Jared Leto has had quite a career trying to kill people. In 2002’s Panic Room, he was out to get Jodie Foster; in Terrence Malick’s The Thin Red Line, he was trying to gun down Japanese soldiers; and in Suicide Squad, which opens Aug. 5, he’s out to kill Batman as the Joker, the role both Jack Nicholson and the late Heath Ledger put their stamp on.
Leto, 44, got his first major break as Claire Danes’ crush in ABC’s 1994-95 adolescence angst drama My So-Called Life. Tabloid fame came from 1999 to 2003 when he dated and was engaged to Cameron Diaz. Since then, he’s made an impressive roster of films, including 2013’s Dallas Buyers Club, which brought him a supporting actor Oscar for his portrayal of the transgender Rayon. Almost forgotten is 2007’s Chapter 27, in which he plays Mark David Chapman, who assassinated John Lennon (played by Mark Lindsay Chapman, no relation). (The film’s title refers to the book Chapman had with him in 1980 when he shot the former Beatle four times with a .38 special, J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye, which contains 26 chapters.)
The film premiered at Sundance to lukewarm reviews and went on to a worldwide box-office gross of $187,488, or roughly the nachos-with-cheese sales on Suicide Squad‘s opening weekend. However, THR said Leto was “mesmeric as the bloated, deranged Chapman. It’s a brilliantly measured performance.” Leto gained 67 pounds to play the part through a diet heavy with microwaved pints of ice cream mixed with olive oil and soy sauce.
“Jared’s performance is worth watching the movie for,” says Alexandra Milchan, a producer on the film. “It’s shocking, astonishing and amazing in every way.”
While Chapter 27 got a boost from having Lindsay Lohan as a co-star, it received no help from Lennon’s widow, Yoko Ono, who didn’t want the movie made or filmed near her New York City apartment building. “She thinks the whole concept is terrible and offensive,” said her spokesperson at the time.
THR reported in April that Leto’s next project is the action thriller The Outsider. Chapman is currently in the Wende Correctional Facility near Buffalo, N.Y. He’s doing 20 years to life and has been denied parole eight times. But he is allowed one conjugal visit per year with his wife of 37 years, Gloria Abe.
This story first appeared in the Aug. 12 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.