It may sound counterintuitive, but in times of crisis—like the perpetual state of emergency that was 2020—I turn to crime stories for comfort: the gorier, grislier, ghastlier, the better. And if the true-crime boom of the last five years is any indication, I’m not the only one. So it stands to reason that Prodigal Son, the wiliest and most twisted crime drama on network TV, made a big splash when it landed on Fox in the fall of 2019. The series focuses on Malcolm Bright, an NYPD consultant who must turn to his incarcerated serial killer father Martin Whitly to help solve particularly devious crimes. But you’ll be forgiven if, within a couple of episodes, you become more interested in Malcolm’s stylish younger sister Ainsley. Played by Halston Sage, Ainsley is a TV reporter whose ambition draws her back into her infamous father’s orbit alongside Malcolm. Ainsley is fashionable—think consummate Working Girl vibes—and tenacious to a fault, with a tendency towards getting in over her head.
To find the root of Ainsley’s brand of ineffable cool, though, you’ll have to look towards Sage herself. A Los Angeles-to-New York transplant, Sage has been a working actress for the better part of a decade, but it’s on Prodigal Son that she’s finally found her stride in terms of both performance and style. After getting together with her makeup artist to conjure up some old-school seductive glamour for these photos, Sage got on the phone to discuss her go-to skincare products, the wardrobe realities that come with a bicoastal lifestyle, and season 2 of Prodigal Son, which airs on Fox every Tuesday at 9 p.m.
I love these photos. Is that your thing normally, that glamour-girl sort of look?
I actually do love that look. I don’t know how to do my eyeshadow, but I can put on a red lip, so for me, that’s my go-to because it’s easy. I love a clean, chic, light eye and a pop of color on the lip.
I get a very Last Year at Marienbad vibe from the pictures.
Yeah, it felt very much like the aftermath of having gone out to an event and what you do when you go back to your hotel, which was kind of fun. Or this idea of living in a hotel—that’s what I got from it, this glamorous girl who lives in a hotel and gets to dress up and go to parties. I think we can all relate to missing that, to an extent. It felt so weird to put on an actual dress. It was fun to relive that and recognize that maybe I actually like going out and being around other people more than I thought. It made me really miss and look forward to a time when we can actually do that again.
I mean, even getting to dress up as if you’re going out feels like such a treat these days.
It is! That’s actually something that I love about going to set. It feels so good to wear normal clothes at work and to actually get dressed like you’re going out into the world in a different way. It’s just little things like that that we all probably took for granted before. It’s nice going back to work, wearing clothes, seeing what they have in stores right now, and living in a world that we’re pretending is past COVID.
What is it like to be in production in the middle of a pandemic?
It’s definitely different. The social aspect of going to work has been taken out of the equation. They have everyone in different zones, and as an actor, you’re not supposed to be on set unless the cameras are rolling. So instead of going back to our chairs between setups, we’ll go back to our dressing rooms. That part is kind of sad. But it also makes me appreciate having had that first season with the cast and the crew. We already had formed this bond together and become this family, so we were able to kind of pick back up where we left off.
What can you share about the new season? Has the storyline been affected by the pandemic at all?
They definitely acknowledge the pandemic subtly—you’ll see extras walk into buildings, and you’ll see them take off their masks. They do a really good job of acknowledging that something has happened in the world, but it’s not a medical show, so they don’t dwell on that, which is nice. You’re kind of taken out of the present day and put back into the world of the Whitlys. They had enough drama going on before to deal with. The first few episodes of season 2 are the aftermath of that last scene from season 1, and my character, Ainsley, is trying to figure out how to put together the pieces from that night.
How has your life changed outside of work this year?
I got to spend a lot of time with my family [at home in L.A.] and run around in the yard with the dogs every day, which is my dream because when we’re working on the show, I’m living in New York. Aside from family, I take classes at NYU, so all our classes starting last summer continued online. I actually met a producing partner in one of my classes, and we’ve been working on a show that we’re pitching right now, which is really fun and exciting. It has been nice to have those classes as an outlet and to have met someone that I click with creatively has been really exciting and fun.
That’s really exciting! What are you studying at NYU?
I’m in the Gallatin School at NYU, where you build your own concentration, so I’m focusing on the business element of the entertainment industry and the producing side. I’ve taken production classes, a course on producing TV specifically, and then also some more abstract classes, like an early cinema class, just to paint a bigger picture of the industry that I’ve been in since I was 19. I want to gain a deeper understanding of how we ended up where we are today in the business—which is evolving every day, too. It’s like you can’t even really keep up with it.
On top of getting into acting at 19, you also grew up in L.A., which is such an industry town. Do you feel like you grew up in the industry at all just by virtue of growing up in L.A.?
