Jared Leto Talks Awards Season, Playing Joker Again and Co-Starring With Lady Gaga (Exclusive)

'Just the Denzel of it all was enough reward for me,' he tells ET of being recognized for 'The Little Things.'

The Academy Award that Jared Leto won for Dallas Buyers Club has been missing for years. He may have a chance to replace it with a new statuette soon, though, as the actor has thus far been Golden Globe and SAG Award-nominated for his performance in The Little Things, with a likely Oscar nomination -- his second -- on the horizon. It's all the cherry on top for Leto, who says the real prize was working with Denzel Washington.

"I don't know what it is about him in particular that I keyed into as a young actor, but I always wanted to see what he was going to do next," Leto tells ET's Kevin Frazier. "He's always great. He always surprises you. He's one of the few actors that has really had that consistency, and he really puts his full body and heart and soul into every performance that he does. So, just the Denzel of it all was enough reward for me."

In The Little Things, Washington plays a sheriff, Joe "Deke" Deacon, as he investigates a string of murders suspected to be the work of Leto's Albert Sparma. It's another transformative turn by Leto -- a role both physically and psychologically challenging -- which he says is his "sweet spot." But getting inside the mind of people who kill takes its toll.

"You're spending time in a dark place, and the materials, the research can start to creep into your dreams at some point," he explains. "For anybody, that's, like, binge watched Making a Murderer, at a certain point you need a break. You need to turn on Tiger King or something."

His next appearance onscreen delves into more of that darkness: he's reprising his role as Joker in Zack Snyder's Justice League. (Streaming on HBO Max on March 18.) "It was a secret I had to keep for so long, it feels funny to even talk about it," Leto says. "[Snyder] knows that world like nobody else... He cares so deeply about the character. He cares so much about the fans. I was happy to be a part of his journey and retelling that story and telling it the way that he always dreamed of. And it was fun to dip my toe into the character again."

And then it will be another comic book movie, Morbius (out Jan. 21, 2022), which sees Leto go from villain to anti-hero as the titular Living Vampire. "In Morbius, we'll get to see a little bit closer to how I speak day in and day out," he notes, though the movie will see him transform once again. "It's a brand-new Marvel character who has never been onscreen before, so that was a blast. I play a doctor who's searching for a cure for his disease, who's very sick and frail and at the end of his life and then he gets strong and healthy, and there's monstrous aspects to it. That I'm psyched about."

In the meantime, he's currently in Rome filming House of Gucci, in which he tackles an Italian accent to portray Paolo Gucci. "The one and only Ridley Scott is directing -- one of my favorite directors ever -- with a cast that I'm blown away to be a part of," Leto teases. "There's Lady Gaga, or as I call her, Lady Guhgah -- the queen herself and just a terrific creative person and great actress. Adam Driver's in the film, again just a phenomenal actor. Al Pacino, Jeremy Irons and on and on. It's the story of Gucci -- which I didn't even really know, and I've worked closely with Gucci for many years now. It's a wild one."

Leto may be deep into House of Gucci -- he says this is usually the time he would get really quiet -- but is keeping a foot in awards season. "I'm so thrilled at The Little Things' reception," he says. "And the fact that people found something in Albert Sparma that was compelling, that's just a great feeling. A great, great feeling, and I'm just blown away."