Jared Leto: “The gun and cocaine moment was a turning point”

Actor and rock star Jared Leto, 41, on his turbulent youth, the relationship with his mother, and having big dreams

I was at a crossroads in life when I was 16. I was taking a look at my opportunities and what I’d do with my life and how I’d go about it. I didn’t know I was going to be an actor. I thought I might be an artist or a painter. Or maybe a drug dealer. But I didn’t know which path I would take. It’s just fortunate that I chose one over the other.

I couldn’t really talk to my mother. We were both in a strange place in our lives. We were going through our own things and dealing with our demons, me and my mother at the same time. And my dad wasn’t around. I guess if I could I’d go back and tell my mom I was going to be okay.

If I met the teenage Jared now the first thing I’d notice would probably be that my wallet was missing. He had a pretty tough exterior, it would be hard to crack. I was in trouble quite a bit with the authorities, any person who made rules or the law. I dropped out of school. My adolescence was actually a very turbulent time for me. I think we’re all dealt a set of challenges in our lives and we all deal with them in different ways. When you’re younger you don’t have the tools, you just don’t know how to cope with those challenges. Probably a lot of my behaviour was related to doing drugs.

I couldn’t really talk to my mother. We were both in a strange place in our lives, and dealing with our demons

I think everything happens for a reason, so it’s good that I learned the lessons that I had to learn. But there was a lot of pain and uncertainty and that’s not always fun. I’d like to go back and reassure my younger self that things will be okay and he should remember how much our choices impact upon our lives and how much responsibility we have for our own lives. And how much hard work pays off. And that it’s okay to dream as big as you can dream. I’d tell him to hang on tight and listen, and to bet on himself.

I’d tell my younger self to look to his creativity for his salvation. And I think eventually that’s exactly what I did. Without that option I’m not so sure I would have had a path out of my own challenges. But there was a moment, involving a gun and some cocaine, that may have been a turning point for me. I knew it wasn’t good. After that I put myself back into college and went to art school and that really helped me focus on positive options. I knew I wanted to make something out of my life. Then when I was 22 I got the role in My So-Called Life [the mid-’90s cult TV drama co-starring Claire Danes].

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The teenage me wouldn’t believe the success I’ve had with 30 Seconds to Mars [the 10 million album-selling rock band fronted by Leto]. He wasn’t an aspiring rock star; he was more concerned with thinking about how he could scrounge up a few bucks. But I think he’d be pretty impressed just by the amount of productivity he’s achieved. He wasn’t a very materialistic person, but he’d be surprised and impressed by the things I’ve achieved creatively. And if I told the young kid at film school he was going to have a career as an actor, that would be cool. I feel pretty good about my life right now.

It would be nice to go back just for a day to when you were a young kid, and the sun was shining, and you had no responsibilities and no work to do. You’d have no contribution to make except just to have a good time, jump in a swimming pool, and eat bad food. It might be nice to have that feeling again.