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Jared Leto Praises Kelvin Harrison Jr.’s Performance in ‘Cyrano,’ Talks the ‘Psychological’ Pressures of Acting

Jared Leto Kelvin Harrison Jr
Leto: Jordan Strauss/Invision/AP; © 2021 Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures Inc. All Rights Reserved

In Variety‘s Up Next, we asked four Oscar winners to pick the one person who represents the future of Hollywood.

Jared Leto loves a good transformation, as exhibited by his latest performance in Ridley Scott’s “House of Gucci” — where he’s unrecognizable under layers of prosthetics as Paolo, the black sheep of the fashion family. The Oscar-winning actor (who won an Academy Award in 2014 for “Dallas Buyers Club”) is a fan of “dancing on the edge” as he’s building a character. “Let’s try and fail here,” Leto tells himself before shooting a scene.

When he looks down the road, Leto chooses Kelvin Harrison Jr. as “Up Next.” The 27-year-old actor — who had breakout roles in “It Comes at Night” and “Waves” — can be seen in Joe Wright’s musical adaptation of “Cyrano” playing Christian. “He’s making interesting choices already,” Leto says. “I know he’s not going to let us down.”

What’s been your approach to acting, and how has it changed over the years?

JARED LETO: As I get older, I don’t take it for granted. I always feel it’s my obligation to dive in as deep as possible, and hope that I can help contribute in a meaningful way. I think it’s even more attractive to be bold than brave — and to make some mistakes.

Do you have any regrets about past roles?

No, but I will tell you, I’ve failed more than anybody I’ve ever met in my life. I don’t sit around and nurse my regrets in life. You got to move on. You take that failure, fear, frustration, pressure — take all those things, and it’s fuel for the fire.

What was your most useful resource in preparing for Paolo Gucci in “House of Gucci”?

I mean, Paolo was a lot to handle, as you can imagine. I think the most powerful resource that any artist has is their imagination. You use creativity to solve problems. When you’re playing a real-life person, you have a lot of

Why did you decide to become an actor?

Because I’m completely fucking crazy, I suppose. I think to do this, you have to be a little nutty. There are harder jobs in the world than being an actor, but it does have its unique set of pressures — mostly psychological. I wanted to be an artist my whole life. I wanted to be a visual artist, a painter. I studied visual art and found photography, then film, and I dropped out of school. My plan was to become an actor first, so I could get a job as a director. I never wanted to act. It was a means to an end. I’ve had the opportunity to be behind the camera a ton in the past decade and a half, and I fell in love with the process.

I’m having quite a love affair with acting. I wouldn’t have expected that. I took about six years off before “Dallas Buyers Club.” I’ve always been grateful for acting, but I had a lot of conflict around it. It started to become easy to avoid doing. But I really have to say, my perspective on it has changed a lot.

Who would you choose as “Up Next” in acting?

Kelvin Harrison Jr. … I saw him in “It Comes at Night,” and he elevated the genre. Then I watched “Waves,” and I said, there goes this guy again. I was like, “Oh, wait a second.” OK, now I want to know who the fuck is this? And then this year with “Cyrano” — I’ve always seen the character of Christian played a bit vacant or vacuous. He didn’t do that.

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What does it feel like to be chosen by Jared Leto?

KELVIN HARRISON JR.: I’m just shocked, to be honest, I didn’t even know Jared knew who I was. I met him once and took a selfie together. I started watching movies late in life, and I saw him in “Dallas Buyers Club,” and I remember telling everybody I know he’s my favorite actor. And then I started watching everything else that he did and saw he’s one of those actors who love the transformation.

How did you approach Christian in “Cyrano,” which was different than other portrayals in the past, besides that he’s a Black man?

One of the first conversations Joe [Wright] and I had was I think that he has to have something special. We left it with the fact that he had a strong emotional intelligence. And though, you know, I think he was very intuitive in terms of navigating, that didn’t feel right. I connected with Christian on that level. I don’t have a vast vocabulary by any stretch of the imagination, but I could tell a story — not as well as Cyrano, but I could. It was never about him being dumb. It was about him being sincere and trustworthy. I come from New Orleans, a small town, and I want to trust everybody I meet in Hollywood. Maybe I probably shouldn’t, but until you prove to me that I shouldn’t, I’m going to give it a shot.

You’re working with Baz Luhrmann on “Elvis” and Barry Jenkins on the “Lion King” prequel next, along with Stephen Williams’ “Chevalier.” What can you tell us?

Baz’s movie is a Baz Luhrmann film. It’s going to be an event. I’m grateful I got to be a small part of that movie. It was cool to play B.B. King. With “The Lion King,” it’s going to be fun. That movie came out when I was born, and it was my favorite movie growing up. Scar is one of my favorite characters. I sent in tapes for both Mufasa and Scar, and I kept praying that they don’t pick me for Mufasa. With “Chevalier,” I just finished. I learned the violin. I’ve been learning concertos.