CANNES, France—He just won an Oscar and is about to embark on another world tour with his band. But Jared Leto, one of the world's ultimate creative hyphenates, still remembers his time as a visual artist and designer.
"I actually started as an artist and a painter, and I did quite a bit of graphic design. Your world is kind of close to my life, in a different way than most of the actors and musicians that you guys might know. And it can be a really beautiful thing," Leto, 42, told an audience at the Cannes Lions festival here today.
In fact, he had some advice for some books you might want to read.
"Ever hear of Paul Arden?" he asked. "He worked at Saatchi & Saatchi. There's a few books that he wrote that are quite powerful. One is called Whatever You Think, Think the Opposite, where he takes the point of view of a creative director and applies it to life lessons. The other one is called It's Not How Good You Are, It's How Good You Want to Be. They're really wonderful books. He was a genius in your world, and somebody to investigate."
Leto—who said he hadn't been to Cannes since 2000, when Requiem for a Dream premiered at the film festival ("I just name-dropped my own movie," he quipped)—investigated plenty of topics in a 45-minute chat with Benjamin Palmer of The Barbarian Group.
And he worked the crowd from the instant he stepped on stage—inviting a pair of girls up on stage for a selfie, asking the bleary-eyed morning crowd if they were hungover, and taunting people who arrived late. ("You missed it," he said. "I just put my clothes back on.")
He touched briefly on the topic of advertising. And like the other celebrities here this week—Spike Jonze (another 2014 Oscar winner) and Kanye West among them—Leto said he admired the craft and saw it as a medium for experimenting creatively.
"I actually love advertising," he said. (Leto himself has appeared in ads for brands including Hugo Boss.) "I rail against it sometimes, because I don't think the world can be solved by advertising alone. I think that's a bad mission. I also think that if it's creative, it's not advertising. If it's creative, it's entertaining and informative. It's a conversation. When advertising is great, it's transcendent. It's art."
"When it works in all ways, it touches a part of who we are, and it touches our culture," he added. "I love commercials. It's a place where people can still experiment. There's a mastery that you find in commercials, in the editing and directing and writing, that I think is really beautiful."
He seemed to be in favor of leaving it to the professionals, though. He likes to include the fans of his band in the creative work—just not as the creators.
"I think it's really fun to turn the camera on your audience. I love to do that, and we've done that for a very long time," he said. "We have a video called 'Closer to the Edge' that probably has 50 or 60 million views. And it's all about them. We have another one called 'Do or Die.' It's really a short film. It's 10 minutes long or something, and it really focuses on the audience and that community. And it's great to give them a chance to share who they are."
But the director on any major project should probably be a pro. "I want to see someone who kicks ass at their job direct a commercial," he said. "I don't need my neighbor down the street to do it. Without David Fincher or Mark Romanek or a [Jonathan] Glazer or Chris Cunningham—those people contribute in a way that's really powerful and important."
Leto also spoke about radio (Clear Channel sponsored the session), technology, his Oscars experience and the evolving role of brands—which he said have to reach a higher plane now.
"For me, when brands and products speak, when you reach out and try to communicate, the most important thing—and you guys probably throw this around all the time—is authenticity," he said. "Tell me the truth. Make my life more interesting, better, more entertaining, richer. Or just leave me the fuck alone. And if you can't do that, then advertising should at least be really beautiful. But offer something, you know?"