How Jared Leto went from being an art-school dropout to playing the Joker in 'Suicide Squad'

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jared leto suicide squad premiere Ilya S. Savenok/Getty Images for Samsung

Before Jared Leto broke hearts as a teenage dreamboat on "My So-Called Life," he was a serial college dropout who traveled the country and dreamed of being a painter.

Now the Academy Award-winning actor takes on the iconic role of the Joker in "Suicide Squad." His performance has been described as a " spectacular failure ," which is fitting for an actor so dedicated.

We're taking a look back at how Leto became a cultural icon.

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Born in 1971, Jared Leto grew up a nomad. His family lived in Haiti, a Colorado commune, his grandmother's house, and places in between.

Born in 1971, Jared Leto grew up a nomad. His family lived in Haiti, a Colorado commune, his grandmother's house, and places in between.

Source: The New York Times

They didn't have much. "My mother crawled out of the muddy banks of the Mississippi with my brother and I in one hand and a fistful of food stamps in the other," Leto joked to Interview Magazine.

They didn't have much. "My mother crawled out of the muddy banks of the Mississippi with my brother and I in one hand and a fistful of food stamps in the other," Leto joked to Interview Magazine.

Source: Interview Magazine

There were always instruments around, including guitars, pianos, and bongo drums. Growing up, brothers Shannon and Jared made music with pots and pans.

There were always instruments around, including guitars, pianos, and bongo drums. Growing up, brothers Shannon and Jared made music with pots and pans.

Source: NBC Latino

At age 16, Leto came to a crossroads. "I thought I might be an artist or a painter. Or maybe a drug dealer," Leto says. "But I didn't know which path I would take. It's just fortunate that I chose one over the other."

At age 16, Leto came to a crossroads. "I thought I might be an artist or a painter. Or maybe a drug dealer," Leto says. "But I didn't know which path I would take. It's just fortunate that I chose one over the other."

Source: Twitter

Leto dropped out of high school, returned, and went on to leave three art schools, where he studied painting and film, before changing paths.

Leto dropped out of high school, returned, and went on to leave three art schools, where he studied painting and film, before changing paths.

A 21-year-old Leto arrived in Los Angeles with just a backpack and a few hundred bucks in his pocket. He searched for acting jobs, figuring that was the gateway to directing.

A 21-year-old Leto arrived in Los Angeles with just a backpack and a few hundred bucks in his pocket. He searched for acting jobs, figuring that was the gateway to directing.

Source: Interview Magazine

I ended up sleeping on the beach in Venice," Leto says, "and that was really the beginning for me.

I ended up sleeping on the beach in Venice," Leto says, "and that was really the beginning for me.

Source: Interview Magazine

After nabbing a handful of roles in made-for-TV movies and short-lived family sitcoms, Leto landed his big break as the mopey and effortlessly cool Jordan Catalano in "My So-Called Life."

After nabbing a handful of roles in made-for-TV movies and short-lived family sitcoms, Leto landed his big break as the mopey and effortlessly cool Jordan Catalano in "My So-Called Life."

Catalano was the love interest of Claire Danes' leading character, Angela. To this day, Leto reportedly asks reporters that they not ask him questions about the show.

Catalano was the love interest of Claire Danes' leading character, Angela. To this day, Leto reportedly asks reporters that they not ask him questions about the show.

Source: Interview Magazine

When the show was canceled, Leto's film career ramped up. He wanted to leave behind the teen-heartthrob archetype, so he went after small roles in serious projects, like 1995's "How to Make an American Quilt."

When the show was canceled, Leto's film career ramped up. He wanted to leave behind the teen-heartthrob archetype, so he went after small roles in serious projects, like 1995's "How to Make an American Quilt."

Source: Interview Magazine

From 1995 to 1999, he appeared in no fewer than 10 movies, including "Fight Club."

From 1995 to 1999, he appeared in no fewer than 10 movies, including "Fight Club."

In "Fight Club," he was beaten into an oblivion as Angel Face, a handsome and favored club regular. The movie brought him major blockbuster credibility.

In "Fight Club," he was beaten into an oblivion as Angel Face, a handsome and favored club regular. The movie brought him major blockbuster credibility.

It also marked the beginning of a critical-acclaim streak for the actor. He played a selfish ex-boyfriend in 1999's "Girl, Interrupted."

It also marked the beginning of a critical-acclaim streak for the actor. He played a selfish ex-boyfriend in 1999's "Girl, Interrupted."

He got maimed, again, as an arrogant associate in "American Psycho." While Leto was passed up for the lead, he rattled critics in the supporting role.

He got maimed, again, as an arrogant associate in "American Psycho." While Leto was passed up for the lead, he rattled critics in the supporting role.

Source: The New York Times

 

His streak culminated with the leading role in Darren Aronofsky's "Requiem for a Dream," which brought Leto the best reviews of his career yet.

His streak culminated with the leading role in Darren Aronofsky's "Requiem for a Dream," which brought Leto the best reviews of his career yet.

Source: The New York Times

He auditioned for the role of a disillusioned, heroin-addicted Brooklynite "about 6,000 times," Leto jokes. "'Requiem for a Dream' was an incredibly important film for me."

