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Jared Leto Transforms Into A Serial Killer Suspect In 'The Little Things'

Jared Leto in "The Little Things." (Courtesy)
Jared Leto in "The Little Things." (Courtesy)

Academy Award-winning actor Jared Leto has transformed himself yet again.

In his latest film, "The Little Things," Leto plays appliance delivery man Albert Sparma, the prime suspect in a series of Los Angeles murders in the 1990s. The detectives on the case are portrayed by actors Rami Malek and Denzel Washington.

Leto has been nominated for a Screen Actors Guild Award for his performance in the HBO Max crime drama.

The star-studded cast and crew, which includes director John Lee Hancock, quickly drew Leto onboard the film.

Hancock, Washington and Malek "made it kind of impossible to say no," he says.

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"The Little Things" doesn’t take on the usual tropes of crime drama but instead focuses on the effects this kind of work has on detectives. In fact, Leto's character doesn't really appear on screen until roughly 40 minutes in.

Playing Sparma was "transformational head to toe," says Leto, who is well known for taking on roles that require intense physical alterations. On set, he donned prosthetics as well as different teeth and colored contacts to change his eyes. He also mastered walking and talking differently.

For Leto, sculpting Sparma as a character showed him what he's made of as an actor, he explains.

Once a movie wraps, leaving some of his characters behind cold turkey after physically and mentally taking himself so far, such as when he gained nearly 70 pounds to play John Lennon's killer in "Chapter 27," isn't easy. He typically goes through a weaning period post-filming, he says.

It can be even more challenging on the psyche after going deep into "the darker side of humanity," he says. "I usually find by the end of the film, you’re usually grateful to have a bit of a break and get some fresh air, but it does take some time to let go of the process."

In "The Little Things," one pivotal scene features Sparma being interrogated by detectives Joe “Deke” Deacon and Jim Baxter, who present him with an envelope full of crime scene photos.

The scene gives the audience an opportunity to piece together Leto's character, a crime suspect who "didn’t understand personal space or boundaries" and finds excitement in the "cat and mouse game" between him and the detectives, he says.

This was his first scene working with Washington and Malek, and there was no rehearsal beforehand, he says. With tension palpable in the air, the scene commenced, eventually ending in a "deafening silence," he says. The crew scattered about on set and left Leto thinking "both myself and the scene were a disaster," he recalls, "and I was ready to take the blame fully."

"I remember after the first take, I thought that wow, I just really blew it. This isn’t working. This is terrible. I’ve ruined the movie. And, my God, I have to help them find a new person for the part," he says.

What he didn't know at the time was that the crew ran back to the monitor to re-witness the scene because it was actually outstanding.

"They were kind of just all buzzing with excitement because I think everyone was feeling like something was actually working — and working really well," he says.

In addition to "The Little Things," Leto has been keeping himself busy with other projects. He plays the Joker in the upcoming release of "Zack Snyder’s Justice League." For now, he says he can't give anything away about the "secrets and surprises planned" in director Snyder's superhero vision come to life.

As for his personal life, the 49-year-old's jealousy-inducing looks are often a topic of Hollywood gossip. With a demanding schedule and the intensity of being in the public eye, how does Leto look forever young?

"I have to thank my mom, who’s in the other room right now, for that," he says, "and good, clean, healthy living."

Emiko Tamagawa produced and edited this interview for broadcast with Todd Mundt. Serena McMahon adapted it for the web.

This article was originally published on WBUR.org.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.