Ewan McGregor covers The Hollywood Reporter to promote his upcoming television projects, Obi-Wan and Halston. Of course, you have to talk about Obi-wan, as McGregor prepares to reprise the role over 20 years after his debut in The Phantom Menace. I’m on board! I was only ever interested in an Obi-wan project if it starred McGregor, anyway, and Deborah Chow is directing after turning in some solid episodes of The Mandalorian, a show I mostly like. I still think Star Wars is small and revisiting Obi-wan isn’t going to fix that, but I am glad McGregor, who always loved the role despite how the prequels turned out, is getting another chance to play the character. But this interview is largely focused on Halston, a limited series in which McGregor plays the legendary mononym fashion designer. It’s set to drop on May 14 on Netflix. There are some first-look photos here. They certainly seem to have the look down, but it’s going to depend so much on McGregor and his charisma and ability to swing between the public-facing Halston who oozed 1970s sex and glamour, and the private Halston who drowned his empire in excess and ultimately destroyed his legacy when he sold his brand to JC Penney.
This profile, by Seth Abramovitch, contrasts the Ewan McGregor of the 1990s, the breakout star shooting his mouth off in the press, with the Ewan McGregor of now, older and wiser and yet still prone to saying eye-popping sh-t, like that time he thanked his estranged wife and new girlfriend in an acceptance speech. This is the consistent thread of Ewan McGregor, I guess, that he’ll just say some sh-t and walk away from it. You’d think that would make him more exciting as a gossip fixture, but despite the end of his marriage and the Instagram drama from his daughter, Clara—who now says, “[Mary Elizabeth Winstead is] family. Everything on my end with all of that was handled very poorly. But I have new family now and I'm grateful for all of them.”—none of that stuck to McGregor. Everyone just moved on and kind of forgot about it. I bet there are a lot of people who don’t even know all that drama happened with McGregor. Is it the Scottish charm that wipes it away? Or is it that in all other regards McGregor has been unexceptionable, so the one time his personal life got messy, we kind of let it slide?
Similarly, will he go unchallenged for playing a gay icon in Halston? Billy Porter’s statements from an actors’ roundtable about the frustration of being a gay man in the industry who can’t get straight parts but also can’t get gay parts because of straight actors swooping in are referenced. McGregor’s response is, “I hear the discussion and I respect both sides of it, I really do. 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.”
There’s not really both sides, though. There is Billy Porter’s side of stating that it is difficult for out gay actors to get good work, especially since all the prestigious roles go to straight actors who play gay for trophies. And then there is the side of straight actors who do it anyway, even knowing they’re limiting their gay peers’ opportunities. That’s not an equitable exchange of “both sides”, it’s a very one-sided exchange and it does not favor Billy Porter and other gay actors. Of playing Halston, McGregor went on to say, “…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.”
What he’s describing is a complex, multi-layered character whose sexuality informs only one layer of the character. I imagine many gay actors, especially those limited to the “flamboyant” roles, as Porter put it, would LOVE to play a character like that. But they don’t get to, because Ewan McGregor is. I like McGregor a lot—I was OBSSESSED with him in the 1990s, especially around Velvet Goldmine, one of my all-time favorite films—and I think he is a great actor and I bet he’ll do a great job as Halston. But he IS worming out of the larger discussion of straight actors predominately taking the limited number of gay roles that get produced each year. The story doesn’t have to REVOLVE around a character’s sexuality in order to justify a person of that sexuality playing the role. The ultimate dream is that any actor could play any role because everyone has equal access to all opportunities, but we don’t live in that world. Halston is one of the very few high-profile LGBTQ projects this year, and it stars a straight man. The status quo, in which the industry disfavors out actors, is thus maintained. How is that helping anyone?