As one of Hollywood’s loudest proponents of Method acting, Jared Leto has long been one of those performers who loves “disappearing” into a role. In House of Gucci, he finally succeeds—for better and for worse.
For most of his career, Leto’s shapeshifting has been more conspicuous than chameleonic. But Ridley Scott’s fashion epic uses the actor’s zeal for over-the-top “transformative” performances to its advantage. Somewhere between the prosthetic nose, the “it’s-a-me!” accent, and the hideous corduroy jackets, Leto does become unrecognizable. The trick only becomes funnier once you realize this floundering, narcissistic Fashion Wario is actually Leto—an actor defined, increasingly, by his relentless ego.
The Oscars conversation is far from set, but House of Gucci could win sophomore awards for both Leto and Lady Gaga. As exciting as it is to consider Gaga adding yet another gold statuette to the shelf, however, Leto’s awards contention is more complicated. What should we make of this performance and the boost it could give Leto’s image, given the unsettling rumors that have hung over him for years?
Lady Gaga tears through House of Gucci as the ruthlessly ambitious Patrizia Reggiani—who marries Gucci grandson Maurizio (Adam Driver) and quickly ingratiates and schemes her way to becoming “Lady Gucci.” Our Lady Stefani’s performance is as committed and unhinged as her “Italian” accent—which is to say, it’s an absolute tour de force for anyone who still remembers how to have fun at the movies in 2021. Leto plays Paolo as Patrizia’s perfect foil—an ineffectual man-brat with delusions of grandeur.
If Patrizia and Paolo have one thing in common, it’s that despite their best efforts, neither of them can secure the recognition they crave. Patrizia spends the film staring daggers into everyone who insists that because she married into the family, she’s not a “real” Gucci. Paolo, meanwhile, might be a Gucci by blood, but his father disparages him to everyone who will listen—both behind his back and directly in front of him. (Wah!)
Paolo dreams of carrying on the family legacy as a fashion designer, but his sketches are so tragic that even his uncle insults them while breaths away from death. Eventually, Patrizia realizes that she and Maurizio can use Paolo’s ego against him, a power play that (eventually, after a few additional betrayals) catalyzes House of Gucci’s inevitably gruesome ending.
From the scraggly hair to the heavily accented whining, Paolo reeks of hopelessness. Swathed in clashing patterns and various shades of purple, he rhapsodizes his clownish fashions with absurd poetics. At one point, he describes a design as “a memory wrapped in lycra”—a line delivered with enough tragicomic conviction to yank peals of laughter out of a groggy 10 a.m. critics’ screening.
Leto’s film career has been a parade of transformations, both on- and off-camera. There was his extreme weight loss for Requiem for a Dream and Dallas Buyers Club (for which he also shaved his body and eyebrows, and won the Best Supporting Actor Oscar), and his weight gain for Chapter 29. His Method preparations have historically made great press tour fodder, whether it’s living on the streets for Requiem or having a dead pig delivered to his Suicide Squad castmates. The actor also allegedly sent used condoms to co-stars while making the 2016 film, a claim he’s denied.
At some point, however, the Joker anecdotes began to feel somewhat creepy—especially given the past allegations that have been made about Leto. (Leto’s representative declined comment; a lawyer representing Leto sent a legal threat to The Daily Beast, though did not deny the specific allegations.)
In 2005, the New York Post reported that Leto had been pursuing teen models. “He’s been approaching all the girls and inviting them to his shows,” a source told the paper. “He’s a serial texter. He is constantly texting these 16- and 17-year-old girls. It’s really kind of creepy.”
In one particularly strange episode, actor Dylan Sprouse called Leto out online in 2018. “Yo @JaredLeto,” he tweeted, “now that you’ve slid into the dm’s of every female model aged 18-25, what would you say your success rate is?”
Guardians of the Galaxy director James Gunn, who would later direct the second, Leto-less Suicide Squad film, replied to Sprouse’s post: “He starts at 18 on the Internet?”
Leto’s emo band, 30 Seconds to Mars, also reportedly held a contest in which five winners would sleep in Leto’s bed. The actor-slash-frontman once told Entertainment Tonight that he’s found fans asleep in his bed. He apparently got so mad at Elijah Wood for calling his band “fucking awful” in an interview that he later started an in-person scuffle over it.
And then there was that weird festival “cult” in Croatia on Mars Island.
While early-career turns in My So-Called Life and Requiem for a Dream have earned Leto longstanding goodwill as both a teen heartthrob and Serious Actor, the glow might be fading. Schadenfreude hung in the air when reports emerged that Joaquin Phoenix’s Joker casting had enraged Leto (another allegation he’s denied), and in 2017, a rant about the actor from BoJack Horseman creator Raphael Bob-Waksberg went viral. At least for now, it appears the Morbius and House of Gucci press tours have been smooth sailing. But the awards trail is long, and as we all know, the internet never forgets—even if awards voters often do.