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Last year’s best supporting actress winner, Anne Hathaway, presented Leto with the award, the first trophy of the night.
Leto received his first Academy Award nomination for his role as transsexual AIDS patient Rayon in the acclaimed Focus Features film, which went into Sunday night with six nominations, including one for best picture.
During his speech, Leto paid tribute to his mother, who was his Oscars date.
“In 1971 Bossier City, Louisiana, there was a teenage girl who was pregnant with her second child. She was a high school dropout and a single mom, but somehow, she managed to make a better life for herself and her children,” Leto said. “She encouraged her kids to be creative, to work hard and to do something special. That girl is my mother, and she’s here tonight.”
“I love you, Mom; thank you for teaching me to dream,” Leto said. He also thanked his older brother Shannon for “sharing this insane and amazing adventure that is [their band] 30 Seconds to Mars” and being his best friend.
Leto dedicated the award to the dreamers in the audience, particularly in places such as the Ukraine and Venezuela.
“To all the dreamers out there around the world watching this tonight in places like the Ukraine and Venezuela, I want to say, we are here, and as you struggle to make your dreams happen, to live the impossible, we’re thinking of you tonight,.”
He also said his Oscar is for “the 36 million people who have lost the battle to AIDS” and all those who “have ever felt injustice because of who you are and who you love. Tonight, I stand here in front of the world, with you and for you.”
He also thanked Focus Features, his agents, Jim Toth and Mick Sullivan of CAA, and the Dallas Buyers Club team, including director Jean-Marc Vallee and star and best actor nominee Matthew McConaughey.
Leto previously spoke to The Hollywood Reporter at Saturday’s Independent Spirit Awards about wanting to do a reverse “McConaissance,” the term coined to describe McConaughey’s transition from romantic-comedy leading man to serious actor, and do a rom-com with Meryl Streep.
Watch video of that conversation below.
Leto’s Oscar joins an impressive collection of prizes he’s already won this season, including Golden Globe, SAG, Critics’ Choice and Independent Spirit awards.
Leto took six years off from acting prior to his role in Dallas Buyers, for which he lost 40 pounds.
Leto beat fellow nominees Barkhad Abdi (Captain Phillips), Bradley Cooper (American Hustle), Michael Fassbender (12 Years a Slave) and Jonah Hill (The Wolf of Wall Street).
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