The Broadway and screen star opens up to ET about transforming into the living legend and performing 'Liza With a Z.'
While there’s no denying that Ewan McGregor channels American fashion designer Roy Halston in Halston, the limited Netflix series created and directed by Daniel Minahan, it’s hard not to be enraptured by Krysta Rodriguez, who fully transforms into his best friend and longtime performer, Liza Minnelli.
As the Broadway and screen actress, who has a dedicated following thanks to the beloved but short-lived series Smash, tells ET’s Leanne Aguilera, it was a role that she was born to play. “This was some kindred spirit that I was supposed to be communing with at some point,” she says of auditioning for the part.
Donning Liza’s signature turtleneck with fake lashes and slicked-back hair, wowed not only herself but also the casting producers with her uncanny resemblance to the performer. “And the one audition led to another audition, which led to meeting Dan, and then getting cast,” she recalls. “I couldn’t believe it.”
First introduced 10 minutes into the premiere episode as Halston, who is down on his luck and uninspired, is dragged to dinner, it’s easy to understand why Rodriguez was cast. Taking the stage as Minnelli, she performs “Say Liza (Liza with a ‘Z’)” with so much charisma and energy -- and like Halston -- it’s hard for you to do anything else but watch in awe.
“It was my first day on set,” Rodriguez reveals, adding that it was a great way to get started with McGregor. “He’d never seen me sing or perform. So, it was very much in keeping with what the scene was about -- getting a first glimpse at a performer and at their humble beginnings.”
The moment is then followed by Halston and Minnelli staying up all night as their friendship quickly blossoms. Later, the two confide in each other, with Minnelli expressing how much she wants to be a star in her own right and not be seen as Judy Garland’s daughter. “That I wish Liza would see, the scene where he and I talk about what we want for our lives and how maybe we could sharpen each other,” the actress says.
While some people she told this to have expressed how scary it would be to have to jump head first into playing Minnelli, especially recreating such an iconic number, Rodriguez says, “That was actually a very nice transition into this very daunting task of being Liza.”
She adds, “I felt very at home in those moments.”
What’s also surprising about Rodriguez’s portrayal is that it’s all based on her own research, relying on interviews Minnelli gave and others that spoke about her life off-stage. She never spoke to Minnelli, who is alive and well at 75 years old.
But McGregor did speak to the living legend about her relationship with Halston, and he was kind enough to share some of that with Rodriguez. “He showed me some photos. And they are -- without going into too much detail -- it really solidified the relationship,” she recalls. “Once I saw that connection that they had, I could see how important it was to her and how important it was for Ewan and I to do it properly.”
Rodriguez credits Minahan for helping the cast build that chemistry off-screen, organizing group brunches and tours of specific locations that were part of Halston’s life. And because they ended up filming most of the series during the pandemic, under strict COVID-19 safety protocols, the actress says they all bonded in unexpected ways.
“Ewan and I lived through not only work, but a global pandemic together, it just was like instantly going to ‘We know each other quite well now,’” she recalls, adding, “We really spent a lot of time being each other's soulmates for a long period of this year and that really connected us in a great way.”
It explains why one of Rodriguez’s favorite scenes is between Minnelli and Halston, when they’re sitting on the couch in his apartment watching her TV special and he asks her to perform at the Battle of Versailles. “I think that’s a really sweet scene,” she says. “I think [Liza] would like that relationship we have there.”
She adds, “I tried to honor her essence as well as I could.”
While the pandemic made for a long shoot (“It turned into a huge chunk of my life, in an amazing way that I never expected”), it also gave Rodriguez time to explore her off-screen passions, including interior design. “I took a leap and started an interior design business,” she reveals. “So I’m going to be your neighborhood friendly designer, if you’ll have me.”
Called Curated by Krysta Rodriguez, her first project was her own apartment, which she designed as an homage to Halston and Liza. “Like I said, it’s in my blood and my bones,” she quips, teasing more to come on Instagram soon. “So stay tuned!”
Of course, in the meantime, Halston is now streaming on Netflix.