You don’t get to be an Oscar winner and a rock star by thinking small. And Thirty Seconds to Mars frontman Jared Leto (who won Best Supporting Actor for “Dallas Buyer’s Club”) is taking on a significant challenge with his next project: deciphering the state of the U.S. in 2017 via “A Day in the Life of America,” a crowd-sourced film project by him and the band.
Leto and his bandmates are asking fans from all over America and around the world to send in footage on the Fourth of July, and in the process he hopes to paint a picture of the state of the union. In a letter Leto wrote (http://thirtysecondstomars.us/) he explains the impetus and goals of the ambitious project: “This Tuesday, the 4th of July, we are filming a massive portrait of America, capturing a single day in the life of this beautiful country,” he writes in part. “We are asking you to film what’s important, impactful, challenging or inspiring to you. Please try to be as brave, bold and creative as possible. … In addition, we would like you or your subject to look into the camera and answer the following questions: What does America mean to you? What does the American dream mean to you? What is the state of the country today? What are you afraid of? What are your hopes and dreams?”
Leto spoke to Variety Thursday afternoon about the project and the band’s upcoming album.
Let’s start with one of your question from the film. What is the state of America to you today?
It’s an incredibly important time and I couldn’t think of a better time to create a portrait of America than the one we’re in now. It’s a time filled with imbalance and uncertainty. I think there’s an entire generation of young people that are being activated politically, which is incredible and inspiring. I think there’s a lot of concern, not just about our political future, but about our economic future and about our environmental future. So it’s a great time to ask questions, good time to reflect and look at who and what we really are.
Do you feel it is important to show many of these people who have never been active before how to use their voice?
Everybody should do what they’re inspired or inclined to do. I don’t think there is a requirement if you happen to be a musician or a filmmaker. But I think there’s an opportunity there, if you’re a storyteller, to pull out your pen or your paintbrush or your camera. With this piece, in particular, I think it’s incredibly important to be apolitical, because in order to take a look at ourselves I don’t think you can do it through a political lens. I’m hopeful that we’ll get footage back from the crowdsource material that will not only surprise and inspire me, not only be fun or funny or exciting, but also footage that I disagree with, footage that will provoke, footage that will anger. We want all of it because, I think, by taking an honest look at who we are and an accurate, non-censored look at who we are is the only way that we’re able to truly reflect, consider and to move forward and to change.
Are there one or two things you saw on the road that inspired the project?
Absolutely. I was onstage the other night with Thirty Seconds to Mars in front of 20,000 people, and I’ll tell you the most surprising thing is the incredible sense of unity that we see night after night across the country. You see people that may disagree politically, culturally and in many other ways, who then come to a concert and agree on something. There’s celebration, unity, kindness, and I see that quite a bit, both on the stage and off. I don’t see a lot of negativity or divisiveness, and that’s beautiful because music can bring people together. It can also divide people, provoke people, but one of the things it can do is unite people. And that’s really powerful.
What two or three songs would be the perfect soundtrack for this film?
There are so many songs that I would include in the film if I could, everything from John Lennon’s “Imagine” to “Born in the USA” [Bruce Springsteen] to Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Sweet Home Alabama.” There’s no better place to look to get an understanding of who and what we are than music. As it stands right now a great deal of the soundtrack to this film will be the new album from Thirty Seconds to Mars, which will be our first in four years and released this year. We’re excited about that and had I not been in the studio writing songs and creating music that was thematically in line with this project I wouldn’t be making it.
Is there one song from the new album that best reflects this project?
Absolutely, and more than one. They couldn’t be tied more directly together, they are essentially one in the same. That’s what makes this project all the more special to us and the reason we’re moving forward doing it. But, at this point, to continue with it now what we need, most importantly, is the participation from people all across the country. It doesn’t matter if it’s a shot from your cell phone or if you have a big fancy camera and you’re gonna go out and film and capture an entire story or event. It can be anything and everything that you think is interesting, fascinating, challenging, surprising, inspiring. Tell a story of what you think America is. We want to see and hear from people all around the country and people outside the country can contribute as well and tell us what America means to them. It’s probably impossible to understand who we are if you don’t ask people in the rest of the world to contribute and comment on America and the American dream.
How and when will people see the footage?
We’ll start seeing footage almost immediately. We’re gonna start cutting together short pieces and sharing on social. My entire day, on all of my social handles, is going to be documented, both in real time and through pieces of content we’re creating throughout the day on the Fourth of July. We’re going to be asking people to participate both through social and through contributing and sending in footage. But it’s an incredibly huge undertaking. Right now we’ve got about 30 or 40 people working on this. We’ve got not only the crowdsourced footage that we are looking for from people that will film themselves, but we also have 50 crews in all 50 states, plus one in D.C. and Puerto Rico as well.
We’ll end with one of your questions as well. What does the American dream mean to you?
I’m going to save my long answer for the film because I’ll participate in this story as well and contribute just like everyone else. But I was raised by a single mom with two kids, who, with a little hard work and some food stamps, made a better life for herself. So I’ve been a recipient of some of the best parts of the American dream. And of course we all have our own struggles that make us who we are, but this country has been very good to me and I’m acutely aware of that and have an enormous amount of gratitude.