The face of Gucci Guilty dishes on Alessandro Michele and his favourite scents.

Jared Leto Likes to Grab Leaves and Smell Them While Hiking

Jared Leto is an enigma. He’s a former teen idol who became an Oscar-winning actor; an arena-touring frontman with Thirty Seconds to Mars, in an era where honest-to-goodness rock bands are barely relevant; and a successful tech investor who spends his spare time hiking and climbing with the likes of Free Solo’s Alex Honnold. Oh, yeah: Leto is also an ageless vampire—his birth certificate says he’s 47, his face says he’s 22—with the flowing locks and dandyish wardrobe of a man from either 1970 or 1770, we’re not sure which.

All of that is why Leto is so perfect as the face of Gucci Guilty Pour Homme, a role he’s held since 2016. The fragrance’s latest campaign—co-starring Lana Del Rey, with a cameo by Courtney Love—aims to evoke a vibe that Gucci creative director Alessandro Michele dubs “retro-weird.” Set in Los Angeles, it’s classic Americana thrown slightly off balance. We travel through familiar locales—a laundromat, a diner, a motel, a beauty salon, with a brief stop at the iconic Hollywood Forever cemetery—but all the colours are saturated, the sets overly stylized. With Leto donning a mammoth corsage on his fuchsia velvet jacket, cruising around with Del Rey in a cherry red convertible, it’s a flawless expression of Michele’s playful, era-bending aesthetic.

Ahead of the campaign’s launch, Title sat down with Leto at another L.A. icon, Chateau Marmont, to talk about seeing his adopted hometown from a new perspective, the difference between acting and creating atmosphere, and how revisiting the past can be pretty powerful.

On channeling Andy Warhol to capture the mood of a campaign

When I do these things with Gucci, I’m not building a character. It’s not like it is making a film, where you have either a real person you’re bringing to life for the screen, or a character that’s been dreamed up with a script and circumstances, and there is kind of a set of rules to follow—or break. This is much more Warholian in a way: You just turn on the camera and see what happens. It’s more seeing what happens when you have this collision of clothes and culture and characters and creators, and you kind of just let them all loose. Not that there isn’t planning, but for me it’s you can really react and improvise and be in the moment. That’s really fun.”

On his personal connection to the iconic locations

“This was interesting to me because it was filming in a place that’s been so important in my life, Los Angeles—and some of these landmarks I’ve spent so much of my time at. Like the Hollywood Forever cemetery, I used to go there when I first moved to L.A.. I would go there and work on a song, or if I had a couple hours between auditions. It kind of called to me. I just thought I’d discovered it. At first I didn’t realize there was a kind of cultural importance of that place or the fact that so many people that have passed on, so many celebrated artists, were buried there—people kind of use it as a park here and as a place to contemplate life. And now they use it to celebrate cinema and have music and concerts. Back then especially it wasn’t celebrated like it is now, it was kind of forgotten about.”

On how Alessandro Michele’s outsider perspective is a fresh take on classic Americana 

“It’s much easier to appreciate the banal or the ordinary when you’re a visitor. Like when we go to Japan and see things like, ‘Whoa that’s so cool! Look at that vending machine that sells whatever!’ And they’re just like, yeah it’s a vending machine that sells everything, we’ve had those for 20 years. Alessandro appreciates the culture and the subcultures, not just of this city but of many things. And then he shows it to us in a new way that is easy for us to look at and appreciate the value of. Even the old hair salon – how kitschy and how much culture is in an old hair salon, you know? With the big blow dryers and the ladies reading magazines, and what a centre of culture and community hub, the way a barber shop is.”

On why he thinks Gucci has become a cultural phenomenon 

“There’s obviously some sort of genius at work and a lot of hard work and passion. But I also think [Alessandro] kind of gave everybody permission to have a bit of fun. To not take it all so seriously—take the work seriously, but not yourself. And to give people the opportunity to celebrate. In a handbag or shoes or whatever it is, you can sense the love that goes into it, the playfulness that goes into it, like a t-shirt that spells the name of the brand wrong. Some houses would never do that, it would be the craziest thing you would ever think of but it’s the simple gestures and the perspective that they have. I think it just touched people at the right time, where people want to feel alive or feel good. You get the passion that Alessandro and his team have through what they’re doing. A sense of wit. And that it doesn’t have to be perfect to be great—in fact, that it shouldn’t be. The prettiest object in the room isn’t always the best one. Or the most interesting.”

On thinking about fragrance

“I’ve certainly never thought about it as much as I’ve thought about it these past few years! It is really interesting yet it’s the least valued sense that we have. It’s such a powerful sense, both under-appreciated and under-researched how much smell can affect our mental health, our choices in life, and how instrumental the sense of smell has been to our basic survival. It’s pretty fascinating to get into the science of all that. You know, I used to think I hated cologne and perfume but I realized I just didn’t like bad ones. [Laughs.] Because I think that when they’re great, they’re great. There’s something beautiful about marking a passage of time, or an evening event, or occasion with a cologne or perfume. There’s something really special about that ritual.”

On what smells trigger good vibes

“A campfire, that’s a really soothing smell. The smell of Christmas and pine trees. I also like when you’re in Los Angeles and you’re hiking you come across lavender, or fennel—and sage, all the time, I always grab a leaf and smell it. It’s such a beautiful, primal little thing that we’re so connected to. It’s a smell that’s been part of our lives for thousands and thousands of years.” [He switches from pensive to playful.] “Cookies are good, too. And brownies!”

This interview has been edited and condensed.