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Interview: Casting Director Maribeth Fox on Creating a Fun, Fabulous Dinner Party with ‘Halston’

HALSTON (L to R) HALSTONETTE, DAVID PITTU as JOE EULA, EWAN MCGREGOR as HALSTON, REBECCA DAYAN as ELSA PERETTI, KRYSTA RODRIGUEZ as LIZA MINNELLI, and SHAWNA HAMIC as PAT AST in episode 102 of HALSTON Cr. ATSUSHI NISHIJIMA/NETFLIX © 2021

In the Netflix limited series Halston, the famed fashion designer comes to marvelous life as portrayed by Ewan McGregor. Enhancing the experience are the many people Halston comes into contact with over the course of his career, whether they’re professional nemeses or personal confidantes.

Awards Radar had the opportunity to speak to casting director Maribeth Fox about making lists for top talent, casting real people, and other standouts from her impressive resume.

Q: How did you become attached to this project?

A: Dan Minahan and Laura Rosenthal had worked together many, many years ago as a part of the Sundance Lab, and Dan kindly thought about Laura for the job. We all met and we were creatively in sync about what this miniseries could be. We really liked Dan’s vision for it. He’s been working on this for twenty years, so we knew we were in very good, capable hands. And we signed on to the job.

Q: What did you know about Halston before coming on this project?

A: I had seen the CNN documentary, which was wonderful, and now I can honestly say that I’ve spent hours and hours looking at everyone in Halston’s life’s face. Just eons of studying facial structure and jawline, not like we were going for twinsy matches for every role that we did, but the best part of casting, for me, is to deep dive into new worlds that you might not know about before your experience on a film or a TV show. It was super exciting to learn about what the world was like. We even got to audition some models for some older roles that were Halston’s models, and so they had some amazing stories to tell.

Q: How important is physical resemblance when casting real people?

A: I think it was really important for the lead roles, that they not only embodied a physicality that was really important, especially for roles like Liza and Victor Hugo, but that there was a real spirit and charisma. We have a city full of amazing singers and performers that could sing Liza. But Krysta was the only one that could really embody the charisma and spirit and the acting style, along with the performative value of who Liza is. Gian Franco, same, with the role of Victor Hugo where, yes, physically, he does really resemble him but then there is this wildness. He came in wearing a netted shirt with a necklace underneath and just was really game to play and have a great time with us. So it’s the physicality mesh with the spiritual embodiment of who the person was or is.

Q: They’re also not quite as well-known as some of the other members of the cast. Even if it is a leading role compared to someone like Ewan McGregor, is what they’ve done before and their body of work as important to what they can do here?

A: It is kind of interesting. Whenever we take on a show, producers – not our producer, who was Killer on this one – but often times if you’re a New York casting director, you get the note, just get us some of those great New York theater actors, when in truth, that’s not really a thing. Everybody does theater, film and television very seamlessly. And so everybody in the show, in Halston, does a lot of theater and also has done amazing film and TV too. So to merge those worlds in a beautiful way was just a real treat.

Q: David Pittu is someone who has definitely done more theater – I had to look him up because I didn’t know him. Is he someone you went after or knew a lot before this?

A: Well, David was gracious enough to audition for us, and it’s always a treat when David comes in to read because he’s someone who brings exciting and new choices to every role he takes on. You just know you’re going to get a good read. Books the job or not, doesn’t really matter, but you know that David is a dependable, well-prepared, amazing actor. He does look like the real guy. All the actors in Halston have such amazing, theatrical, craft-based training from being on the theatrical side sometimes. To be able to bring that toolkit into creating that role was just amazing to watch.

Q: At what point was Ewan attached, and were you involved in that?   

A: I was not, no. We were lucky enough to have Ewan attached at the top, which for us in casting, there’s a practical side to what we do in creating a fun, fabulous dinner party that people want to come to. Knowing that Ewan McGregor was attached to play this amazing part, we knew that was going to be really heavy lifting and so it kind of lets you breathe a sigh of relief that people are going to want to be there to play with someone that great.

Q: Almost every character has their own individual relationship with Halston. Was a chemistry read with Ewan important, especially for some of these bigger roles?

A: You know, we just kind of had to trust. That was one of the really amazing things about Dan, is that he trusted himself enough, and also, I’m sure Ewan did see some of the footage. We didn’t do chem reads per se but Ewan definitely had his eye on the finalist choices as we went along in the process, and Dan and Ewan were just really trusting of their casting department, which we always feel really grateful for. We are bringing you the best, and that the charisma and the potential for these actors would be there and to have a really good time with Ewan. You have to cast that way with that in mind. You’ve got this big mega-superstar and you can really only put people on set with him who can really handle it, you know, go toe-to-toe with somebody like that.

