “happy to never go out to dinner again if it means he’ll have more time to create, act, and go rock-climbing.” (He loves rock-climbing because he’s away from his phone, and it’s meditative.)

He said he’s very driven.

“We only have one life. I don’t want to waste it. I’m happy to fail, often, in the pursuit of something meaningful. The bigger the challenge, the greater the reward.”

He wants to dive deeper, “go as deep as humanly possible into a character.”

Other questioners elicited the following responses.

Leto said, “When you dress up for Halloween, it’s so much fucking fun. You’re acting, playing, exploring. That’s the fun part.”

A participant asked about Imposter Syndrome. Leto said,

“That’s about fear, fear of failure. Fear is a great motivator. Imposter syndrome is fear you’re not good enough. There’s a lot to be said for ‘fake it till you make it.’ It’s real. You’ll have self-doubt. You’ll have fear. Do it anyway.”

After a pause, he went on,

“If you don’t have fear, you’re doing the wrong thing. Don’t play it safe. Be obsessed. If you want to win, you gotta put in the work. The common trait is hard, hard work.”

Then he added, “Be likable. That helps.”

He complimented one questioner on her voice, then said, “In acting, voice is half the battle.”

Finally, as the hour-long call was wrapping up, Leto mentioned some people take acting classes even if they’re not actors to work on themselves. He said,

“Get out of the way of yourself. Be uninhibited. Get out of the internal dialogue. Work on dissolving inhibitions. Get centered and alive.”

Writer, copywriter, editor, and word lover. Subscribe to my newsletter at christywhite.substack.com

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