Korina Lopez, USA TODAY 9:06 a.m. EDT April 25, 2014
When it comes to his art, there's no end to what 30 Seconds to Mars frontman and Oscar-winning actor Jared Leto will suffer for it.
He gained 67 pounds for his role as John Lennon's killer, Mark David Chapman, in the 2007 film Chapter 27. The movie was a flop and he got gout for his efforts.
For his role as Rayon, the doomed transgendered woman in Dallas Buyers Club, every inch of his body was waxed and he lost more than 40 pounds. He swept the 2014 awards season, winning the Academy Award for best supporting actor.
So when EMI sued 30 Seconds to Mars for breach of contact after the band left the label in 2008, Leto again opted for the hard way. He picked up a video camera and made Artifact, a documentary he filmed under the name Bartholomew Cubbins that airs Saturday (11 p.m. ET/PT) on VH1 and Palladia.
Leto hopes the film turns the volume way up on corporate greed. "Record companies brought me a lot of music I love — Led Zeppelin, The Cure, The Beatles — but the problem is the corruption, and I encourage anyone to fight it," he says. "Artists shouldn't be taken advantage of, with the lion's share of profits going to the corporation. That's not right. Fairness should be shared."
"We found that despite selling millions of records and playing bigger venues, we were still ($2.7 million) in debt (to the label). And when we challenged that and fought for our creative freedom, we were led into a two-year battle," says Leto. "We filmed the whole thing."
The documentary shows the band recording the follow-up to its 2005 platinum album, A Beautiful Lie, and Leto tangling with music executives. The title of that album, This Is War, became the band's battle cry.
Interwoven with interviews from former EMI executives, music experts and other artists, the documentary depicts a changing landscape in which record companies crumble as digital downloads and music piracy erode profits. As a result, according to the documentary, labels squeeze artists for everything they can. "These contracts are made so artists are terminally in debt," Leto says. "Also, the label's employees are treated as badly as artists, tossed around without great care as new regimes come in. There's no stability and there's no optimism for them to take care of their families."
EMI eventually relented, dropping its $30 million lawsuit, but the band has yet to be paid for sales of This Is War, so a happy ending is still not on the horizon.
OK, maybe a glimmer. "I got a wonderful call on the way from Coachella from a person who said that the film really impacted them and talked to me about art and commerce," Leto says. "That person was Robert Redford."