Jared Leto turns in a fantastic performance as Rayon, a transgender woman, in the film Dallas Buyers Club. In the January/February 2014 issue of HIV Plus magazine, Leto talks about how he understood the character and how meeting some transgender kids helped to shape that understanding:
I’ve had my own experiences that I think led me to see this role as someone who wanted to live their life as a woman — as a transgender person, not as a drag queen, as a transvestite, or someone who just enjoys putting on women’s clothing. And I think it was a key distinction to make early on in the process. I think another actor may have looked at it, seen it, and saw a different character, but, you know, when I was on the road touring, about six months before the film, before I read the script, I had an interesting experience and met some transgender people on the road, and it left a mark.
…I had met this one kid named Daniel, I think it was in Kentucky. I met him and a friend of his at the mall, and I was meeting their mom too, and brought them along with 30 other people I met at the mall to the show that night. And I was doing a series of interviews at the time of people all around the world for a documentary about life on the road. But I met this kid Daniel and interviewed him and didn’t get a great interview, and as I said goodbye I went to give him a hug and felt there was a bandage wrapped around his body, his chest. So as I walked out I said to my camera guy, “Go grab the mom.” And the mom walks back in, and I said, “So, Daniel” [he pauses] and she said “Yes,” and tears were running down her face, and she said he’d been living as a boy for the past nine months. She said, “I don’t know what to do, but I want to be supportive.” And I said, “Bring Daniel back in.” And we had this incredible interview, very personal and revealing. It ended up happening again a few weeks later when I met another transgender young person. Those experiences, I think, help me understand that Rayon was — maybe if she lived in a different time, she would have had a greater understanding of her circumstances and situation. But I saw her clearly as a person who identified and wanted to live her life as a woman.