The limited series Halston follows the legendary fashion designer (Ewan McGregor), as he leverages his single, invented name into a worldwide fashion empire that’s synonymous with luxury, sex, status and fame, literally defining the era he lives in, 1970’s and ‘80’s New York — until a hostile takeover forces him to battle for control of his most precious asset… the name Halston itself.
The series is Executive Produced by Ryan Murphy, Ian Brennan, Alexis Martin Woodall, Daniel Minahan, Ewan McGregor, Eric Kovtun, Sharr White, and Christine Vachon and Pamela Koffler of Killer Films. Minahan also serves as the series director.
Release Date: May 14, 2021
Episodes: Limited series, 5 episodes x 1 hour
Cast: Ewan McGregor (Halston), Bill Pullman (David Mahoney), Rebecca Dayan (Elsa Peretti), David Pittu (Joe Eula), Krysta Rodriguez (Liza Minnelli), Kelly Bishop (Eleanor Lambert), Gian Franco Rodriguez (Victor Hugo), Rory Culkin (Joel Schumacher), Sullivan Jones (Ed Austin), Vera Farmiga (Adele)
Executive Producers: Ryan Murphy, Alexis Martin Woodall, Daniel Minahan, Pam Koffler (Killer Films), Christine Vachon (Killer Films), Ian Brennan, Eric Kovtun, Ewan McGregor, Sharr White
Directed by Daniel Minahan (101-105)
Writers: Ryan Murphy (101, 103, 104, 105), Ian Brennan (101-105), Sharr White (101, 104), Ted Malawer (102, 105), Tim Pinckney (103), Kristina Woo (103),
Director of Photography: William Rexer (101), Tim Ives, ASC (102-105)
Production Designer: Mark Ricker
Costume Designer: Jeriana San Juan
Hair Department Head: Michelle Johnson Makeup Department Head: Patricia Regan
Making Halston: In Conversation with Daniel Minahan
The Emmy Award-winning executive producer and director of HALSTON talks about his 20-year journey making this show, Ewan McGregor’s incredible commitment to the role, and why this story is more timely than ever.
This series has been 20 years in the making. Can you walk us through that journey?
DANIEL MINAHAN: I had worked with Christine Vachon of Killer Films on a 1996 movie I co-wrote called I SHOT ANDY WARHOL and the first feature I wrote and directed in 2001, SERIES 7: THE CONTENDERS. Christine is the kind of producer you want on your side as a director, she’s fierce and loyal. She asked me what I wanted to do next. I had read a book about Halston by Vanity Fair writer Stephen Gaines and thought it was a very rich, very American story about this man’s remarkable rise and fall, it was shocking to me that he was stripped of his name and identity. This was a story that needed to be told. I brought Gaines’ book Simply Halston to Christine and we optioned it. At first we tried to make it a feature film, but we couldn’t crack the story. In hindsight, it’s too big a story to fit into a 90-minute movie. So, I let it go. I would read in the papers that other people had optioned the material, and in the meantime I was continuing to work and really honing my craft. Then about two years ago Christine came back to me and said, “That Halston book is available again.” I sort of recoiled at the idea of going back into it, but then she said, “What do you think of doing it as a limited series?” And it just clicked for me. I realized we could finally tell this epic story over the course of five or six hours. We were out pitching the show with Ewan when we heard from Alexis Martin Woodall, the President of Ryan Murphy Productions, and she said that Ryan loved the Halston story and wanted to work with us on the show. Once RMTV got involved everything started moving very quickly.
What did partnering with Ryan Murphy as a writer and executive producer bring to the project?
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MINAHAN: Working with Ryan is a unique experience. He invited me to work on 2018’s THE ASSASSINATION OF GIANNI VERSACE: AMERICAN CRIME STORY, and it was interesting because I finally felt that I could be myself on that set. Ryan really let me run with it. He draws the best out of people, and he demands excellence from everyone who works with him. He has an uncanny sense for story, and I’ve been fascinated for years by the tone he’s able to strike in his work and the depth of emotion that he’s able to express. We all put a lot of ourselves into HALSTON. I think Ryan has a very unique relationship with this material because he grew up in Indiana as Halston did, and then he worked building an empire as a gay man in a corporate world as Halston did, so he was really generous with his experience. A lot of that made it into our scripts. We were very lucky to have him be involved.
Why was Ewan McGregor the actor you wanted to play Halston from the beginning?
