The latest limited series from Netflix and Ryan Murphy, Halston, came to Deadline’s Virtual Screening Series on Monday, when I spoke with star Ewan McGregor who plays the eponymous title character, the bon vivant fashion designer and social gadfly who made a huge name for himself and his brand before burning out far too early. Krysta Rodriguez (who plays his pal Liza Minnelli), Rebecca Dayan and Gian Franco Rodriguez are the supporting cast who also joined our conversation, along with director Dan Minahan, costume designer Jeriana San Juan and production designer Mark Ricker. They all talked about the challenges inherent in re-creating the swinging disco era of Halston’s heyday in New York City, and what they learned along the way.
“I’d never come across a story quite so dramatic. The stellar rise, the unbelievable accomplishments of this designer, his influence on the culture, and then having his name and company stripped away from him, his identity, to me was a really strong archetypal, very American story that needed to be told,” Minahan said of his 20-year quest to bring Halston’s story to the screen — a task made a lot easier when Ryan Murphy jumped on board as a producer and brought Netflix into play.
McGregor isn’t new to playing real-life characters, but Halston was one he was completely unfamiliar with when first approached. “I wasn’t familiar with him at all and part of that was my fascination with him. I came in completely open-minded, and I was just so impressed with Dan. And Dan showed me these amazing photographs of this very famous man that I didn’t know, and I could tell from the photographs that he was incredibly interesting and complex, and I was intrigued by him. I was intrigued by the world, by the time, by the sort of society, by the culture of it all I guess,” he said. “And then, I went away and read a bit about Halston and looked him up and found out a bit about him, and then I jumped on.”
A big part of the role depended on McGregor being believable as a doyenne of fashion, so that took a lot of further work for the star.
“Jeriana (Halston‘s costume designer) taught me a lot about clothing. I mean about looking at clothes, and literally how to drape, you know, and pinning. I was very, very aware that if I didn’t get those details right it would be a real let-down, and you know, if I didn’t look like I knew what I was doing with a pin. And those little details — I want to be able to do that without looking at what I was doing,’ he said. “And he was always looking in the mirror, just soaked in beauty in a way that was really, I don’t know that I’ve ever seen somebody who just sort of takes the world into him like that.
“I looked at clothing in a very different way while we were shooting, you know, leading up to the shooting, while we were shooting in New York. I was always looking at people’s clothing and trying to imagine how it might go together and where the seams were. I became sort of obsessed with looking at people’s clothes. I got in trouble actually for sort of ogling people.”
As for Rodriguez and playing an icon like Minnelli, she was very aware of what not to do.
“I think it’s a challenge, but it’s also a freedom and I was so inspired by her early work, the things that she did before she was Liza, and the way that she would find her way and test jokes out and test bits and see what would work, and I just loved watching her grow,” she said. “And that’s where I was inspired by this because I do think her and Halston met and created each other, and the one doesn’t exist without the other in the personas that we know now, and so it was fun to see what she might be like before she met him, and that was what I really focused on a lot and trying to get her to be real and to free myself from what, you know, had been previously known of her.”
“And because, yes, there are some parts where we do the numbers on the show almost meticulously re-created, but we don’t know how she’s ever interacted with Halston behind closed doors with her feet curled up on the sofa, eating chicken and watching TV together, like we don’t get to see that. So, it was actually a freedom instead of a challenge to be able to create this person and fully sketch her out from scratch.”
Click on the video above for more of the conversation with the cast and creative team from Halston. The five-part series is now streaming on Netflix.