On May 14, Netflix audiences will be reintroduced to the iconic fashion designer Halston through the lens of Ryan Murphy. In one of his latest projects, Murphy tells the story of how the creative made a name for himself, and then ultimately had that name taken from him.
Ewan McGregor was cast to play Halston, a designer who helped to push the notion of licensing and brand building within American fashion.
"He was, to us, the only choice," Murphy told Vogue of casting McGregor. "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." But in a new interview, McGregor has spoken out on the casting and why he felt it was fine for him to portray a gay man in this role.
"I hear the discussion and I respect both sides of it, I really do," McGregor told Variety about the idea of straight actors playing gay roles. In particular, he was responding to Billy Porter pointing out that while gay actors get shut out of roles unless they are flamboyant, there's a long history of straight actors winning awards for gay roles. "I haven't walked in Billy Porter's shoes. I don't know what it's like to lose out parts when you might feel it's to do with your sexuality. So I can only respect his point of view." Point of view is an interested to phrase a cold hard fact: the vast majority of the most heavily recognized and awarded LGBTQ+ roles have been portrayed by performers who are either straight or did not publicly identify as queer prior to winning their award.
But McGregor, in the case of this project decided that "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."
And while we won't be able to know much until the series premieres, it is evident already that sex plays its part. Gian Franco Rodriguez is set to play Haston's onscreen lover Hugo. Murphy and designer Tom Ford have spoken about scenes in the series that not only depict Hugo hooking up with others at Studio 54.
"It was interesting when we were researching it because Halston, I think, used drugs and sex as a release from the pressure, from the creation, from the worry of having the lights turned off, and we made sure to dramatize that," Murphy said. "Many creative people burn out from too much sex, too much drugs or alcohol, too much pressure. So we wanted to be careful to make that part of his creative experience. I was really interested in the fact that the one big love affair of his life was with Victor Hugo. He really did try and make a romantic go of that until Victor basically let him know that that wasn’t going to happen. Once that happened, he just became an out-of-control personality where anything and everything was available to him. He really wasn’t able to pull out of that."
How that, and of course the fact that the series ends with his death that came as a result of complications related to AIDS, squares with the idea that his sexuality didn't play a big role, will be interesting to watch.
McGregor has previously played gay in Velvet Goldmine, I Love You Phillip Morris, and The Pillow Book.