MINAHAN: We put together a list of actors who we liked for Halston, but the one and only meeting I had was with Ewan McGregor. Christine had worked with him on 1998’s VELVET GOLDMINE. Ewan had read a draft of the first script and wanted to talk about the role. I brought all of my research materials to our meeting — photographs, books, a couple of Halston gowns so that he could look at them and touch them — and we had a serious show-and-tell for an afternoon. He was very engaged and asked me every imaginable question about Halston the man. We talked about how the piece would move and how it would feel and my idea for how we would structure it, and then at the end of the meeting he said, “I’d really like to do this with you.” I almost fell over. He was the only person for the role from the very beginning.
How did you see him work to embody Halston?
MINAHAN: Watching Ewan transform into Halston was fascinating. When he arrived in New York, he asked for a room where he could work undisturbed with some props — True cigarettes, which are the same brand Halston smoked, cigarette holders, Flair pens like Halston used, scissors, fabric, a black turtleneck, a tape measure, and some yellow lined notepads. He shut himself away for a couple of weeks while I was off prepping the series. Every once in a while he’d send me a little image or a video as he was working on how Halston walked, how he stood, how he sat, how he smoked. When scripts came in he and I would sit at my desk and read them aloud together. It was really important to Ewan that we didn’t double him in any way so that when he makes the dress on screen, he’s really making the dress. That’s the level of detail he was committed to achieving.
What was it like seeing him fully in character and costume as Halston for the first time?
MINAHAN: The first time he came to the set we were in the 1968 workroom set and it was just chilling to see him do the work. The hair stood up on the back of my neck because he completely embodied the character. He disappeared into this role, and it was very challenging because this project spans 20 years of Halston’s life and career, so the character evolves. We meet Halston in the 1960s, and who Halston is in the ‘60s and the way he dresses and the way he wears his hair and the way he speaks and the way he carries himself is different from the way he presented himself in the 1980s. Ewan effortlessly charted that whole progression. He put everybody at ease and allowed everybody to do their best work.
How did you find the rest of Halston’s core creative collaborators and friends, Liza Minnelli (Krysta Rodriguez), Elsa Peretti (Rebecca Dayan), Victor Hugo (Gian Franco Rodriguez), and Joe Eula (David Pittu)?
MINAHAN: This cast is remarkable, and we wanted a strong ensemble. Krysta Rodriguez has so much natural ability and we decided early on we didn’t want her imitating Liza Minnelli. Luckily Krysta has that same tenacity and earthy quality Liza has. Plus she’s a remarkable singer, and performs all of the songs herself! I knew Rebecca Dayan was our Elsa Peretti the moment she walked into the room. She gives Elsa a fierceness and a tough exterior, but a sensitivity as well. Gian Franco Rodriguez had the courage we needed for our Victor Hugo and was really willing to be outrageous, he’s the court jester, and sexual as Halston’s lover. I had seen David Pittu on Broadway and in musicals and had always wanted to work with him, and he plays Joe Eula, Halston’s illustrator who was a great artist in his own right. During production I hosted dinners so that they could all spend time cooking together, gossiping, smoking, drinking, hanging out. Halston created his little band of outsiders who were his closest collaborators, so I wanted to build that intimacy. And the actors have all remained friends.
What research did you do ahead of filming and how did you narratively toe the line between fact and fiction in this series?
MINAHAN: I come from a documentary background so I love to do extensive research. This subject was so rich; these people were photographed everywhere and interviewed endlessly. We had so much to pull from because these people wanted to be seen and remembered. All our heads of department — costumes, production design, hair, makeup — were keyed into research as well. But the crux of telling a real-life story is that tension between fact and fiction. How you dramatize someone’s interior life is what it’s all about. Getting to the heart of the matter and the emotion of the character, and I feel we’ve done that.
Why do you feel now is the right time to tell Halston’s story, and what themes do you think are particularly relevant to audiences today?
MINAHAN: Halston is the most famous person you’ve probably never heard of. He was the first celebrity designer in America, and both his failures and successes really taught people how to brand and market themselves. I feel like the world has finally caught up with his story. We live in a time that’s obsessed with identity, and this is the story of a man who reinvented himself time and again and, in a way, became the first influencer. He had a hugely successful fashion company, and he marketed and branded himself and his name as part of his product. Then it all went away. That’s extremely relevant. People try to describe Halston’s story as a cautionary tale, but I don’t see it that way. His story asks us questions that are more relevant today than ever. How far would you go to become famous? What would you do to get everything you want? How much would you compromise to make your dreams a reality?
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