Playing the Joker is his OLYMPICS
Actor Jared Leto went to extremes to get in character for iconic villain role
Jared Leto is totally unrecognisable in Suicide Squad.
The US actor-singer hid his gorgeous face and brown locks behind horrendous white make-up, tattoos and fluoro-green hair for the role of crime kingpin the Joker in a film that zooms in on famous DC Comics supervillains which opens here tomorrow.
His Joker is the third live-action movie incarnation of the iconic baddie, following Jack Nicholson's and Heath Ledger's versions in Batman (1989) and The Dark Knight (2008) respectively.
Leto's Joker may not take centrestage, but his presence in Suicide Squad serves as a tool to introduce Margot Robbie's Harley Quinn, and how she goes from being the respectable Dr Harleen Quinzel to the deranged Quinn who is besotted with the Joker.
For Leto, to be able to take on the Clown Prince of Crime was "extremely pressurising yet satisfying".
"I could play the Joker a couple more times - if (the studios) want me to - and then retire from acting," Leto professed to M at New York City's Moynihan Station.
"You get to do everything with the Joker. What else can I do and who else can I play that can be so fun?"
Devoid of the frightful make-up, the 44-year-old frontman of rock group Thirty Seconds To Mars was immensely charming, speaking in a gentle and measured voice in the dimly lit hall of the train station that had been transformed into the fictional Belle Reve prison as depicted in the movie.
It was not difficult to fall under his magnetic charm, which he brought to Suicide Squad in spades.
But far from being just another pretty boy, Leto has also earned a reputation for being a Method actor, one who embodies his character on- and off-screen.
Margot Robbie and Jared Leto at CinemaCon 2016. PHOTO: WARNER BROS.
He famously lost about 13kg for his role as a drug addict in Requiem For A Dream (2000), then went the opposite route for Chapter 27 (2007) by piling on 30kg to play the murderer of John Lennon.
For his Oscar-winning turn as a drug-addicted transgender woman with Aids in Dallas Buyers Club (2013), he lost 14kg, shaved his eyebrows and waxed his entire body.
Leto again stayed in character as the Joker throughout the production of Suicide Squad and even pranked his castmates.
He notoriously sent Robbie a love letter in a black box with a live rat in it. He gifted Will Smith, who plays deadly marksman Deadshot, bullets and a dead hog, plus a video message to his other co-stars.
"I do what is necessary to be as focused and committed as possible," Leto said of his preparation.
"I don't really like the term 'Method'; it is just a stock word. Everyone has his own way to get into character."
He added: "It is what is on the page (that attracts me), like in Dallas Buyers Club and Requiem; those stories compel me to transform. So you just do what is necessary. Just like if you are training for the Olympics, you've got to transform your body. For me, the Joker is the Olympics of acting."
He might have left his alter ego behind in Toronto where filming was done, but Leto admitted there might still be a part of the psychopath in him.
"He'll always be there inside when I need him," he joked.
Playing the Joker has changed him though.
"I've always been a quiet and guarded person. I don't even laugh much. When I got the part, I was so nervous. This is the guy famous for laughing! What am I going to do?"
Leto said that the first thing he tried was to find "his Joker laugh" by experimenting with a variety of sounds and testing them out on the streets of New York.
"I knew I had (the laugh) when people cringed at the sound of it.
"I tried it out loudly at a restaurant once and people were offended," he recalled, laughing.
Not only is the character his favourite villain of all time, he is also a fan favourite, so the responsibility was immense, Leto said.
"It was a relief, however, when I found out that the Joker had been written about, interpreted and reinterpreted, and reimagined for over 75 years.
"It was a huge task to undertake, but in a way, it has also given me freedom to explore a different direction."
Like making his Joker "sexy".
"It was almost like there was no sexuality talked about or felt in the previous Jokers.
"So that is one thing that is different here. Also, this Joker is intoxicating. He is extremely powerful. He has a strong sense of who he is."
He added: "This was a role of a lifetime. I felt an obligation to the fans of the DC universe, to the other actors who have played him, to everyone...
"The baton has been passed me, so I was going to run as fast and as hard as I could. Whether I fail or succeed, I was still going to do the work necessary to do the role well."
A validation of his performance from Ben Affleck, who plays the Dark Knight in Batman V Superman: Dawn Of Justice and has a vital cameo in Suicide Squad, was a huge pat on the back.
On how the US actor offered "very kind words", Leto said: "He was probably the first person who had seen the early cut (of Suicide Squad), and was very supportive. So that was very nice."
Leto hinted that his Joker may resurface on the big screen. Could he be in the upcoming Justice League film or in Affleck's solo Batman movie, which Affleck will also direct?
His lips were pursed, but there was a glint in his eye when he stood up to leave after the interview, teasing: "That's all for now. I'll just see you next time."