Decades in the making, ‘Halston’ was a ‘labor of love’ for the director of the series
More than two decades after trying to bring Roy Halston Frowick’s life story to the big screen, director Daniel Minahan has teamed up with Ryan Murphy and Christine Vachon – two LGBTQ film and television producers – to produce ” Halston, ”a new Netflix miniseries about the legendary fashion designer.
The five-part drama, which stars Ewan McGregor in the lead role, chronicles the life and career of one of the most influential designers of the 20th century, who rose to prominence after designing the iconic hat of the pillbox that Jacqueline Kennedy wore when her husband was. sworn in as president in 1961. With a thriving international fashion empire, the mononymous designer took advantage of his growing social status in New York City before a hostile takeover in the 1980s forced him to fight for control over his most valuable asset: the name Halston itself.
Growing up in Danbury, Connecticut, Minahan immersed herself in a variety of lifestyle magazines – such as Vogue, After Dark, and Interview Magazine – dreaming of living her life in the Big Apple, the city about one mile away. hour and a half from his hometown.
“Growing up I felt out of place and spent all of my time imagining what my life would be like in New York City,” Minahan told NBC News in a recent phone interview. “Halston, [Andy] Warhol and Liza Minnelli, these people were really fascinating to me, and I guess mostly the fact that they had met, and it was like this little movement that was happening not far from my house.
While working with Vachon on the award-winning 1996 film “I Shot Andy Warhol,” Minahan came across a book called “Simply Halston” by Steven Gaines, which detailed the rise and fall of the famous designer and served as a based on biopic. For the 58-year-old director, the idea that someone – let alone someone he admired so much – could “come to New York and invent that name and build an empire around him” and later be ” stripped of his company, his name, his ability to create and, in a way, his identity ”was something he just couldn’t seem to be able to give up, even after his failed plan to produce one. feature film on Halston from the mid to late 1990s.
“It was really a story that didn’t fit into a feature film. You could focus on one aspect of his life, like the Battle of Versailles, ”Minahan said, referring to a starry night in November 1973 when famous American and French designers faced off in a transatlantic fashion show. “But then you didn’t understand the whole story of how he authorized his name or how he lost his name. Or you can focus on a night after Studio 54 where everyone came back to their townhouse for breakfast at midnight, but that would be around that time.
After several failed attempts to make a Halston movie, Minahan said her “heart would sink” whenever there was a Halston revival in the fashion world.
“But I finally let it go, put it in deep storage and really decided to learn my craft as a director,” he continued. “Then, about two and a half years ago, Christine Vachon came back to me and said: ‘What do you think of doing it in a limited series? and it really made sense.
As he began to conceptualize the series, Minahan met McGregor, who had worked with Vachon on the 1998 musical drama film “Velvet Goldmine” and was fascinated by the intricacies of Halston’s life and the way he dealt with it. both fame and addiction. When they first met, Minahan showed McGregor “some Halston dresses and her perfume bottle”, as well as a number of old photographs, which were enough for the accomplished actor to become attached to the series before the process of making. pitching.
While different studios and networks appreciated the visual presentation of the pitch and the wealth of research that had already gone into the project, Minahan said that “no one was really committing to it” – until he got a call. one of his former collaborators.
“The phone rang and it was Ryan Murphy, who said, ‘I heard you were on a Halston show. I loved working with you [on ‘The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story’], I love Ewan, I loved Halston’s story. Don’t give it to anyone else, ”Minahan recalls. “It started to move very quickly afterwards. Ryan really brought a lot of energy to it and a great insight into the idea of this self-taught person who came to town and created an empire. I was very lucky to have it.
During pre-production, Minahan said she worked closely with McGregor and the rest of the production team to recreate, reinvent and immerse herself in the lavish world of Halston. In addition to being outfitted by Halston’s former tailor for some of the Ultrasuede jackets and pants, McGregor researched the same trivial items Halston used on a daily basis (including notepads, pens, and cigarettes); worked with a dialect trainer to create her own take on the designer’s downtown and mid-Atlantic accent; and learned to handle, pin and cut fabric.
“I think Halston is an interesting character because he’s such a build – the way he behaved, the way he spoke,” Minahan said. “He had a lot of armor so we also decided to recreate that and try to imagine what he looked like after hours when he wasn’t in front of the camera because all of our references for him are either in pictures. , or on video. . “
Using the credentials they had from the early ’60s to the late’ 80s, costume designer Jeriana San Juan and production designer Mark Ricker were given the task of “recreating the work of a master” and have worked in tandem to ensure the upscale interiors, which included Studio 54 and Halston’s iconic office in Manhattan’s Olympic Tower, did not eclipse forward-looking but timeless costumes.
“The show’s palette goes from this really rich and full color spectrum in the ’60s with all that motif until we go through the’ 70s and ’80s and we find ourselves in a really reduced palette, with red, white, black and gray, and that was sort of Halston’s course of work, ”said Minahan, adding that they had to be judicious about which pieces to show in a particular collection due to the high production costs.
“He had as much authorship on the interiors he lived in as he did on the clothes he made, so he was really involved in each of those interiors,” he said. “The Olympic Tower was an entire construction with floor-to-ceiling windows and cantilever mirrored walls, blood red carpets and an incredible backdrop, which was photographed from the actual floor of the Olympic Tower. , then repainted to remove modern things and restore things like the World Trade Center. “
As he was keen to highlight Halston’s staunch friendship with Liza Minnelli (played by Krysta Rodriguez), saying he believed the inseparable relationship was “really the heartbeat of the series,” Minahan said that “l ‘idea of a chosen family’ was the one thing that always stood out to him about Halston.
“He always brought people in. I met a lot of people that he drew into his orbit because he saw something special in them or thought he had merit or had a great mind, but the idea of creating a family of creatives is an ambition, ”explained the veteran director, whose other TV credits include“ Six Feet Under ”,“ Game of Thrones ”,“ The L Word ”and“ Grey’s Anatomy ”.
“It was also important to me that we celebrate his genius and explore his darkness and complexity,” he added. “He was a self-created person at a particular time. He grew up in the 50s, so he obviously grew up having to be locked up and was sort of without excuse for being gay in the 70s. He was truly a man of his time. I think gay people were intensifying and becoming very visible, so I think there is a lot of complexity there.
Halston tested positive for HIV in 1988. Eighteen months later, he died of AIDS-related cancer called Kaposi’s sarcoma at the age of 57.
For Minahan, there was no other actor who could have played Halston better than McGregor. (“It was my No.1 pick,” he said.) But in recent weeks, the limited series has come under fire for the decision to cast a straight actor in a major gay role – adding energy to a complicated debate about actors should be allowed to play which roles – and for his “inaccurate” and “fictionalized” portrayals of Halston, those claims coming specifically from the creator’s family.
“I spent over 20 years working on it, so it’s really a labor of love, and I wouldn’t have done it if I didn’t think it was a worthy subject and if I didn’t. ‘didn’t really like and wanted to honor Halston,’ he said in response to recent criticism. “I think what happened to him was unfair, and the people who were close to him and who saw him responded with incredible support and really felt like it was a beautiful tribute to a true icon. of fashion.”
“I just want people to recognize the influence Halston had on American culture, from the way we dress to the way we identify ourselves,” he added. “He was at the forefront of marketing and branding, and I think the idea that all of that could go away, that someone could be deprived of their identity and ability to create, is a terrible thing. I’ve heard people say he’s the most famous person you’ve never heard of, and I would like more people to know him and learn about his story.
“Halston” is now streaming on Netflix.