How Halston Star Ewan McGregor Embodied The Storied Character Of A Fashion Icon: Everything Had To Be Grand And Fabulous

Ewan McGregor has earned some of the best notices of his long career—and an Emmy nomination—for his lead role in Halston, the Netflix limited series about the famed American fashion designer. The Scottish actor threw himself into preparations for the performance, even going so far as learning to sew—as he told Jimmy Kimmel, he practiced by stitching pants for himself, but inadvertently placed one pocket on the inside of the garment. Given that mishap, it’s perhaps fortunate McGregor wasn’t called upon to design any Halston costumes–that was left in the capable hands of Jeriana San Juan, who is also Emmy nominated.

DEADLINE: It must have been delicious to portray Halston, because he was so gifted and stylish, and he could also be so catty with people around him.

EWAN MCGREGOR: He was an amazing character to play. Absolutely wonderful to play. He really was. And I really loved working with [director] Dan Minahan on the series. A brilliant leader. He had a great tone and a great eye. And he was able to, especially during Covid, make a ’60s and ’70s New York come alive, against the odds, really, because we were shooting January to March [2020] in New York City, and then we were closed down, and then we came back later in September to December with the height of Covid there in New York City. So, it was very difficult to shoot, and the Covid people at the Netflix production were incredible and kept us all safe. But it was a tall order to do that.

DEADLINE: How did you find the character to the point that you could embody Halston so comfortably on screen?

MCGREGOR: I watched a lot of interviews of him. I read a lot about him in books. I spoke to his friends that were surviving, although there’s not many left really. And I just tried to get a sense of who he was. And then, of course, I worked with Dan on that, and I worked with Jeriana, the costume designer, on his look and his clothes, and that’s all informative. And there’s a lot of footage of Halston, too. He liked to shoot his world. He liked to shoot his workshop and he liked people to see him designing and fitting. And so, I watched a lot of that stuff and then tried to become him.

I’ve done it a few times—playing people who have lived. And I got so much out of photographs. I’ve always found that they’re very telling. And especially the photographs of Halston. And that’s really how I ended up involved in the project anyway, because I met Dan and he showed me these incredible big blown-up photographs of Halston… I didn’t know who he was. I didn’t know this man. But there was something about him in those photographs, where I just knew I had to play him. There’s that sort of steeliness in his eyes. And you could see how he wanted himself to be seen, almost. There’s a very ‘meant-ness’ about the way he’s holding himself—that’s not a word—but he’s striking a pose, almost. Beautifully so.

DEADLINE: One of the things you capture is Halston’s walk, how elegantly he moved through the air.

MCGREGOR: He didn’t walk like me, so I had to walk like him. If you’re playing somebody who’s been alive and who’s loved and respected, you’ve got a massive responsibility to get him right. And that’s all of him, it’s everything about him. And I never met him. And I don’t know that I got him right. But I felt like I got him as right as I wanted him to be. I suppose working with Dan and working with Ryan [Murphy’s] scripts, we’re trying to show a man’s life. And you’re not showing all of his life, but sort of the highlights, if you like, or the lowlights sometimes. Just to portray him to the audience so that people can get a sense of who this man was: people who do know who he was and people who have no idea, like myself.

DEADLINE: There’s a pivotal moment in the first episode where you, as Halston, are looking in the mirror and you suddenly slick back your hair. And then you pull the black turtleneck over your head, and become the Halston people then came to know.

MCGREGOR: Yeah. It’s nice, that sort of culmination of the persona, if you like. It’s interesting, the idea that somebody adopts a persona… I think he did curate himself, but at the same time, I do believe that that sort of in itself suggests that there’s a fakeness to him. And I don’t think that there was. I think that that is who he was. He had to create himself to become who he really was meant to be. Because I don’t think it felt fake to him. I think he just thought that’s exactly who he was, this grand voice and elegant life. Everything had to be grand and fabulous.

