JARED LETO seems relaxed. Clad in beatnik black, chipped white paint on his fingernails and a crimson hue to the lower portion of his otherwise-brown shoulder-length hair, he's engagingly at ease. Even his bouncing between cushion and arm perches of the Moderne sofa in a sparsely furnished Los Angeles-area house that is his current, though temporary, residence comes off as playful.
"I'm a vagabond," he says, looking around at the freshly painted white walls, broken up only by a few pieces of art leaning on the floor.
Literally, yes. But in terms of his career, he's shown a sense of focus that many never expected. It's not that his band, 30 Seconds to Mars, has just earned "gold" status for sales of more than 500,000 of its second album, "A Beautiful Lie," a collection of intense, anguished accounts of deceit and change, anchored by this summer's modern-rock radio and video hit "The Kill." (The award plaque is among the things leaning against the wall, set beneath an alcove in which sits a placid Buddha statue.)
It's that the band is still here at all, having achieved its success slowly and steadily on a grinding pace. The breakthrough came a full year after the release of the album, and four years after the release of the quartet's debut, "30 Seconds to Mars."
That's rare enough in the quick-turnover era of music careers. It's unprecedented for an act fronted by someone whose fame came first and foremost as an actor, as Leto's did -- emerging as a heartthrob on the mid-'90s TV series "My So-Called Life" and later as a respected film presence, leaning toward such dark roles as a drug addict in "Requiem for a Dream" (2000) and a bad guy in "Panic Room" (2002).
The rigors and rewards of a film career are just too great to allow a person to give musical pursuits the full-time attention needed to build a solid career. But since 30 Seconds, which he founded with his drumming brother Shannon, signed with Virgin Records in 1998, Leto has insisted to anyone who'd listen that this was his priority.
Now the actions speak for themselves.
"We've been an opening band for three years straight," says the singer-guitarist, who will turn 35 the day after Christmas. "And at the moment we've been on the road for a year and a half."
The work is paying off, though, and the relatively unglamorous life is about to take a step up. The band, after playing at the Bamboozle Left festival Sunday at Cal Poly Pomona, will launch its first headlining tour, topping the $2Bill trek sponsored by MTV2, which was key in turning "The Kill" into a national hit. (The tour, which Leto has dubbed the Environmentour in honor of its emphasis on green elements -- biodiesel buses and the like -- comes to the Wiltern LG on Nov. 25.) And in early 2007, 30 Seconds will be co-headlining the Taste of Chaos tour with the Used.
AND the film career?
"I look back at the things I had to say no to, and no one in their right mind ... ," he pauses. "Clint Eastwood wanted me for 'Flags of Our Fathers' last year. And I had to say no, because we were booked to open for the Used. It wasn't even the main support slot, but the third band on the bill. People did not understand how I could say no to Clint. But the record was coming out and I was committed."
The only recent concession to film came with a six-week break earlier this year to star as John Lennon assassin Mark David Chapman in "Chapter 27." For the role he put on 65 pounds, developing several health problems -- high cholesterol, gout and concerns about irregular heartbeat.
(He's back to his lithe self now, but still not quite recovered from the strain of the supersizing.) He'll be doing promotion for the film, expected to hit the festival circuit in the spring. But at this point he doesn't have any other movie work lined up.
Leto isn't saying any of this smugly or defensively -- the standard posture of actors-turned-rockers, who often face assumptions that they are privileged dilettantes trading on their screen fame and taking music jobs away from more deserving figures.
In fact, he accepts the doubts some have had.
"I was not unaware of the challenges in front of myself and the band," he says. "Completely opposite. I understand and expected the trepidatious response we got early on and would continue to get. To break stereotypes is a very difficult thing to do."
Not that he thinks there's anything so noble in his pursuit, opening doors for other oppressed movie stars or such. He's just thrilled that his and his bandmates' hard work has paid off and given their pursuits a foundation of legitimacy.
"It's pretty bizarre that this has happened," he says of the success. "I always believed from back when we were writing 13-minute progressive-rock songs. But I feel I still have to convince people sometimes."
In the end, though, he sees the skepticism as good, both for the band and its intense fan-base core, a community collectively known as the Echelon (after a song title from the first album).