That’s a good question. Even though I’d always wanted to act, my parents were not in the business, and they weren’t really sure if it was something I actually wanted or if it was just because it’s something that I was surrounded by, like you said, because of growing up in L.A.
It really hit me when I was 16, and you’re in that position of looking at colleges and deciding what you want to do with the next chapter of your life. I finally just went to my parents, and I told them, "I feel like I’ve grown up enough to know that this is what I want to do, and you guys have raised me to understand the rejection side of the business and not take it personally and just really go after my dream." So I’m grateful that they wanted me to take that time to make sure that this was what I wanted, and it wasn’t just a product of living in Los Angeles.
I’m grateful that they wanted me to take that time to make sure that this was what I wanted, and it wasn’t just a product of living in Los Angeles.
What has it been like to live in New York after growing up in L.A.?
Well, one thing is that living in New York has changed my sense of style. Everyone in New York always looks great, and that’s something that I appreciate and really love about living here. You can go down to your Whole Foods and become inspired by the person crossing the street in their outfit. Luckily, I get to live vicariously through Ainsley with her wardrobe because her style is very New York. It’s very simple and kind of like a modern take on a classic oversized blazer and wide-leg pantsuit, which I love.
New York has this put-together vibe even if you’re going to the grocery store, whereas L.A. is all about being artfully undone—still looking good, but like you didn’t try.
Yeah, there’s something about a white T-shirt, a pair of jeans, and a funky necklace or pair of earrings in L.A. that is just cooler than any New York outfit in a completely different sense. And then you get to New York, and you wouldn’t dream of putting on a T-shirt and jeans because you would stick out. You would look like you were from California. But I love and appreciate both looks for what they are, and I totally have two different closets for L.A. and New York, which is also fun for someone who loves clothes. You kind of get to be different characters when you’re living in different places.
Do you also do your makeup differently for each of your different “characters”?
I wish! I have started experimenting during the pandemic with different makeup tutorials and palettes. My little sister Kate is actually very good at makeup, so I’m always FaceTiming her for advice and mini tutorials if I’m feeling like getting dressed up. These days I’m mostly working when I go out, but I miss working with glam teams because they become your friends, and it’s like its own social event when you’re getting ready. You open some wine and play some music and just have fun.
Do you also get makeup tips and recommendations that way?
Yeah. My makeup artist on set, her name is Fiona Mifsud, and she’s done a great job of finding some clean beauty lines that I’ve fallen in love with. For example, all of the lip products that I wear on the show are Kosas. It has been really nice to find a clean vegan brand that looks great on camera and is actually good for your lips. I’ve gifted it to my mom and sister, and now they’re addicted, so I think it’s fun to be able to discover new lines like that. But I have my go-to's, like Cle de Peau Concealer ($73)—I’m convinced it’s magic in a tube. I love this Anastasia eyebrow pencil; I’ve used that for years. I’ve also used my Dior mascara for years, and I have a lot of Chanel eye palettes that my sister’s been helping me play around with.
It’s always fun to be able to just play around with your makeup and have a good time with it.
Yeah, it’s fun. It kind of feels like an art project each time, almost like your face is a coloring book, for better or worse. There have been many mistrials, but also many successes. And all thanks to my sister—she deserves all of the credit. I’m actually going through my vanity right now to see what I use every day. I love Senna; I use their mineral powder ($38). I’ve had this Bobbi Brown cream blush ($34) forever that I just use on my cheeks and my lips. I’ll never forget, two summers ago my two best friends came out to New York for a weekend to stay with me, and they saw me putting on my blush with my fingers, and they were like, "What are you doing?!" I guess I had never really thought about it, but I love cream blush–anything you can kind of use as finger paint.
What does your general skincare routine look like? Are you a 12-step routine kind of person?
I’m definitely a skincare person because when you’re working, and you have a ton of makeup on, it’s very important to take care of your skin. I always say that I think drinking water is the most important part of my skincare routine, just because that honestly has always made the biggest difference to me. And I look forward to my skincare routine. It’s definitely not a 12-step routine, but I look forward to using a couple of different products in the morning and before I go to bed. I love Luzern, which is a brand that my facialist turned me onto. I love La Mer products, too. I’ve used them for a while. I’m really into facial mists. I have an aloe mist ($26) I get from Dr. Lancer, my dermatologist in L.A. I love his products, too. I have a rosewater mist. I don’t even know if it does much, but I love the routine of just spraying your face. It feels like you’re at a spa.
If it doesn’t feel good, then what’s the point, you know?
A hundred percent! A hundred percent.
Makeup and photography by Tina Turnbow using Ogee.