Jared Leto has been a star for decades, but it’s only now at 50 that he is fronting his first major blockbuster — transforming into a vampire for new Marvel flick ‘Morbius’.
Leto made his name in more independent and cult projects, such as his Oscar-winning turn in AIDS drama ‘Dallas Buyer’s Club’ or as a junkie in ‘Requiem for a Dream’.
But he has no qualms about joining the superhero juggernaut with ‘Morbius’, that is hitting cinemas around the world next week.
“You want Marvel to help pay the bills, then you can sneak in some other movies here and there,” he said during a visit to Paris.
“I’m excited. I’ve done a lot of smaller roles in bigger movies and made a career out of that, so it’s interesting to star in a movie thats something new and different — I like a big, fun popcorn movie.”
Leto is not a total stranger to superhero flicks, of course, having taken a turn as the Joker in ‘Suicide Squad’.
But now he is creating a character not yet seen in the Marvel Cinematic Universe: Dr Michael Morbius is a scientist suffering from an incurable disease who accidentally turns himself into a vampire while trying to find a cure, and then can’t stop killing people for their blood.
“He’s not exactly a hero, not a villain. He’s somewhere in between — there’s a classic Jekyll and Hyde thing happening here,” said Leto.
“I liked that there were three characters built into one. There was a significant transformation between them.”
The film’s director, David Espinsoa, had his own take on his superhero.
“Morbius is searching for goodness – the cure for a disease. He’s going to find it, disregarding the cost on himself or on society,” said Espinosa. “And in his search for goodness, he transforms into something he detests. He has to accept the ugliness he has within him, and that there’s something beautiful about it. It will be his strength, what makes him unique.”
Morbius’ increasingly desperate research leads him to combine human DNA with that of the vampire bat — the only mammal that survives solely on blood — which has evolved to develop anticoagulants… a genetic mutation that Morbius is convinced will cure him and others with his disease. Not only does the treatment cure him, but gives him superhuman strength, the agility of an Olympic athlete, even the echolocation powers of the bat – to “see” objects in space by harnessing the sounds around him. But the cure also transforms Morbius into a bloodthirsty monster — a hideous creature with cravings that he is only somewhat able to control.
According to Espinosa — who billed himself as Sweden’s second-biggest comic book fan — it’s the character’s inner humanity, his duality between virtuous man and brutal creature, that made him so compelling. “Michael Morbius is one of the most altruistic characters of the Marvel Universe,” he said. “He’s one of the few that really believes in good. This good man has a horrible disease, and in his trials to save himself and the people that he cares for, he turns into a monster.”
In most superhero movies, there’s a classic sequence as the hero discovers his or her newfound powers. Not so for Michael Morbius. “When Morbius discovers his inner beast, he becomes afraid of it — and because he’s afraid, he’s also afraid of his powers. He’s afraid that they will take over and change him, so he’s constantly resisting them,” Espinosa added. “To become the hero, he has to accept his fate: Morbius’s journey is to accept that he will still remain the person that he is, but he has to harness these powers.”
As a man who has spent countless hours reading and thinking about comic books, Espinosa said that it wasn’t so surprising that Morbius’s duality has earned him a following. “Most great heroes are antiheroes,” he explained. “Most of us are resistant to accept that we are the chosen one, and Morbius is the same. The most interesting characters in the Marvel universe have always been those that have had one foot on each side: Magneto, Rogue, Wolverine, in his own way, Venom. All of these characters are the ones that are fundamentally the most fascinating for us as moviegoers and comic book readers.”
Leto added that ultimately, it will be Morbius’s true inner self that will determine his fate. “At the end of the day, he’s a very good person,” he said. “He’s using his talent, his skills, his education, his brains, in search of noble pursuits. He’s not without his faults – he’s breaking some rules – but he’s doing it to find the cure and help people like himself.”
‘I never watch them’
Leto revealed what drew him to ‘Morbius’ went far beyond simply joining the MCU juggernaut.
“I’m attracted to roles where there’s an opportunity to transform — physical transformation, but also mental, emotional, any and all,” said Leto.
For once, Leto was spared the extensive make-up, unlike his almost unrecognisable turn in last year’s ‘The House of Gucci’, or the fake nose and teeth he used for his creepy serial killer in ‘The Little Things’.
“Originally they wanted to use prosthetics with the monster and I pushed them to embrace technology and CGI. I’m glad we did because it gave us a lot more freedom,” he said, referring to computer generated imagery.
“I worked with people that have rare diseases. There was a certain way of walking that’s actually common with stroke survivors. I didn’t want to just get a cane and have a little limp or something — I wanted to make it specific.”
The actor continued: “I played Dr. Michael Morbius from his most frail, to his most powerful, to his most monstrous,” Leto continued. “There’s a lot of range in there, so that was really fun to tackle. Not only does the movie have action, stunts, and fighting, but the role itself was taxing. Whenever he is fighting the affliction, he is caught in a crossroads between different parts of the character. It’s like a withdrawal process, a full body experience.”
Leto’s ability to transform into any role is perhaps what fueled Espinosa’s conviction that there could have been no other Morbius for him.
“Jared Leto was the only actor that could really play the part of Morbius. That wasn’t really a choice — it was predestination,” Espinosa said.
Leto first became a star in the 1990s as the heart-throb in teen drama ‘My So-Called Life’ and has popped up in lots of cult favourites, including ‘Fight Club’, ‘American Psycho’ and ‘Blade Runner 2049’.
Not that he has seen any of these — Leto hasn’t watched himself on screen since the premiere of ‘Requiem for a Dream’ at Cannes in 2000.
“I never watch them. The whole goal as an actor is to be unselfconscious. So I do everything I can not to be thinking about myself from the outside,” he said.
“That way, I never repeat myself. Maybe that’s why my characters are so different.”
Don’t miss it!
‘Morbius’ releases in UAE cinemas on March 31.