x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

In person: A surreal encounter with Jared Leto at Dubai Music Week

Jared Leto of Thirty Seconds to Mars performs during Dubai Music Week 2015 at Dubai World Trade Centre. Cedric Ribeiro / Getty Images
Jared Leto of Thirty Seconds to Mars performs during Dubai Music Week 2015 at Dubai World Trade Centre. Cedric Ribeiro / Getty Images

“I’m a little loopy,” announced Jared Leto, as he took to the stage to answer questions about his band, Thirty Seconds to Mars. Garbed in a multicoloured tie-dye rainbow t-shirt, and sporting long, pink hair, the 43-year-old Hollywood star was certainly channelling his inner peace child.

Before Leto’s Dubai Music Week appearance we were given strict instructions: no pictures, no “personal or private” questions, and absolutely no “inappropriate touching,” was allowed (“it’s like school drill,” joked one event insider in my row).

Yet Leto wasn’t the diva these rules suggested; when an early question was posed by a young girl (“you’re so handsome, will you ever play a prince?”, his answer - “I would play the king”) he invited her onstage, to share his micro couch for the next 30 minutes. There were more than a few jealous older fans in the audience.

It was just one surreal moment is a series of bizarre audience exchanges, which proved Leto’s detached affability and quick wit. In between answering navel-gazing questions about fear, dreams, hope, “the impossible” and, er, Led Zeppelin, Leto repeatedly broke off the formal Q&A to engage with the adoring audience.

To the girl with a “Mrs Jared Leto” t-shirt he retorted, “be careful what you ask for – I’m very demanding.”

And to the fan with a mocked up images of Leto hugging Burj Khalifa, the Oscar-winning actor said he would love to jump off the world’s tallest building. (“You will die,” said the fan. Leto’s reply: “I’d put a parachute on of course, you people...”).

And to the wise-guy who turned up in a Batman shirt? “You’re really brave,” deadpanned Leto, before letting out a deranged laugh, referencing his upcoming role as The Joker in Suicide Squad. “I can’t wait for you to see this – they’re going to lock me away in a box after this movie comes out.”

The Q&A came at the close of the last-ever screening of Artifact, the 2012 documentary film Leto directed under a pseudonym, which chronicles how the band was sued to the tune of US$30 million (Dh110 million) by their record company EMI in 2008.

“This was a nice way to celebrate [the final screening],” Leto told the crowd, a vocal fan of the UAE since the band’s Abu Dhabi gig in 2011.

“I would love to do a special tour of the Middle East and make a film about it – that would be awesome. America and the Middle East have a very complicated relationship, but underneath all that we have so much in common.

“It’s just such a waste of energy for people and governments to continue to fight about stupid things, it’s so ridiculous. Selfishly, I would love to come and visit some of these places.”

A Slovenian author called Barbara used the platform to pitch a biographical film idea, after telling how she had handed Leto her book in Turin last year, but was yet to hear back. “I cried for days in my hotel – I really want you to act in this movie for me,” began the woman.

“You’re starting to scare me,” replied Leto. “I’m the worst actor to ask – I hardly do any movies.”

This might be because Leto, whose net worth is reported to be $40 million (Dh147 million), is clearly not a fan of doing things he doesn’t want to do.

“If you don’t like your job, my suggestion is quit,” he tells the mainly teenage crowd. “Don’t even show up, send a letter; life is short, life is fragile – you have to find a way to do the thing you want to do.”

Of his own goals, however, Leto is elusive. “Maybe one day I’ll pack it up and walk away out into the desert,” he said. Which desert, he neglected to identify.