There are certain iconic names that just come to mind when you think about the fashion industry, and real followers of haute couture know that Halston is one of them. In a new limited series project for Netflix from Ryan Murphy and Daniel Minahan, Halston will tell the story of the late great fashion designer, but his decision to cast Ewan McGregor in the lead role is turning heads and raising eyebrows for a very major reason.
Halston will be a a five-part miniseries exploring the life and career of the American fashionisto. Born Roy Halston Frowick, the designer would quickly rise in the industry ranks to become one of the more successful fashion creatives of the 1970s until losing his fashion house in the 80s. The Netflix project, created by Murphy and directed by Daniel Minahan, will cover major aspects of his very public life, including his frequent fetes at Studio 54, his celebrity clients, and his early death.
Although McGregor is a well-known and respected actor, his casting as Halston has stirred up controversy. Halston was a gay man whose his sexuality was very much an intrinsic part of his story, influencing his personal life as well as his as his professional endeavors — so why not cast a gay man to play him?
In a recent interview with designer Tom Ford and Vogue, Murphy claims that McGregor was not only the best choice for the role, but also the only choice because he understood the nuance behind the character. To Murphy and Ford (who was well-acquainted with Halston in real life), the Scottish actor's performance was actually able to speak to the designer's internal drive towards success.
"When I heard Ewan McGregor was cast, I have to say, I thought, Oh, my God, that’s completely wrong," said Ford in the interview. "But he got it so right. It’s incredibly convincing."
"He was, to us, the only choice," confirmed Murphy. "The thing that Ewan got about Halston was that Halston had a vision in his mind of who he wanted to be in life. He was self-created....Ewan really connected with the pain of Halston and the longing of Halston, and how confusing it is to have to be an artist and a businessman at the same time."
Even with Murphy's (and Ford's) blessing, the actor knows that he isn't the first person people would have chosen to tell the designer's story because it blocks actual queer men from the opportunity. Plus, according to McGregor, the casting supposedly works because Halston doesn't just focus on the late businessman's personal life; it's a encompassing story about his rise in the fashion ranks and his downfall to drugs, money problems, and health issues.
“I don't know what it's like to lose out parts when you might feel it's to do with your sexuality...straight men playing gay — everyone wants to give them an award,” McGregor explained during a conversation with The Hollywood Reporter, “If it had been a story about Halston’s sexuality more, then maybe it’s right that gay actors should play that role. But in this case — and I don’t want to sound like I’m worming out of this, because it’s something I did think a lot about — I suppose, ultimately, I felt like it was just one part of who he was.”
Do we buy the justification? Eh. As discourse about meaningful representation and recognition within Hollywood continues, one can't help but think that there's possibly some less known or underrated gay actor out there who could have brought a different level of nuance and truth to the forthcoming Netflix project. After all, we don't have nearly enough queer representation on screen these days. But in the Ryan Murphy Cinematic Universe, what Murphy says goes. So Ewan McGregor it is.
Halston will be available for streaming on May 14, only on Netflix.