“America means a great deal to me. I’ve been the recipient of an enormous amount of reward in this country, and I’m acutely aware of that. I was born to a single mother and raised on her hard work and food stamps, and so I have my own particular view of this country and the promise within it.”
So says Jared Leto, a man who clearly seems to be living the dream, as one of the few actor/musicians to have genuine credibility and success in both the film and music worlds: He won an Oscar for his stunning portrayal of a transgender woman in 2013’s Dallas Buyers Club, and his ambitious alt-rock band with his brother Shannon, Thirty Seconds to Mars, has sold 15 million albums worldwide.
But, as he notes, life was not always easy for Leto — his biological absentee father committed suicide when Leto was 8, and in his 2014 Academy Awards acceptance speech, Leto spoke of his young mother’s struggles, saying, “In 1971, in Bossier City, La., there was a teenage girl who was pregnant with her second child. She was a high school dropout and a single mom, but somehow she managed to make a better life for herself and her children. She encouraged her kids to be creative, to work hard and do something special. That girl is my mother, and she’s here tonight. And I just want to say, ‘I love you, Mom. Thank you for teaching me to dream.’”
Leto has never stopped dreaming, and these experiences, along with his extensive touring with 30STM as an adult, have shaped his perception of the American dream. And to celebrate the Fourth of July, he is asking his fans to share their own perceptions in a new film, A Day in the Life of America. On July 4, 30STM’s camera crews in all 50 states, as well as in D.C. and Puerto Rico, will chronicle the entire day; this footage will be supplemented by curated, fan-shot footage from across the country and even across the globe. Fans can submit their videos by posting content on social using the hashtag #ADayInTheLifeOfAmerica or by visiting www.ThirtySecondstoMars.us.
“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?” These are questions Leto is asking of his fan base in a new open letter.
“It’s an incredible opportunity to document the USA during a very important time in our country. And we need your help,” Leto writes. “We are asking you to film what’s important, impactful, challenging or inspiring to you. It can be a single shot, a person, an entire event, or a compelling story — we want to see your America in all its imperfect glory. When shooting, please try to be as brave, bold and creative as possible. … Thank you for joining us on this incredible and amazing adventure, we can’t wait to see America through your eyes.”
Yahoo Music caught up with Leto to discuss this project, politics, the state of the nation, and the station of the upcoming fifth 30STM album, due out later this year.
YAHOO MUSIC: What inspired you to do this A Day in the Life of America project?
JARED LETO: Well, I was a kid, I saw a book about a day in the life of America — National Geographic made it. It was 1986. There were photos from all over the country in a single day, and I really just thought that was an incredible idea. And when I was working on this new album of mine, the Thirty Seconds to Mars album, I started to think that there are certain themes and ideas in the album that are pervasive, that made it timely and appropriate to follow this idea that I’ve always had, which is making a film about a day in the life of America.
Is the next Thirty Seconds to Mars album going to be a political album?
I wouldn’t say that. And this [film project] specifically is apolitical. We want to hear from everybody. We want to know what America is to you. I think it’s an incredibly important time to tell the story of America, and I think that we want to make it as diverse in every way, culturally and politically, as we can.
When you say this is an important time in America, what do you mean?
I think it’s an important time in politics. I think it’s an important time economically. I think it’s an important time in terms of our environment. I think there’s a lot of concern and a lot of thought about who are we, what are we, what is America, what’s the American dream, what’s in store for us in the future. That’s what I mean by an important time.
It’s obviously an interesting time to be an artist. Do you feel a responsibility, as a musical artist, to speak out or to chronicle what’s going on in the world?
I don’t believe an artist has any obligation to anything. An artist has no rules, no obligation, no mandate. An artist should live as freely and create as freely as possible. An artist should listen to their heart, their gut, their intuition, their intellect, their mind, whatever, and follow their muse. But that being said, there is an opportunity, and if you’re so inclined to take a stance or make a statement, regardless of whatever your views are, there’s an incredible power in that. Artists and art are a mirror for society and help us understand, help challenge us and provoke us, and help us think about who and what we are.
What are you hoping to see from your fans in the finished film?
I’m hoping to be surprised, inspired, provoked. We want to include all of the beauty, the conflict, the unity that I see. I’m on tour right now, and, you know, I see a lot of unity at the shows. I see people coming together at our concerts. I was onstage the other night in front of 20,000 people, and there wasn’t a disagreement in the entire place. It’s fascinating to see how music can bring people together like that. People who may disagree on a variety of topics can put aside all of that and share and celebrate.
So, what does America mean to you?
Well, I’m not going to answer every one of [the letter’s] questions now, because I do want to save it for the film! [laughs] But there’s no shortage of conversation when I’m asked these questions. There’s a lot on my mind, and I think a lot on all of our minds. I think there’s an entire new generation of people that have been activated politically. I think that there are a lot of questions that we all have and answers that we want to share, so that’s why I’m really excited.
Can you tell me about the next Thirty Seconds to Mars album, and more about how its making inspired you with this film project?
Well, there’re some songs in particular, and the album as a whole, that touch on these topics. It seemed to go hand-in-hand with this project and the concept overall. So, I wouldn’t have done it if I had made a polka album, or an album that had to do with a particular topic or something. It all came together. It was synergistic.
Will the next album be another concept album of sorts, like the last one, Love, Lust, Faith and Dreams?
I wouldn’t call it that. But I do think there are clear themes that are very, very timely.
With Thirty Seconds to Mars, you’ve done so much touring. How has touring the world with the band shaped your view of America?
It shaped it, actually, in a really impactful way. I don’t think you can really understand America until you talk to the rest of the world about America. And I’ve done that. It’s been interesting, and it’s something that I’ve come back to over the years, as well as this idea of America and American dream. I’ve interviewed people abroad, talked to people quite extensively about this for other projects that I’ve done. If people are overseas and they’re not in the U.S., they can still participate [in A Day in the Life of America]. They can answer a couple other questions: What does America mean to you? And what does the American dream mean to you, from your perspective? Because I don’t think we can really understand who we are unless we get other people’s thoughts and ideas about it as well.