Leto was born in Bossier City, Louisiana. During his childhood, Leto and his family—his mother, Constance, and his older brother Shannon Leto—moved frequently, living in Louisiana, Wyoming, Colorado, Virginia, and even Haiti.
After dropping out briefly in the 10th grade, Jared decided to return and focus on his education at Flint Hill School in Oakton, Virginia. He graduated from the prep school Emerson Preparatory School, in Washington, DC in 1989. When he finished school, Leto enrolled at Philadelphia's University of the Arts to pursue his interests in painting. However, he then transferred to the private-held, School of Visual Arts in New York City after developing an interest in acting.
In 1992, Leto moved to Los Angeles to pursue a career in music, but also accepted some part-time acting roles. Two years later, he landed a role in the TV show My So-Called Life in which he played Jordan Catalano, opposite Claire Danes. After the show ended in 1995, Leto acted in several films such as How to Make an American Quilt, Girl, Interrupted, Urban Legend, The Thin Red Line, Prefontaine and Fight Club.
However, it was his portrayal of heroin addict Harry Goldfarb in Darren Aronofsky's Requiem for a Dream in the year 2000, that garnered him more critical praise. The same year he portrayed a misfortuned yuppie colleague of Christian Bale's Patrick Bateman, in Mary Harron's American Psycho. After that, he returned with David Fincher for Panic Room, then teamed up with Jake Gyllenhaal in Highway in 2002, then acted opposite Colin Farrell in Oliver Stone's Alexander, and later with Nicolas Cage in Lord of War.
Leto is a vegetarian and especially mentions this in interviews where he talked about his increase of weight for the film Chapter 27 (starring alongside Lindsay Lohan) in which he plays John Lennon's killer, Mark David Chapman. He gained more than 60 pounds for this role.
He is set to star in the film Mr. Nobody playing the role of the eponymous Nemo Nobody. The film is set to be released in 2010.
Aside from his film career, Jared Leto is the lead vocalist, rhythm guitarist and sole songwriter of the band 30 Seconds to Mars. He started the band in 1998 with his brother, Shannon Leto, who is the band's drummer. The band has released three full-length albums: the eponymous debut 30 Seconds to Mars, 2005's A Beautiful Lie and 2009's This Is War. They began opening for other bands and started their first headlining tour, Forever Night Never Day, in March 2006. In May 2007, the band started touring Europe. In August 2008, Virgin Records filed a $30 million lawsuit against Jared and 30 Seconds to Mars, claiming the band refused to deliver three albums as required by its contract. According to the lawsuit, the band "repudiated" a 1999 contract in July. In late April 2009 the lawsuit with EMI was annulled and 30 Seconds To Mars decided to re-sign with Virgin Records. Their third album This Is War was released on December 8, 2009, while the first single, "Kings and Queens" premiered Tuesday, October 6, 2009. And 'This is War' as the second single of the album.
Leto directed the videos for the songs "The Kill", "From Yesterday" and "Kings and Queens" under the alias of Bartholomew Cubbins , and "A Beautiful Lie" under the alias of Angakok Panipaq.
For most shows, Leto uses either one of two custom-made Steve McSwain guitars, a white one called "Pythagoras" or a black one called "Artemis". The guitars: one a baritone and the other with a 25 1/2" scale length, have the image of a gryphon which he drew for McSwain. Occasionally he plays a white Gibson SG 61' Reissue as seen in the video for "A Beautiful Lie". Jared also plays a Gibson Maestro acoustic guitar for acoustic performances. Jared uses Mesa/Boogie amps, more specifically the Triple Rectifier model and matches them with Mesa/Boogie speaker cabinets as well.
Leto has cited how the De Havilland Law from decades ago was instrumental in resolving the band’s contract issues and how Olivia de Havilland, the Gone With the Wind actress, helped in a roundabout way.
Recently, the band collaborated with rapper Kanye West on the song Hurricane from their latest album This Is War.
2002 - 30 Seconds to Mars
2005 - A Beautiful Lie
2009 - This Is War