Oscars 2014: Jared Leto wins best supporting actor

HOLLYWOOD - For much of the past six years, Jared Leto shunned Hollywood, spending his time not on film sets but as the frontman for rock band Thirty Seconds to Mars.

But when the 42-year-old outsider decided to return to Tinseltown, he did it in grand style, taking on a challenging role as a HIV-positive transgender prostitute in "Dallas Buyers Club."

Leto's gamble paid off Sunday when he took home the Oscar for best supporting actor for his searing turn as the coquettish Rayon - capping an awards season in which he also earned a Golden Globe, a Screen Actors Guild prize and the Independent Spirit Award.

"Thank you for teaching me to dream," he said in his acceptance speech to his mom, who was in the audience at the Dolby Theatre.

"Dallas Buyers Club" tells the true story of Ron Woodroof, a homophobic rodeo cowboy who tests positive for HIV in the early days of the AIDS epidemic in the 1980s and battles US regulators to get the drugs he and others desperately need.

Rayon becomes the unlikely business partner and friend of Woodroof, who was portrayed by Matthew McConaughey, himself nominated for the best actor Oscar.

Leto sparked controversy in January when, instead of honoring AIDS victims in his Golden Globe acceptance speech, he joked about waxing his legs for the role.

A week later, he did damage control at the SAG awards, paying tribute to "all those around the world living with AIDS and all those who have lost to this disease." And on Sunday, he honored "the 36 million people who have lost the battle to AIDS."

The road back to Hollywood

The crowning moment of his performance comes when Rayon goes - in a suit - to see his father to ask for money; Leto seems so uncomfortable that it is hard not to believe he is a woman in men's clothes.

"Dallas Buyers Club" has revitalized Leto's acting career after a series of disappointments on the big screen.

"I needed to go away in order to have something to say again," he recently told the industry journal Variety.

When Canadian director Jean-Marc Vallee called the actor, who was on tour with his band in Berlin, to offer him the role of Rayon, Leto said he sensed it was time to come out of his Tinseltown hibernation.

He answered Vallee's Skype video call in character, dressed as a woman with full make-up, and flirted with Vallee.

Leto, who has long flowing brown hair and piercing blue eyes, has cultivated his image as an artist: beyond acting and music, he is also a filmmaker, photographer and activist.

Born in Bossier City, Louisiana in December 1971, he ditched art studies in Philadelphia to take up acting at the School of Visual Arts in New York. He then moved to Los Angeles in 1992.

Leto's first big break came when he was cast on the television series "My So-Called Life" as dreamy teen Jordan Catalano, the object of the affections of Angela Chase, played by Claire Danes.

After starring in a few romantic comedies, silver screen success came with "The Thin Red Line " in 1998, followed by "Fight Club" and "Girl, Interrupted" in 1999.

A supporting part in "American Psycho" led to his starring role as a heroin addict in Darren Aronofsky's "Requiem for A Dream" in 2000. But then, Leto's career faltered.

After starring as John Lennon's killer Mark David Chapman in the 2007 film "Chapter 27," he effectively left Hollywood to focus on his music.

The only other film he made between "Chapter 27" and "Dallas Buyers Club" was the box office flop "Mr Nobody" in 2009.

He instead focused on Thirty Seconds to Mars, the band he launched in 1998 with his brother Shannon, selling 10 million albums worldwide so far, with "Kings and Queens" and "This Is War" their most famous songs.