Jared Leto Talks Mountain Climbing, Ascending Hollywood's "Social Ladder" at Premiere of Nature Docuseries 'Great Wide Open'
“It’s a long, arduous haul filled with the dead bodies of those who have come before you," director-producer Leto joked while discussing the documentary, which aims to emphasize the beauty of America's national parks.
The laughs kept coming Tuesday night as Jared Leto stepped out in Los Angeles not to promote his role as the Joker in the upcoming Suicide Squad, but to premiere Great Wide Open, a documentary series he directed and produced.
The five-episode series follows Leto as he traverses four of America’s national parks and meets with professional mountain climbers who bring him along on their journeys.
During a Q&A after a screening of the first two episodes ("The Conquistador" featuring climber Tommy Caldwell and "The Dirtbag" with climber Renan Ozturk), Leto said he had always been interested in the outdoors but never had the time to get too involved.
“I was just climbing other mountains, creative mountains," Leto said. “This project, Great Wide Open, was probably the best excuse I could find to make sure I prioritized some time and got my ass into nature, into these situations and around these people.”
What initially began as a project about the national parks quickly shifted focus to the people who brought the parks to life — not only the climbers, but the tourists Leto and his crew met while traveling to places such as Yosemite and Yellowstone — said Ozturk, who also worked as the cinematographer for the series.
Leto was quick to agree with Ozturk, saying the filming process felt like “a portrait of America.”
“You would have a tourist get out of an RV and say something as profound as someone who’s hanging off the edge of a 3,000-foot drop,” he said. “That was really cool to see that. Everybody having a different experience and getting something out of the parks and these places.”
Going into the series, Leto was a recreational climber who didn’t know the techniques and tips necessary to complete larger and more adventurous climbs. Throughout the episodes, the audience sees him learning new skills, including a scene in which he is taught how to jumar — a climbing technique used to ascend a rope — from 3,000 feet in the air.
Leto admitted that this type of climbing can be extremely fear-inducing and gave an example of his thought process during another climb where he had started to swing away from the rock and toward the valley.
“My stomach dropped and I lost my mind for a second, and I had to have one of those conversations with myself like ‘Listen, you’re freaking out right now. And you really can’t do that because you’re gonna die. So just lighten up and get on with it,’” he said. “There are a lot of situations out there that seem really insane, but these guys know what they’re doing. They’re professionals … you hope.”
After Leto encouraged audience members to visit the national parks in the series, one audience member asked if there were any Los Angeles-specific climbs he would recommend.
“You can climb the social ladder of Hollywood,” Leto said. “It’s a long, arduous haul filled with the dead bodies of those who have come before you. And there’s a dark side.”
Great Wide Open premieres online July 25. Budweiser is a production sponsor and hosted a Bud and Burgers reception ahead of the screening.