Q: Obviously, most of these people are not alive anymore, but Liza still is. Was there any eagerness to consult or involve her or others in some way, aside from what you mentioned before about the models?

A: Yeah, Dan definitely had talks with Liza about everything, and you think about the people that are still alive, and I would just think, we have to nail this. Or even just for the family members. Dan might have had some conversations with Victor Hugo’s relatives. You’re honoring these people, you’re honoring the living but especially honoring the people that have passed away who still might have family who want to watch this show. One of the times I really thought about that in-depth was when we recreated the moment where the woman gets trapped in the shaft of Studio 54 and passes away. That just seems like not a fun thing to show, but a storyline piece, and what if that woman’s family and friends are alive and seeing this, so we really have to honor that person and make sure that a really good person is in that role.

Q: In terms of big names, you do have Bill Pullman also, who’s so reserved and, compared to Halston and how angry he gets in every scene, so calm. Was he somebody that you went after?

A: Yes. Bill was a huge get, and he just made sense for the storyline. For that level of part, you spend a lot of time making and curating idea lists for your entire creative team. And usually three or four names kind of come right up to the top, and Bill’s was always at the top of our list, and we just thought, ooh, would he ever do this for us, and he really liked the material. He loved Dan. I think working for the Ryan Murphy franchise was interesting. I can’t tell you how amazing watching him in that is. It’s just such a treat. I think Bill and Kelly Bishop really came to that party in a very specific way that really elevated the viewing experience for me at least.

Q: You also have a pretty international cast because of Halston’s network. What was that search like?

A: We did look all over the place. You hope that you find people like Rebecca Dayan. We were just going for, again, that physicality but also the spirit and the confidence of somebody like an Elsa Peretti that you have to have the right actor to have that swagger, and also that vulnerability where she just desperately loves Halston. Professionally and personally, I do think that that was a really exciting part of the job.

Q: Is there any minor role that gave you a particular delight to cast that viewers might not realize?

A: Oh gosh. Well, one of my favorites, it’s not so minor but I really like, there was this pairing of Jason Kravits as Carl Epstein and Eden Malyn, who is somebody that I’ve watched in theater for a really long time and on some episodic television. They play this fantastic duo. I felt so pleased because when we saw the dailies with them together and we got this phone call from Dan who was so excited that they shot together that day, sometimes you just put two people together and it just clicks. The chemistry is there, the banter is there, the pacing was really right and respectful of the tone. It just makes me smile every time I see the two of them on screen.

Q: Looking at your credits, I noticed a number of projects that I didn’t realize you had worked on that I really liked, including First Match, Skin, Late Night, and Sister Aimee. Is there anything from all the indie projects you’ve done that really stands out over the years?

A: There are a few projects that really stand out. For me personally, the year that we did Late Night and Brittany Runs a Marathon together as both of those were quite popular at Sundance, both of them were joys to work on and, sometimes when you work on independent stuff, you go, okay, I hope people see this because I feel really proud of it. To see it actually get to be seen was really gratifying. Also, whenever we get to work with Killer Films, obviously who we worked for on this job, that’s amazing, usually tied to them are Todd Haynes projects like Wonderstruck. And we did Mildred Pierce with them which was such a great treat. So those kinds of projects are always really gratifying because they’re miniseries, so they take a really long time, and everybody on those jobs are really good collaborators.

Q: You’ve also worked on an anthology series, Modern Love. Are you involved in season two?

A: Yes, it’s Laura, and Jodi, and myself. We’ve all finished on Modern Love 2, which is wonderful.

Q: And what is it like casting for that kind of show for these really leading roles that don’t recur?

A: It’s been a really interesting journey, because it’s interesting just to explore what people will do like in terms of like celebrity or star, like come play. The great thing about Modern Love is that the stories are so beautiful. They’re really, really heartfelt. The directors are all amazing, and also it’s practically a short-term commitment. It’s like, come have fun with us, this script is amazing. We’re going to hang out for a week in New York City. We’re going to treat you really nicely. Come lend your celebrity to this really beautiful story, and I feel really proud of the first season and what we were able to accomplish.

Q: Do you have any other projects lined up?

A: Yeah, right now we’re working on a film for apple called Sharper. Julianne Moore starring and executive producing on that one with Picture Start and A24. Some other folks in our office are working on a Hulu series called The Girl from Plainsville, which is a limited series as well. I feel like the industry is starting to really come back. We’re starting to get some really amazing scripts again and it feels good to be able to be back to work in this way.

Halston is streaming exclusively on Netflix.

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Written by Abe Friedtanzer

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