“The Little Things” is a throwback to the serial killer movies of the 1990s like “Se7en” and “The Silence of the Lambs,” the kinds of morally complicated, mid-budget, adult entertainments that Hollywood doesn’t make anymore. Jared Leto, who plays the film’s spooky villain opposite detectives Denzel Washington and Rami Malek, talked to IndieWire about why that’s the case.
“It comes down to a financial decision by the studios,” said Leto. “They think they can just make so much more money with the bigger event movies. They found that for television, if they can do something that’s episodic, then people still enjoy those kinds of stories. I’m not saying they should stop making movies like ‘The Little Things,’ but I do think if you talk about like [the HBO show] ‘The Undoing,’ people like to spend more time with those characters. And there’s less stigma going back and forth from television to film.”
“The Little Things” is one of the 17 Warner Bros. 2021 titles going day-and-date on HBO Max and in available theaters. It exists in the weird COVID-era gray area of visual storytelling in which movies meant for massive theatrical bows can now be enjoyed from home alongside TV episodes.
In writer-director John Lee Hancock’s film, Leto is Albert Sparma, a creepy introvert who may or may not be a killer of women, and he’s being stalked by Washington and Malek playing two broken-down cops with demons of their own. It’s the sort of ambitious crime story that, in the 21st century, you’d expect to see on TV.
“Who would have thought five or 10 years ago, we would’ve thought people would just want to watch shorter forms of content. The opposite is true. People do enjoy a TikTok, but they also enjoy being connected and committed for eight to 10 episodes,” Leto said. But he’s also hoping that the pandemic’s shutdown of theaters reinvigorates moviegoing.
“Maybe we’ll see post-COVID that people have a desire to watch different types of films, but my point [isn’t] that they should all just be comic-book movies, but the studios look at the size of the budgets and what compels people to get into the theater and what’s worth their time and energy, and it probably makes more sense to spend $200 million and make a billion than it is to spend $30 million and make $80 [million]. I’m not saying that’s my business plan. It’s just maybe their business plan,” he said.
Leto has plenty of experience with big-budget movies, providing his demented twist on the Joker for DC in 2016’s “Suicide Squad” — which he’ll reprise briefly in the upcoming Snyder Cut of “Justice League” on HBO Max — and starring in the upcoming “Morbius” for Marvel. That film, Sony Pictures’ third swing in the MCU, recently bumped to January 2022 when a March opening became impossible.
Until then, “The Little Things” should satisfy Leto fans with a distinctly, well, very Leto performance. His Sparma has long, slick, and stringy hair, dead eyes, an unwavering brow, a voice barely above a library whisper, and a way of sauntering that almost looks like levitation. He also taunts his adversaries with a sick sense of humor. Or, as Leto suggests, a great guy: “I found him to be quite charming and have a wild, fun sense of humor,” he said.
“I was attracted by the opportunity to do something that was transformative, not just psychological or emotional but a physical one as well,” said Leto, who’s reinvented in many of his roles, including his Oscar-winning turn as a trans woman with HIV for “Dallas Buyers Club.” Let’s not forget his infamous cornrows for David Fincher’s 2002 “Panic Room,” or his immersive role as a spiraling-out junkie in Darren Aronofsky’s “Requiem for a Dream.” (He will reteam with Aronofsky on Blumhouse project “Adrift.”)
For “The Little Things,” he said, “I had a different color eyes, different nose, different teeth, other prosthetics, there was a walk and a talk. The voice was something that was very important. He’s a very hypnotic person in a strange way. He’s comfortable in his skin, but other people are uncomfortable around him. He doesn’t fit into society so neatly. He lives in the darker shadows.”
His “Morbius” character was similarly physically demanding, as the superhero he plays, Michael Morbius, has a rare blood disease that ultimately causes vampirism. “My character has a rare disease that only 900 people in the world have, and I tried to educate myself as best as possible. I go from playing somebody who’s very sick and dying to someone who’s very healthy and strong, and paints something that’s monstrous. I have these three different degrees. There was a big physical commitment to the role.”
Leto said that such performances are not easily washed off at the end of the day.
“You have weeks or months where you’re reading FBI transcripts, you’re watching all kinds of footage, consuming a lot of material,” he said. If you make any physical commitment, like a walk or a talk or a diet, if you do it for enough hours in the day, you’re going to have residual from that. I’ve played some intense characters, and it’s safe to say they always get under my skin.”
“The Little Things” begins streaming on HBO Max Friday, January 29.