Krysta Rodriguez Shines as Liza Minnelli in Netflix Original “Halston”

The five-episode miniseries centers on the friendship between two creative forces.

Young creatives often aspire to make a name for themselves, but Roy Halston Frowick took the challenge literally. The iconic fashion designer revolutionized womenswear under the name “Halston.” He worked closely with his friends, including the performer Liza Minnelli, who insisted on the correct pronunciation and spelling of her own name – “Liza with a Z,” she sings in a popular number. A new five-episode series on Netflix revives Halton’s story for the streaming era and follows the two friends as their names become household ones. Despite the challenges of filming during a global pandemic, the series captures Halston’s vibrant social world of glamor, sex, and status in a binge-able narrative.

All clothing Maison Margiela. Shoes Louboutin.

At the show’s tender heart is the friendship between Halston (Ewan McGregor) and Liza Minnelli (Krysta Rodriguez). When Halston sees Minnelli perform at a club, he is instantly drawn to her personality but finds her wardrobe in need of a makeover. By designing Minnelli’s clothing, Halston helps his friend grow into her onstage persona and discovers his signature style as a designer. Rodriguez explained, “when you meet [Halston and Minnelli], they aren’t really the quintessential versions of themselves. They become those people because they met each other.”

Jacket and shirt Salvatore Ferragamo. Bodysuit Hermes. Ring Cartier.
Jacket, skirt, and shoes Salvatore Ferragamo. Bodysuit Hermes.

In one early scene, Halston drapes a single piece of fabric around Minnelli, forming a dress and securing it with three pins. “In that moment,” Rodriguez said, “he’s figuring out who Halston is. And who Halston became was someone who celebrated women’s bodies in every form. We were coming from the era of foundation garments, and girdles, and all these things. And in the beginning of that scene, I’m wearing a huge Maidenform pointy bra with high-waisted quilted underwear, and he’s like, “Let’s take it off.” She added, “I even remember turning around and feeling like: this is the best dress I’ve ever worn.” Such is the magic of Halston’s inventive technique, which liberated women from constricting clothing and celebrated comfort.

Halston’s designs elevated Minnelli’s performance outfits, and Rodriguez’s experience as a Broadway performer in productions such as Spring Awakening and In The Heights made her a perfect fit for the role. Director Dan Minahan remembered, “Krysta walked in the room and she physically is the same size [as Liza]. She’s got these big, big eyes like Liza; she has the dark hair and beautiful complexion. And the thing about Krysta that was so great is she’s a real Broadway baby who really grew up singing and dancing, like Liza.”

Jacket and skirt Salvatore Ferragamo. Bodysuit Hermes.

Krysta is used to drawing her energy from an audience, which makes performing on-screen different from performing onstage, especially post-COVID, when the actors “we were filming in huge areas, with maybe four or five people watching.” Rodriguez recalled that there was “less energy coming [her] way when the cameras stopped rolling, but that her audience was enthusiastic because “everyone was actually so starved for live performance by that point.” Watching Rodriguez’s rendition of Minnelli’s live act, it’s easy to feel like you’re part of the audience as well.

To portray the vocal inflections and mannerisms of the famous friends, the actors relied partly on TV appearances and audio interviews. Then, they tried to imagine these public figures’ private lives, a process that Rodriguez calls “the diary phase” of acting. Minahan explained, “We really needed to find Liza’s voice when she was offstage, when she wasn’t performing. And for that, I said [to Rodriguez], ‘Just use your own voice.’” The show incorporates thoughtful details that give it a sense of verisimilitude – at one point, Rodriguez tells a behind-the-scenes story about shooting the 1975 film “Lucky Lady” – and her outfits were meticulously crafted from reference photos.

Coat Lanvin. Boots Manolo Blahnik.
Coat Lanvin. Boots Manolo Blahnik.

“I think each outfit was a replica or at least an homage to something [Liza has] worn,” Rodriguez said. That includes the yellow pantsuit that Minnelli wears for her wedding to Jack Haley, who played the Tin Man in The Wizard of Oz movie. The Halston-designed wedding ensemble was the color of the yellow brick road and included a pair of ruby red shoes. “Were I to pick what I wanted to wear for a big wedding scene in our show, I wouldn’t necessarily say ‘Let’s do a yellow pantsuit,’” Rodriguez laughed. “But because I was paying homage to her and recreating the exact circumstances, it was really fun to wear something that I wouldn’t necessarily have chosen.”

Halston and his entourage of fellow creatives spend plenty of time at Studio 54, where they dress to impress. Rodriguez shared, “there’s an outfit that I wear walking into Studio 54 and then through the rest of the scene: a purple pantsuit that’s sort of beaded, and right now, currently, that outfit is in a museum. So there was no way that was gonna end up on me. But Naeem Khan, who is a very well-known designer in his own right, was Halton’s assistant when he was coming up in the industry, and so he has some of the original patterns still. And so, over quarantine, he handmade and hand-beaded three different outfits for me for the show, based on those original patterns.”

All clothing Maison Margiela. Shoes Louboutin.
All clothing Maison Margiela. Shoes Louboutin.

Minnelli wears that purple pantsuit when she collapses on the dance floor. It’s proof that the hard-partying lifestyle is beginning to wear her down. The same is true for Halston, whose indulgent spending ($40,000 a year on orchids alone) and expensive cocaine habit, coupled with late nights at Studio 54, take a toll on both his life and his brand. Halston loses control of the empire he has built as the shadow of the AIDS epidemic falls on his group of gay friends, and Minnelli seeks treatment in rehab. Rodriguez said, “[Liza is] constantly girding herself, as if this might be the last time to see him. She knows they will always be together; they will always be connected; they will always be there for each other. But she’s starting to realize that any moment could be the end for him. Because it was starting to be the end for so many people.”

When the actors filmed Halston and Minnelli’s emotional final scene together, which takes place at Halton’s Montauk house, they were still adjusting to the new COVID-19 filming protocols. Rodriguez shared, “I think that [the pandemic] added a lot of gratitude for the situation we were in and also heaviness of understanding something that is indiscriminately taking lives.” As Halston and Minnelli parted ways on-screen, McGregor and Rodriguez reunited after a period of quarantine. 

All clothing Saint Laurent.

Although Halston faced health and creative challenges, the series highlights his successes. Minahan finds Halston’s story particularly relevant because “in this moment, so many people are thinking a lot about branding themselves, and thinking about identity and defining themselves. And, you know, here’s Halston, who’s the first influencer. You can say it’s a cautionary tale. But I think he’s more than that. I think he is an important cultural force that was sort of erased. And I think it’s time that people can appreciate him again.” 

So are we entering a summer Halston revival? It’s quite possible – a collaboration between Halston and Netflix offers clothing inspired by the show, and Rodriguez has started her own interior design business inspired by Halston and Liza’s 70’s style. Not to mention, our gradual emergence from quarantine might give us a reason to dress up. However, the show’s greatest beauty lies not in the exquisite clothing but in its portrayal of Halston and Minnelli’s deep friendship, which shaped them both as much as they each shaped American popular culture.

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