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  • Photography by Mr Boo George
  • Styling by Mr Dan May, Style Director, MR PORTER
  • Words by Mr Dan Cairns

"The Race"

Thirty Seconds to Mars

For Mr Jared Leto, leading a double life as a Hollywood film star and lead singer of the platinum-selling rock band Thirty Seconds to Mars - whose new album, Love Lust Faith + Dreams, has just been released - is the most natural thing in the world. His peripatetic, "food stamp-poor" upbringing, as the younger son of a mother who surrounded herself and her two boys with artistic influences, instilled in the Louisiana-born 41-year-old a passion for the arts. "I did grow up in a very creative world," Mr Leto says. "It was the 1970s, the age of the artist and the hippy, and my exposure to that shaped me in a really deep way. I was raised among people who made things to make them, and with the idea that if you're a creative person, then of course you're going to do something creative with your life - whether you're an artist, a performance artist, a potter or a photographer. I had no concept of the word 'fame'; or a notion of success or money. We grew up very poor, so our world wasn't anywhere near that kind of stuff. You have to do what is important to you and protect that."

There are always going to be people
who go, 'F*** that guy, he shouldn't
make music, he makes movies'

The history of Tinseltown talent trying its hand at pop is, for the most part, a sorry one. The music turned out by Mr Keanu Reeves and Mr Russell Crowe offers a reminder of why the public tends to like its stars to stay in their allotted boxes. If Mr Leto is an exception to this rule - and the multimillion-strong sales notched up by Thirty Seconds to Mars' albums say he is, his musical forays have nevertheless met with real resistance over the years. "There are always going to be people who don't like you," he says, with a wry chuckle, "who go, 'F*** that guy, he shouldn't make music, he makes movies'. It's a bizarre attitude; it's like saying Julian Schnabel should never have directed films because he's an artist, or Jeff Koons used to work on Wall Street, what's with the art? I'm not saying I'm Schnabel or Koons, but you know what I mean. What I was faced with as well was a line of dilettantes who set a very bad example; there was a precedent set by people who, let's be honest, didn't do a very good job of making good, meaningful work. So that career switch got a bad rep, and it was inevitable that we needed to clean up a lot of crap."

The album artwork for Love Lust Faith + Dreams, featuring
"Isonicotinic Acid Ethyl Ester" by Mr Damien Hirst

Mr Leto clearly isn't one to shy away from plain speaking. Yet he has about him a serene air that is positively Zen-like when compared to the needy melodramatics that are a hallmark of so many of his peers in both the film and music worlds. The fact that his elder brother, Shannon, the drummer and occasional actor, has been at his side throughout Thirty Seconds to Mars' career speaks volumes about the importance of family to Mr Leto. As does Love Lust Faith + Dreams' delicate coda: when "Depuis Le Début" draws the album to its close, a music box plays the famous theme from Tchaikovsky's Swan Lake. "My mother used to put my little brother and me to sleep by playing that exact music box," Mr Leto recalls. "And we wanted to put a little bit of our life on there. The whole record is very personal and I hope it is an album that can be transformative. There are people out there who may think they have an idea of who we are, but I think this record can change some perceptions. It's not just a rock record, it's more expansive. We've been doing this for a long, long time - we first signed a deal in 1998, and we'd been making music for 10 years before that. It's hard to complain: on the tour for our last album we sold out Wembley and the O2 arena, and we started out at the Barfly in Camden in 2001 or 2002. It's a slow, steady climb to the middle, as they say."

Before the band released its debut album in 2002, Mr Leto had already established himself as a Hollywood player. Supporting roles in films such as Fight Club and The Thin Red Line led to acclaimed lead performances, such as his portrayal of a heroin addict in Requiem for a Dream, and Mr John Lennon's killer Mr Mark David Chapman in Chapter 27. The former role required him to starve himself until he achieved a skeletal frame; for the latter, he had to gain 67lbs, which he managed by drinking pints of microwaved ice cream into which he mixed olive oil and soy sauce. You or I may call a halt after such drastic readjustments; Mr Leto, who last autumn resumed acting after a five-year break, chose to mark his return by embarking on yet another regime of speed-dieting. To prepare for his comeback role, playing an HIV-positive transsexual woman in Dallas Buyers Club, Mr Leto again shed a huge amount of weight and, on the day we meet at a London hotel, is only just returning to his normal size. "I lost about 30lbs and waxed my body," he says. "But I'll tell you, gaining weight is much more brutal than losing it. When you lose that much weight, you lose fat, sure, but you start to lose muscle too. And you can't just eat to gain that back, you have to work out, or all you're putting on is fat."

Mr Leto doesn't look remotely fat today, damn the man. He is instead almost preternaturally handsome, with chiselled features, jet-black hair and piercing blue eyes, as a woman's magazine profile might put it. Maybe his features are a touch skull-like, I suggest to my girlfriend when I return home, only to be remonstrated, "No, babes, he's hot. You just don't understand." A handsome face can be a double-edged sword, of course; concentrating on good looks is both reductive and runs the risk of overshadowing genuine artistic achievement. Mr Leto admits that this has posed a challenge to the ethos with which he grew up with: that art matters, and everything else is essentially froth. But he's the opposite of po-faced on the subject. I ask him how it felt to be included, as he was in 2009, in People magazine's Best Chests category. "Did I really win Best Chest?" he asks, looking both appalled and delighted. (Actually, he was ninth of 11.) "I never knew that. I should have won that when I was in drag for Dallas Buyers Club - I had a great chest then."

Love Lust Faith + Dreams is comfortably Mr Leto and his band's best album to date - episodic, polemical, texturally complex, and balancing contemplation, defiance, recklessness and huge choruses and riffs in a way that classic, pre-iTunes concept albums managed to do. Between music and film, he continues to surround himself with art, making things purely to make them. "If, ultimately, my albatross is getting people to take my music seriously because I happened to be in Requiem for a Dream," he concludes, "that's a pretty good problem to have. Anyway, after selling 20,000 tickets in London the last time we played here, how many people do you need to love you in the world?" That's easy for him to say.

Love Lust Faith + Dreams is out now.

"Up in the air"