DEADLINE: Were there particular scenes that you relished? One that stood out to me was when Halston works with Adele, played by Vera Farmiga, the woman who helped him formulate the aroma for his signature fragrance.

MCGREGOR: I loved working with Vera because she came in for that very important storyline. And that was an important part of Halston’s success, this perfume. And he was absolutely involved in making it. Like all his creations, he wouldn’t delegate anything. He couldn’t put his name to something that he hadn’t created himself. He just wouldn’t do it. So, he did go to those lengths, and the perfume did take an enormously long time to make because of that. And also, he had those fights with his backers over the shape of the bottle, and he was adamant about it, even though the bottle was very difficult to make and difficult to produce. And he was just such a great creator that he wouldn’t have it any other way. And then it was one of the world’s best-selling perfumes of all time. He was right about all of it.

Listen, I’ve got lots of favorite scenes. Because I liked working with all those different actors. I loved working with David (Pittu) who played [fashion illustrator] Joe Eula. And I think some of the scenes are really great acting scenes, there’s great drama in them. And then there’s a horrible scene that I played with him where Halston breaks up with him. And he was just horrible to him. Halston was just so cutting and cruel. And it was a great scene to play as two actors because it was really painful, very upsetting to play that scene. And David, the way he played, it was so beautiful that it felt like I’d really hurt him. And I liked playing all the scenes with Liza (Krysta Rodriguez). There’s a very special nature to their friendship, to Halston and Liza Minnelli. And it’s one of the great friendships of all time. I really believe that.

DEADLINE: One of the striking things, for me, about the series was how frankly it depicted Halston’s sexuality, including scenes of him having sex with various male partners. You seemed to play those moments without any self-consciousness or squeamishness. You’re doing what the part and the situation demands.

MCGREGOR: Well, it’s just love, you know? It’s not different to me. The feelings behind it are no different, whether you’re straight or gay. So, I don’t feel like there’s anything to be squeamish about. It’s just love and exploring a character’s romantic life and sexual life. And they weren’t necessarily the same things with Halston. I think he had a very separate sexual life, which was without romance. And then there were his loves. It’s all what makes him up. The odd thing about it, I suppose, was he was very private about it. And in speaking to a lot of people who knew him, they would all say, in the earlier years before Studio 54, he would go out for dinner and then he would disappear about 10pm. He wanted to leave early, because he would go home, and he would sleep with rent boys in his apartment. He would always dial someone up and they would come over and have sex. And they would leave, and he’d go to sleep. But it was very private. And I knew that he was very private about it. And then for us to show it in the series, I wonder if there was a slight betrayal of him. He was private about it, and here am I showing that side of him. But I think probably he wouldn’t have minded. In today’s society, he probably would have thought it was quite funny, maybe. Quite fun.

DEADLINE: Halston is nominated for five Emmys, including for production design, period costumes, makeup, music supervision, as well as your performance. What does the Emmy recognition mean to you?

MCGREGOR: It’s very nice. I’m really delighted about it. It was a total surprise and I was very happy about it. And I absolutely think of it as a nomination for me and Dan, who wasn’t recognized, which is a shame, considering I was, and the design was, and the costuming was, and the makeup was. That somebody who was at the helm of all those things wasn’t [nominated] is a shame. So, for me, it’s definitely a nomination for me and Dan, because we’re real partners in it. We were involved. And he’s been working on this with [EP] Christine Vachon for 20, 30 years. But when he got me on a few years back, we’ve been through some iterations of some writing, and it was a real partnership. So, it’s nice for it to be recognized. And it’s nice for Halston. I’m really proud for him. Because I didn’t know anything about Halston, and there’s a lot of people in my generation or younger who maybe don’t. And those who did know about him, it’ll be nice to maybe remember those times and remember him for the trailblazer that he was. I think he would be rather pleased. I would often, when I was on set, imagine he was standing with Dan at the monitor, that he would just be thrilled, that he would just be having such a great time with us, recreating his life on film. I think he probably would really like that.

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