Jared Leto Is Breaking Down Gender Barriers With Perfume

Image: Courtesy of Gucci.
Jared Leto makes me feel all sorts of confused. As a preteen, I fell hard for him as Jordan Catalano in My So-Called Life, and they say you never really get over your first love. Yet, as I stood across from him at a party in Milan a few months ago thrown in celebration of his new campaign for Gucci Guilty, I found myself dumbstruck for reasons unrelated to sexual attraction. Instead, all I could think was that he must have an invisible lifesize LuMee case following him around, making sure glowy light bounces off him from every angle at all times. His skin was cherubic; his hair so shiny it made me wonder if I had hallucinated all his past colorful dye jobs. Basically, I didn't want to be with him as much as I wanted to be him.

This — Leto's ability to inspire both envy and lust — is what makes his latest collaboration with Gucci so perfect. He stars as the face of both the men's and women's iterations of Gucci Guilty, a move that few, if any, brands have made before. In the campaign for the fragrance, he and two other models brood in a Venice hotel, walk the cobblestone streets, and laze about in bed, naked, spritzing one another. In one scene, one of the women draws crimson lipstick on Leto's lips.

Scenes like this feel natural, though, when Leto is the leading man. The actor has been blurring the gender lines as long as we've been watching him, making him the ideal fit for a beauty campaign that aims to reach progressive consumers.

Ahead, I chat with Leto about fragrance, inspiration, and the breaking down of traditional gender roles — in beauty and beyond.
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This fragrance ad is so unlike any others we've seen before. Was it important to both you and [Gucci creative director] Alessandro Michele that this felt different than the typical perfume ad?
"Yeah, I think it was. Alessandro had a vision from the very beginning. I think in the same way that he applied that vision to the world of fashion or apparel, he followed that vision with this, as well. So he wanted to make something that was different, brave, and bold, and it was fun to be a part of that journey with him."

You said that a lot of it was improvised on the spot; were there certain things that you really wanted to capture?
"We had very few rules, but we had some thoughts and ideas. I think that being in a place like Venice — it’s this impossible city that, in some ways, shouldn’t even exist because it’s a city built on water that was willed into existence — you are kind of captured by the spirit. It’s historically been a place for exploration and indulgence, and it’s the home of Carnival, so it kind of has this sense of mystery and magic."

You're representing both the men's and women's fragrance in a line, which we haven't seen others do. Do you hope to make a certain statement about beauty with that role?
"I was very honored to be asked to be a part of it. I have a lot of respect for Alessandro and I think he’s a really talented artist. We become friends first, and then he asked me to do this project with him after we got to know each other. I think that it’s great to represent people rather than representing a gender."

That idea seems to be spreading, especially in the beauty industry, which is becoming more inclusive as a whole. How do you think that you fit into that?
"I know that they were looking for someone who was unexpected and kind of a different choice. At least that’s what they told me. I’m happy to have been that person for them. I think it’s a reflection of the times that we live in, which is hopefully all of us moving towards a more accepting future, one with less labels and constraint."

Was there ever a time, whether it was for a role or in music or in life, when you felt that you had to conform to more of a hyper-masculine idea of beauty?
"I’ve never really felt a burden, but I think as a young male in America, we are taught that there is an idea of masculinity. I think that probably very few people fit into that [ideal] perfectly. I think that people have a lot of different ways of expressing themselves, and identity is such an important topic, especially when you’re young and filled with so many more questions than answers about everything.

"I think Alessandro has a really great instinct, not only in what he does with his visual work, but also how to say something. That is an incredible thing to do with your work, especially with an iconic company like Gucci. I mean, it’s the golden age and he has brought out this renaissance that is really fun to be a part of and to contribute to in some small way."

Sometimes the questions are more important than the answers and sometimes we don’t find answers.

Let's switch gears a bit. The Joker has such an iconic look in Suicide Squad. How did you help shape that as an actor?
"It was the director David Ayer's idea. He has a very strong personal connection to things, as we all do, and he brought that to the table. But we talked about sources of inspiration, and everything from dictators to cartel leaders, and we pulled from all of those sources."

The character kind of embodies those types of people, doesn’t he?
"You know, you see these gold-plated guns in Suicide Squad; that’s straight from the gold-plated guns of the narcos."

How does your music career bring you inspiration?
"There are really very few things that are as inspiring as playing a live concert. Music has brought us all over the world multiple times. We tour incessantly. We are very much a live touring act. Some artists spend more time on the road, while some artists spend more time in the studio. But different people have different choices. We're constantly in different countries and different places."

We've talked a lot about identity today. What advice would you give to someone who is struggling with theirs?
"I would say listen to yourself. Take some time to shut out all of the external voices and really meditate on the questions. Sometimes the questions are more important than the answers and sometimes we don’t find answers. Sometimes questions that we ask at a certain age aren’t as big of a deal when we become another age. I know that has happened to me. Sometimes they stay as important, but I think it’s just good to listen to yourself and to follow that voice, your gut, and your heart."
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