He auditioned for the role of a disillusioned, heroin-addicted Brooklynite "about 6,000 times," Leto jokes. "'Requiem for a Dream' was an incredibly important film for me."

Source: Interview Magazine

Meanwhile, Leto's brother, Shannon, moved to California. Reunited on the west coast, they began to play music together again.

Meanwhile, Leto's brother, Shannon, moved to California. Reunited on the west coast, they began to play music together again.

 

In 1998, the pair formed the post-grunge rock band Boiled Hard, later renamed Thirty Seconds to Mars.

In 1998, the pair formed the post-grunge rock band Boiled Hard, later renamed Thirty Seconds to Mars.

The group's namesake debut album drew modest success, causing the band to keep playing despite Leto's busy filming schedule.

The group's namesake debut album drew modest success, causing the band to keep playing despite Leto's busy filming schedule.

The band's sophomore album, "A Beautiful Lie," rocketed the band to stardom. After recording on four different continents to accommodate Leto, the band reached platinum status in America.

The band's sophomore album, "A Beautiful Lie," rocketed the band to stardom. After recording on four different continents to accommodate Leto, the band reached platinum status in America.

As Thirty Seconds to Mars hit its stride, Leto shelved his acting career. The premiere of cyberthriller "Mr. Nobody" began a four-year hiatus from Hollywood.

As Thirty Seconds to Mars hit its stride, Leto shelved his acting career. The premiere of cyberthriller "Mr. Nobody" began a four-year hiatus from Hollywood.

In those years, the band released its most successful album to date, "This Is War," and set a Guinness World Record for "Longest Concert Tour By A Rock Band."

In those years, the band released its most successful album to date, "This Is War," and set a Guinness World Record for "Longest Concert Tour By A Rock Band."

Source: Guinness World Records

At last, he came across a script that gripped him. "I'd heard about ['Dallas Buyers Club'] before — and I'd even ignored a few emails about it," Leto told Interview. "Eventually, I took a look at it, and I just fell in love with the opportunity and the role."

At last, he came across a script that gripped him. "I'd heard about ['Dallas Buyers Club'] before — and I'd even ignored a few emails about it," Leto told Interview. "Eventually, I took a look at it, and I just fell in love with the opportunity and the role."

Source: Interview Magazine

Leto plays a transgender woman with AIDS who teams up with Matthew McConaughey's character to smuggle medication into the US and supply it to fellow patients.

Leto plays a transgender woman with AIDS who teams up with Matthew McConaughey's character to smuggle medication into the US and supply it to fellow patients.

In a preliminary Skype call with the director, Leto put on a wig, dress, and lipstick. He slipped into his character, Rayon, and remained in character for the duration of filming.

In a preliminary Skype call with the director, Leto put on a wig, dress, and lipstick. He slipped into his character, Rayon, and remained in character for the duration of filming.

Source: The New York Times

"Dallas Buyers Club" gave Leto the Academy Award for best supporting actor, his first Oscar.

"Dallas Buyers Club" gave Leto the Academy Award for best supporting actor, his first Oscar.

He also (just barely) made it into host Ellen Degeneres' famous Oscar selfie.

He also (just barely) made it into host Ellen Degeneres' famous Oscar selfie.

Now, Leto embarks on one of his most challenging roles yet ...

Now, Leto embarks on one of his most challenging roles yet ...

Leto did away with his long locks to become the latest actor to portray the Joker on the big screen in "Suicide Squad."

Leto did away with his long locks to become the latest actor to portray the Joker on the big screen in "Suicide Squad."

 

When director David Ayer finally revealed Leto's Joker look online, fans went berserk. His tattoos, grill, and over-the-top insanity didn't look like any incarnation of the Joker we've seen before.

When director David Ayer finally revealed Leto's Joker look online, fans went berserk. His tattoos, grill, and over-the-top insanity didn't look like any incarnation of the Joker we've seen before.

 

Once again, Leto committed to method acting. "We worked together for six months and we've never exchanged a word [off-camera] outside of 'Action!' and 'Cut!'" Will Smith told Vanity Fair. "He was all in."

Once again, Leto committed to method acting. "We worked together for six months and we've never exchanged a word [off-camera] outside of 'Action!' and 'Cut!'" Will Smith told Vanity Fair. "He was all in."

Source: Vanity Fair

He even sent a rat to costar Margot Robbie and bullets to Will Smith, to get into character as the Crown Prince of Crime.

He even sent a rat to costar Margot Robbie and bullets to Will Smith, to get into character as the Crown Prince of Crime.

Source: Vanity Fair

For now, the 44-year-old actor keeps busy being a fashion icon ...

For now, the 44-year-old actor keeps busy being a fashion icon ...

 

... and promoting VyRT, a web-streaming service he launched in 2013 to provide the "best online concert experience" for viewers.

... and promoting VyRT, a web-streaming service he launched in 2013 to provide the "best online concert experience" for viewers.

Source: Business News Daily

He's truly a jack — or Joker — of all trades.

He's truly a jack — or Joker — of all trades.
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