Jared Leto: On the continuously unexpected

For Oscar-winning actor Jared Leto, every role is a character study, as he explains to our Anthony Mason:

On the red carpet four years ago, Jared Leto said, "They don't give Oscars to people like me." He'd been nominated for Best Supporting Actor for "Dallas Buyers Club."

"I just never expected it -- I never expected an award, a prize for anything in my entire life," he said.

Mason asked, "Did that change things for you in some way?"

"Absolutely. I got to stand on stage in front of, you know, a couple of billion people probably and thank my mother for being such an inspiration."

Jared Leto winning Best Supporting Actor by Oscars on YouTube

     
"There's nothing better than being able to thank your mother in that circumstance."

"I mean, basically, you thank her there, you don't ever have to thank her again!" he laughed.

For his Oscar-winning role as Rayon, a transgender woman with AIDS, Leto had dropped 30 pounds and waxed his entire body. He's become known for immersing himself in a part, as he did again for the Joker in 2016's "Suicide Squad," and to play Niander Wallace, the blind inventor of robot replicants, in last year's "Blade Runner" sequel.

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Jared Leto as a transgender drug addict in "Dallas Buyers Club," as the Joker in "Suicide Squad," and as replicant manufacturer Niander Wallace in "Blade Runner 2049."

Focus Features/Warner Brothers

Mason asked, "Is it the roles that demand it? Or is it you, that you somehow demand it of yourself?" 

"You're either all-in or all-out,' Leto replied. "And in all areas of my life, I do my best work when I'm fully committed and engaged."

It's been 20 years since Leto left art school in New York and headed West. When asked what drew him to L.A., Leto said, "Well, I was an artist, I was a young kid, and I thought I would find an opportunity to be a director."

"Did you like it when you first got here?" Mason asked.

"No, I hated it."

"So how did you make peace with it?"

"There's a strange beauty that you find in this town that's seductive."

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Jared Leto with Anthony Mason in the Hollywood Hills.

CBS News

He recalled, "I had a backpack and a couple hundred bucks. I had a friend in New York who was supposed to come with me and he ditched me at the last minute. I should send him a thank-you card, because it was the best thing that he ever could have done."

"Why?" asked Mason.

"It forced me to meet other people."

He got a part relatively quickly. "A year after being here, yeah," he said. "A week can be a long time if you're rejected five or six times a week! I remember reading one line on 'Star Trek: Next Generation' and basically getting laughed out of the room!"

The role he finally landed was on a new series, "My So-Called Life," playing Jordan Catalano, the dyslexic slacker and love interest of Angela, played by Claire Danes. It lasted a single season, but had a long after-life in reruns on MTV.

Mason said, "It kind of kicked open the door for you in a lot of ways."

"It was a really incredible way to start."

Film roles soon followed, in "Requiem For a Dream," "Girl Interrupted," and "American Psycho."

But as his movie career was taking off, in 2006, he abruptly took a break from acting.

Mason said, "You did something unusual in the film business."

"I do that often!" Leto said.

"You took, like, six years off. Typically that's the kiss of death in Hollywood."

"It was worth every single second. It was the best thing I ever did."

The rock band he'd started on the side, Thirty Seconds to Mars, had just had their first big hit. "We released the song called 'The Kill,' and it changed our lives," he said. 

Thirty Seconds To Mars - The Kill (Bury Me) by ThirtySecondsToMarsVEVO on YouTube

      
As their crowds grew, Thirty Seconds to Mars stayed out on the road. It's where Leto says he feels most himself: "You'll never know me until you come to a show. That's the place I think I reveal the most, because there is no character, there is no part. It's just me." 

"How old were you when you started playing music?"

"Actually, I have a photograph of me that my Mom took, a black-and-white photograph with me kind of, like, almost sitting on a guitar."  

His mother, Constance, was a teenager when Jared and his brother, Shannon, were born. "I learned a lot from her example," he said. "About fortitude and persistence and commitment, you know, single mom, two kids."

"Were you conscious of that even as a kid?"

"Yeah -- you couldn't not be."

The band, which Jared started with Shannon, is a family business. He says he wouldn't have survived the ups-and-downs if it weren't for his brother.

"Because you were fighting for each other, in effect?" asked Mason.

"Absolutely."

When Mason met with Leto last month, the 46-year-old was rushing to put the finishing touches on Thirty Seconds to Mars' new album, with a countdown calendar on the wall.

With just three days to go 'til the album was due, he was still mixing … and still recording.

"I still have to sing a couple of songs," he said. "It's gonna be a late night!"

In June, Thirty Seconds to Mars will go back on tour.  As Jared Leto the musician hits the road again, it means Jared Leto the actor will disappear again.

Mason asked, "Could you walk away from acting?"

"Absolutely, yeah. My manager always says, 'How can they miss you if you never go away?'" he laughed.

To hear Thirty Seconds to Mars perform "Dangerous Night," from their forthcoming album, click on the player below.

Thirty Seconds To Mars - Dangerous Night (Audio) by ThirtySecondsToMarsVEVO on YouTube

       
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Story produced by Jon Carras and John Goodwin.