Ewan McGregor on recreating the life, and obsessions, of “Halston”
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If you were alive in the last century, you very likely saw, touched or wore something from Halston.
Roy Halston Frowick was the New York hat maker who designed the pillbox Jackie Kennedy wore to her husband’s inauguration, and went on to build an international fashion brand. With friends like Andy Warhol and Liza Minelli, Halston sort of embodied what it was like to be rich and famous in disco-era New York City.
If only he’d lived to see this: his story, with all of the dazzle and drugs and debauchery, in a five-part Netflix series, “Halston,” with Ewan McGregor in the title role.
The 50-year-old Scottish-born actor (who is now a U.S. citizen) says playing Halston required a lot more homework than usual.
Correspondent Tracy Smith asked, “So, you did all of this kind of delving into the archives. But you also learned how to drape fabric?”
“To an extent, yeah, a little bit,” McGregor replied. “I mean, that’s a great art. He would take a single piece of cloth and turn it into a beautiful dress. And I just was worried that if my hands didn’t look like they knew what they were doing, it was sort of give me away, you know? And so, I would practice and practice and practice. And I’d prick myself and I’d try not to prick the person I was draping.”
McGregor seems born to the role, but this one was something of a struggle: In fact, he says every acting job gives him the shakes: “At the beginning of every project, you’re very nervous. And you know, for the last two weeks before you start something, I am always a wreck. Like, just thinking, This is the one. I can’t do this. I won’t be able to do it. I always go through a period of great fear before something.”
“Seriously?” asked Smith.
“Seriously. Yeah, every time. The fear is unbelievable. But the night before I’m not at home practicing how I’m gonna – How am I gonna do it? I don’t do that. I want it to happen in front of the camera. ‘Cause I don’t … that’s how I’ve always been really. Just lazy.”
“It’s not lazy,” said Smith.
“Well, it might be! It is laziness. And I’ve made it work!”
He’s made a few things work: In 1996, his turn as a heroin addict in the film “Trainspotting” made him a star.
And the films that followed – like 2001’s “Moulin Rouge!” – showed his impressive range.
His career came full circle in 2017, with a sequel, “T2 Trainspotting.” “It was just fantastic to be back with them again, you know, 20 years later. But it’s a really thoughtful and beautiful film in its own way, too.”
“So, there’s another character that you’ve had a chance to return to,” said Smith. “What did it feel like – ”
“Nicely done. That was nice! That was good!”
McGregor is reprising his role as Obi-Wan Kenobi in the Star Wars saga, this time for a TV series. He can’t say much about it, yet, but hey, it never hurts to ask.
“What did it feel like to grow out the beard again, put on the cloaks again?” Smith asked.
“I always have a beard if I’m not working. ‘Cause I just like to be, I don’t much enjoy shaving. But it’s great, it’s been great to come back to it. It’s been really exciting.”
“What did it feel like, seriously? What did it feel like to put on the cloaks?”
“There might not be cloaks,” he said.
“You can’t even say that?”
“There may, or may not, be cloaks. I’m not saying anything! But to come back to play him again, Obi-Wan Kenobi, has been absolutely brilliant. I’m really enjoying it.”
But it’s not always easy to live in the Star Wars universe, where the fans can be a little intense, and even the most innocuous comment can set off an avalanche of speculation about what comes next.
Smith said, “What’s interesting is that, for a while you had to sit on even saying that you were coming back?”
“I mean, people have been asking you about this for almost two decades.”
“That was annoying,” he replied. “That was annoying. Every interview I ever did for, you know, years, people would say, ‘Well, are the rumors true?’ And I’d have to sort of, I’d have to lie. I’d have to say, ‘Well, you know, I don’t know. I’d be happy to play him one day again.’ I’d have to just keep saying … It started looking like I was sort of asking Disney for a job! Like, every interview I was asked that. ‘Well, I’d be happy to play him again, you know,’ and it was just a way of, like, trying not to be dishonest, but at the same time not telling the truth.”
“So, it’s gotta be quite a relief now?”
“It’s nice,” McGregor said. “The cat is out the bag!”
For McGregor, playing Halston was another kind of challenge. For much of his adult life, the designer was battling different kinds of demons, like addiction, and that’s one that Ewan McGregor once faced down himself.
Smith asked, “The last time we spoke, you spoke about your sobriety. And I’m wondering, watching Halston, too, do you think that your sobriety has helped you see these people who are struggling with drug use in a different way, understand them a little bit more?”
“I understand them, yeah. I understand it, addiction,” McGregor replied. “And I’m not judgmental about it, you know? Because I’ve walked that path for so many years, and it’s very cunning and you will absolutely live in denial, you know? People can’t see it. So, there’s Halston going to Studio 54 every night and doing coke and his business is in terrible trouble. And yet he still goes, ‘I don’t have a problem. I could stop any time I like, you know?’ I understand that, yeah.”
For all his complexities, Halston clearly loved being Halston. And McGregor loved being Halston. But he seems to love being Ewan McGregor, too.
Smith said, “Halston liked being famous. Do you?”
“Yeah,” he replied.
” I do, yeah!” he laughed.
“I love that. It’s a very honest answer, yeah.”
“You live and learn, and you know, you deal with it,” McGregor said. “You know, when I was 25 years old, post-‘Trainspotting,’ [I] dealt with it very differently than I do now.”
“Oh, come on!”
“You’re very good. You’re very good. Well, just I think you can become carried away with it, you know?” he said.
“But how did you get carried away with it? I don’t know what you mean, I really don’t.”
“Well, because if you’re focusing on fame, if you think fame is great and you want that, then it doesn’t really lead you anywhere. It’s a road to nowhere. You know, you’ll never wake up and be famous enough, you know what I mean? If that’s what you’re striving after.
“I don’t know, I’m very satisfied. I like it. I like it. So in that side of things, you learn that that’s actually what makes you happy, is striving to do the best job you can at work and not feeling like you’re sort of dogging it or phoning it in. And then, that feels pretty good.”
For more info:
- “Halston” debuts on Netflix Friday, May 14
Story produced by John D’Amelio. Editor: Steven Tyler.
From 2012: Ewan McGregor does “The Impossible” (“Sunday Morning”):