From "Boof!" to "Boo!" Jared Leto is still startling audiences with his transformative performances/ The director behind Haunted Mansion, the Oscar-winning star's latest acting opus, says fans will be appropriately blown away by his creepy work.
"It's very surprising. You'd be shocked to know who it was until you're told," filmmaker Justin Simien — creator of Dear White People — exclusively tells EW of Leto's metamorphosis into the Hatbox Ghost, a fan-favorite character lifted directly from the Disneyland ride upon which the upcoming family horror film is based.
"The character itself, it's part digital, part physical performance. We're trying to go for something scary that feels like it could exist physically in the real world, on the ride, but pushes the scare a lot further than the ride does. He knocked it out of the park. He's very menacing and terrifying."
Walt Disney Studios/YouTube Jared Leto as Hatbox Ghost in 'Haunted Mansion'
The Hatbox Ghost who appears in the ride has a complicated history. The character served as an original animatronic inside the California version of the attraction that opened in 1969. It then quickly became a popular addition to the experience, thanks to a special effect that made it appear as if the happy haunt's head disappeared from his shoulders and sprung up inside a box in his hand. He was temporarily removed from the ride, only to return in 2015. Disney World in Florida later announced that the Orlando iteration of the ride would also receive a Hatbox Ghost at some point in the future.
Before that, though, Simien's film will see the Hatbox Ghost stalk the halls of the titular abode. He can be seen using his signature cane to creep through the mansion, where a single mother (Rosario Dawson) and her young son enlist the help of a team of spiritual specialists (LaKeith Stanfield, Owen Wilson, Tiffany Haddish, as well as Jamie Lee Curtis as the iconic Madame Leota) to rid their New Orleans home of ghosts. Along the way, they encounter several scenes meticulously modeled after the rides. Those include the stretching room, the "Ghost Host," and the legendary "Grim Grinning Ghosts" tune interpolated throughout the film's score, Simien says.
"We got down to the point where we were obsessing over the angle you first see the mansion when you walk onto the ride in Disneyland, when we see it through the gates and we see the pillars," he explains. "That angle has to hit. That's how specific we were. When you first glide through the dining hall and you see the waltzing dancers, that angle had to be right, because that's the one where you gasp on the ride."
MICHAEL TRAN/AFP via Getty Images; Walt Disney Studios Jared Leto as Hatbox Ghost in 'Haunted Mansion'
When asked about Leto's widely known brand of Method acting, Simien says the 51-year-old didn't inhabit the character the entire time on set. The actor was, however, convincing enough to send a chill down Simien's spine, anyway.
"When I was with him [filming], yeah, he was full-on Hatbox Ghost. A lot of that is voice performance, a lot of that is voice capture. It's a little bit of a different animal," Simien explains, "but it gave us time to craft it and gave us quiet moments between the performance."
Haunted Mansion opens July 28 in theaters.
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