There is a certain precision celebrated in the fashion world. People talk about clean lines and how sewing garments needs special attention. Artist Victor Hugo was an unpredictable presence in Halston’s life, and he often caused trouble for the designer when he wasn’t getting enough attention or if the spotlight wasn’t on him. Gian Franco Rodriguez gives Hugo a dangerous verve and unwavering confidence that is absolutely alluring and sexy. It’s no wonder Halston was so enamored with him.
Rodriguez goes for broke in every scene. Whether he is pushing himself into a wedding photo at Liza Minnelli’s nuptials or engaging in public sex at Studio 54, Rodriguez’s performance cannot be contained by the screen. That confidence was freeing for Rodriguez to embody and he struts on screen like cocky panther when he knows the scene calls for it.
Let’s not forget, however, that Halston and Hugo were together for over a decade. While Hugo met Halston when he was engaging in sex work, there is a genuine love connection between the two of them–how they wield and execute that power is up to either man in this sometimes volatile partnership. There are moments when we see a lonely little boy in Rodriguez’s eyes and he just wants to be loved. That longing for love is all throughout Halston, and Rodriguez knows exactly what he’s doing every moment he’s on screen.
Awards Daily: Would you party with Victor Hugo?
Gian Franco Rodriguez: Probably but not every night like he did.
AD: He seemed like a good time.
GFR: It seems like something we should all experience in our lives.
AD: Victor Hugo is a live wire. How is it to embody a character like that?
GFR: It was one of my favorite things about him. Dan [Minihan] made me feel like whatever opinion I had, he would consider it. He told me that if I felt like doing it Victor might do it. That’s the beauty of this project, because it gave me so much freedom. It gave room to a lot of things and so many moments you see in the show are improvised.
AD: Your performance made me want to do research on Victor because I didn’t know anything about him. You have a line where you say, “Perhaps you would describe me as jaded, darling, but I prefer to say that in living nothing is bad. I can only say that I live fully 24 hours a day. I regret nothing.” That’s an admirable quality.
GFR: It is. I love that quote. It’s the key to living a good life.
AD: I wanted to talk about Victor’s power over Halston using sex. Liza Minnelli can give Halston perspective, but Victor is the only one who can really manipulate him in a different way.
GFR: We know how they met, and that was definitely his weapon. I felt like the sex was definitely the way he could get what he wanted. I don’t think he was using Halston–they were together for 15 years. In every relationship, there is love and then there is pain and it’s not just one thing all the time. It’s all mixed up. There was love at one point but I think he knew he had Halston through the sex and Victor knew that was the easiest way to get Halston’s attention.
AD: It’s about power.
GFR: Yes. But I can also take it away from him and he can see me doing it with other people. That’s when it gets toxic and manipulative.
AD: What was it like to recreate the energy of Studio 54?
GFR: That was breathtaking. Part of me wishes we could’ve done it when it wasn’t a pandemic and it could’ve been packed with people. But then again, we got to do it during the pandemic.
AD: I’m impressed that a lot of Ryan Murphy’s shows are detailing the AIDS crisis in different ways with his projects.
GFR: Yes, it’s very important and he is a creator who keeps exploring that.
AD: In your diagnosis scene, it’s the only time we see Victor uncomfortable in his own skin, in a way, and you say to the doctor, ‘The dream is over.’ Tell me all about that scene.
GFR: I’m glad you brought that up and it affected you in some way. That was the scene that I was mostly concerned about because of the responsibility of it. It’s something that real people went through and continue to go through. Then it had to be so scary and I wanted to bring all that emotion to the scene. I learned that, for me, that it helps me to get away from my phone before I have to shoot something. The day before I dive into the work and the day before that scene, I spent the 24 hours prior watching documentaries having to do with AIDS. It was a dark, heavy day. I didn’t have contact with anyone and I couldn’t sleep the night before that shooting day.
AD: Do you remember anything you watched?
GFR: Oh, man, there were so many. The Normal Heart is one.
AD: Later on, you are cruising in a restroom and you bring a man back for Halston. In a weird way, that’s a very loving thing.
GFR: You mean, since Victor has AIDS he is bringing someone else back to sleep with him?
AD: That is what my initial impression was. Is that not the case?
GFR: In a way. I had to make sense of the scenes and psychoanalyze everything. My first intention was that but then after I got more of the scripts, it made me ask so many questions after I read the AIDS scene. At the same time, would Victor go get tested in real life? He was out there and probably knew he was going to be infected. I had to analyze why I was going to the clinic if I already know. Most likely, they were going to tell me yes. Maybe I was developing more feelings for Halston and getting distracted by our relationship and forgetting why I came to this country. The AIDS scene was Victor’s wake up call to go back to his mission.