Written by Jennifer Dunning, CNN
Stars are real, according to singer-songwriter Halston Sage . He may have been raised in his grandparents’ New York City apartment after his parents divorced, but his reputation (and his Grammy award) is rooted in one Canadian superstar who once owned it all.
Born Halston John Elias Aurelio Sage, Halston became famous in the 70s with an artsy and seemingly angst-free aesthetic that, inspired by his move to Paris, many took as a rejection of the pop-culture strictures that had fallen on his mother and uncle. Sage has cited the artist Andy Warhol as his most influential influence. He is credited as co-writer of Donna Summer’s 1977 hit “I Feel Love,” and was associated with Robert Palmer, Cyndi Lauper, Limp Bizkit and Johnny Cash.
“For me, Halston influenced not just fashion, it was a whole philosophy that I learned and, for me, Halston gave me the license to live. It was just letting loose, letting loose a little bit more, with no fear and no boundaries,” he said.
Halston in Vogue in July 1966. Credit: Vogue
Sage followed up his relative obscurity in the early 2000s with a steady stream of acclaimed performances in television and films, including a starring role in “Angle of Taste” and a role in the 2012 television miniseries “Hatfields & McCoys.” He is also taking on his biggest role yet: the star of the new, entirely unauthorized biopic of Halston, which opens in the UK on July 5 and arrives in the US this October.
Sage is first and foremost an actor, but he’s also an intimate observer of the sort of world that his character inhabits. “The one thing that Halston did in his brand is that he genuinely believed in the story of himself, his escapades, his friends, and all of the people that he befriended,” he said. “He had big balls, and he was doing things for himself, instead of acting like everybody else and just giving it to everybody.”
When casting the role, Sage drew inspiration from his own days as an artsy street kid in New York, trying to come into his own in a world that had little to say to him. “I saw those feelings as completely valid. I was young and it was hard for me to find my way,” he said. “That’s where I used to go, have these ideas. In my heart of hearts, I just wanted to be bigger and bigger, and in that process I stopped listening to some of the media guys, because they were serving so few people.”
Sage (in green) with Nadine Johnson in Anglophone (2015). Credit: Nichola Barlow for Nottingham Playhouse
As artistic director at the Nottingham Playhouse Theatre, Sage’s season closing production next month is “Aline,” a one-man show he’s adapted from the life of Halston. He found his actor, Nadine Johnson, because his friend and fellow Irish actor Michael Fitzpatrick told him she’d been working on the show.
Sage began by outlining his story of Halston as carefully as possible, right down to the time line, the dance routines, and the sets. “What I had to do was work as a stenographer and observe and observe until I could write it down to let the story sort of organically happen,” he said.
Sage thought that he would lose himself while telling the show’s real-life story, but at the rehearsal space he soon realized it was the opposite, that while he was remembering all the things that Halston remembered, he was coming to terms with the fact that he, in many ways, was Halston as well.
“I always used to go to rehearsals, and I would go to people’s houses and I would do this interview, and I’d have to memorize all their anecdotes and they had gotten me quite familiar with their lives and some of their personalities, you know?” he said. “So I thought the story kind of directed me toward getting close to the people that were saying these things, and it started to work a lot in a really wonderful way.”
Sage’s late mother, Elizabeth Aurelio, died before Halston’s the biopic was released, and unlike his castmate Natalie Joseph, who plays her in the film