Designing ‘Halston’: Ewan McGregor and Jeriana San Juan in conversation

It took some 20 years for Dan Minahan to bring the influential but ultimately tragic life of fashion designer Roy Halston to the small screen. The executive producer/director of Netflix’s five-part series “Halston,” Minahan initially thought he would do a feature film version of the designer who came to fame in 1961 designing the pillbox Jackie Kennedy wore for the inauguration and then transformed fashion and BFF Liza Minnelli when he created the evocative, colorful costumes for her 1972 special “Liza With A Z.” But he developed a cocaine habit and spent his nights at Studio 54;  his world collapsed in the 1980s.

During a Deadline Zoom conversation, Minahan soon realized Halston’s story didn’t fit into a 90-minute script. “I think the world had to kind of catch up on this story,” he noted. “When we decided that would make it a five-hour limited series, it gave us the time to really tell the whole story and give it a lot of scope.” He was tenacious about not giving up on the project because it was such a “strong story.  I’d never come across a story quite as 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.”

But if he had done it 20 years ago, he wouldn’t have had Ewan McGregor channeling Halston. He has been signaled out for praise for his empathetic turn. Rogerebert.com’s Nick Allen observed that the veteran Scottish actor gives his “career best performance…who approaches the grandeur of Roy Halston as if the fashion designer were an actor and matches the power of this artist who only wanted to be known by his middle name.”

McGregor, who also is an executive producer, didn’t know anything about the fashion designer when his agent set up a meet-and-greet meeting with Minahan. “I met Dan and I was very taken with him and felt we would make a good team in terms of director and an actor. Dan showed me these amazing photographs of this very famous man that I didn’t know. I could tell from the photographs-he was incredibly interesting and complex. I was intrigued by him, by the world, by the time, the sort of society, by the culture, I guess. And Dan had a very clear idea of each episode.” So, he jumped into the project. The actor felt a responsibility to the designer, who died in 1990 at the age of 57, “to tell his story accurately and for me anyways, to try and understand him. I fell in love with him as I got to play him.”

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Series costume designer Jeriana San Juan taught McGregor a lot about clothing: “Looking at clothes and literally how to braid and pin,” he noted. “I was very aware that if I didn’t get those details right, it would be a real letdown”. And if he didn’t know how to pin, he added, he would also hurt Krysta Rodriguez who plays Minnelli and Rebecca Dayan as Elsa Peretti, who was a Halstonette which was the name given to his models.  “I looked at clothing in a very different way while we were shooting, leading up to the shoot and while we were shooting in New York,” he said. “I was always looking at people’s clothing and trying to imagine how it might go together and where the seams were and the bias. I became sort of obsessed with looking at people’s clothes. I got in trouble actually, sort of ogling people.”

San Juan found it a “great pleasure” to work with an actor who shared the same passion for Halston as she did. McGregor inhabited him, she said,  not only physically but “emotionally and mentally and creatively. So, it was a really kind of this wonderful thing to explore together. I did that also with Rebecca with Krysta and Gian Franco Rodriguez (who plays Halston’s lover Victor Hugo).” The series’ stunning fashions did include vintage Halston, but the majority, said San Juan, were “custom made just in order to sort of get those notes of a very specific color palette from the creating throughout the arc of the show, and finding ways to story tell through costume and get all of those notes of texture and patterns and silhouettes and colors.”

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