Though Matthew McConaughey is the top billed star in Dallas Buyer's Club, it's Jared Leto who walks away with the new film's most acclaimed performance. The musician/actor is powerful as Rayon, a transwoman with AIDS, in the true life drama which opens in theaters on November 1.
At a recent press junket for the film, Leto said that he felt at ease in women's attire.
"It felt complete, right, as she wanted to be," he said. "I think she was in a process of discovery--it was a lot of fun to invent her."
The actor/musician, who is neither gay nor trans, explained the commonalities he had with a character who was nothing like himself.
"You find things like the desire to be loved, the search for identity," he said. "I loved her charm, her grace, her levity."
In the film, McConaughey plays Ron Woodroof, a real life Texas cowboy type who contracted HIV during the epidemic's peak in the mid-1980s. Foul mouthed and homophobic, Woodroof refuses to accept the death sentence he's given. At a clinic in Mexico, he's given experimental treatments, which seem to restore his health. Soon, Woodroof is illegally importing a variety of drugs and herbs from around the world – none of which have been approved for use in the U.S.
Working out of a Dallas motel room, Woodroof makes his stash available to anyone with cash in hand, legalities be damned. The long lines outside his door bring him in contact with the local gay community. As his homophobic attitudes begin to soften, Woodroof and heroin addict Rayon become business partners. The two quickly come to respect and depend on each other.
McConaughey is superb as a man who can only be described as "trailer park trash” –Woodroof actually lives in a trailer park. But he's a strong willed guy who possesses above average intelligence. Few things will get you further in life than some good old common sense, and Woodroof quickly learns to play the game. He sweet talks border patrol agents, converses knowledgeably with doctors from around the world, and for awhile, his fledgling business venture succeeds.
The film illustrates what AIDS patients of the era had to deal with. Even though the treatments being offered by Woodroof appear to be saving lives, the Food And Drug Administration does everything they can to stop him.
"It's a timely film," Jared Leto said. "So much of this battle rages on. This is an American story, not overtold. It's great that this film got made, it was in development for twenty years."
Leto credits McConaughey's star power as the reason Dallas Buyer's Club finally got the green light. Though an established actor and successful rock musician, Leto referred to himself as being "on the fringes.” And yet it's Leto, not McConaughey, who's getting the Oscar buzz. A scene in which an emaciated Rayon visits her conservative father in tears to ask for money packs a powerful punch – Leto reports that he lost about 30-40 pounds for the role. He hopes that his performance will open people's hearts.
"A greater understanding would be nice," he said. "Some empathy. Film has the power to change us. Stories have the power to change us."
Look for Dallas Buyer's Club in theaters on November 1.David-Elijah Nahmod