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Texas Transformation

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Rayon (Jared Leto) stands by her business partner, Ron Woodroof (Matthew McConaughey), when he has contracted HIV.
Rayon (Jared Leto) stands by her business partner, Ron Woodroof (Matthew McConaughey), when he has contracted HIV.

Oscar buzz for actor/musician Jared Leto in ‘Dallas Buyers Club.’
by David-Elijah Nahmod

SEE ALSO: Houston Buyer’s Club below

Though Matthew McConaughey is the top-billed star of the new film Dallas Buyers Club, it’s musician/actor Jared Leto who’s getting the Oscar buzz. Leto gives a barrier-breaking performance as Rayon, a transwoman with AIDS, in the nonfiction AIDS drama set in 1980s Dallas.

The actor lost around thirty to forty pounds in order to convincingly portray the final days of Rayon’s HIV- and heroin-ravaged life. “I stopped eating,” he says. “After the shoot, I started eating again.” He admits that it wasn’t easy.

Though he is neither gay nor trans, Leto found much in Rayon that he could relate to. “You find things like the desire to be loved,” he says. “I loved her charm, grace, and levity. I felt complete in drag—it was right, as she wanted to be. I think she was in a process of discovery, so it was fun to invent her.”

Leto as Rayon
Leto as Rayon

As the story unfolds, Rayon enters into a business partnership with rough, straight Ron Woodroof (McConaughey). Woodroof, a foul-mouthed, hard-drinking homophobe in Dallas, contracted HIV in 1985, just as the epidemic was escalating. He decides to fight back when the doctors give him just thirty days to live.

Against his doctor’s advice, he walks out of the hospital and heads south. At a run-down clinic in Mexico, he’s given an “alternative” treatment and regains his health. Soon, with Rayon’s help, Woodroof is illegally importing a smorgasbord of drugs and herbs from around the world, none of which are approved for use in the U.S. Working out of a Dallas motel room, Woodroof sells his stash to whoever has cash in hand. As the local gay community lines up outside his door, Woodroof softens his antigay stance.

The film is based on a true story; Woodroof was in fact the subject of a 1992 profile in the Dallas Morning News.

“This is an American story, not overtold,” says Leto. “It’s great that it got made—it was in development for twenty years. It’s a timely film—so much of this battle rages on.”

The battle to get lifesaving drugs approved is dramatized when the Food and Drug Administration steps in. Ignoring the fact that Woodroof has been saving lives, the FDA tries to shut him down. As Woodroof fights not only for his clinic, but for his life, Rayon falls in love with a young hustler (BradforJared Letod Cox).

Together, Rayon and her unnamed boyfriend descend into a haze of drug abuse. As her body begins to shut down, Rayon dons male attire to visit her conservative dad and beg for money to give to Woodroof in order to help keep his clinic open. Her father looks at her with disgust. As Rayon weeps, her father calls her by her birth name, Raymond, but then gives her the money.

The gut-wrenching scene packs an emotional wallop, and Leto’s fully realized characterization is indeed Oscar worthy. The actor spoke about what he hopes his performance, and the film, will mean to moviegoers: “A greater understanding would be nice,” he says. “Some empathy.”

He’s sure that the film will reach a wide audience and not just preach to the converted. “I was told by an eighty-year-old woman that the film was life-changing for her,” he says. “Film has the power to change us. Stories change us.”

Look for Dallas Buyers Club in theaters on November 1.

David-Elijah Nahmod lives in San Francisco. His eclectic writing career includes LGBT publications, monster magazines, and the Times of Israel.

HoustonBuyersLogoSIDEBAR

Montrose Community: Mission Accomplished
The Houston Buyers Club/Expert Nutrition was there for our community for over twenty years. It now needs your help

Expert Nutrition, formerly the Houston Buyers Club, has served the Houston Montrose Community for over twenty years. Its original mission “to provide nutritional education and affordable nutritional supplements to people living with chronic health conditions” has been accomplished. It is now time for this nonprofit to close and redirect its focus, but in order to do this it needs to raise funds for outstanding obligations and close the books. If you would like to help, the organization has created a funding page. Currently they have raised $1,230 toward their goal of $8,000. If you would like to lend a hand with a tax-deductible donation, please visit: gofundme.com/2ll70w.

 

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