a fabulous conversation
Rebecca Dayan and Pat Cleveland Compare Notes on the Beauty of Life
“I felt like crying,” Pat Cleveland tells Rebecca Dayan over the phone when describing watching the actor bring to life Elsa Peretti, Halston’s muse-turned-prolific jewelry designer. The legendary supermodel from the 60s and 70s, and one of the first Black models to achieve superstardom in the fashion industry—connected with Dayan, the model and actor hailing from the South of France on the occasion of Netflix’s Halston, a limited series detailing the life of the illustrious American designer played by Ewan McGregor. Cleveland, who is played by the model Dilone in the series, had first-hand experience with the trials and tribulations of life with Halston, which is why when she got on the phone with Dayan, they had plenty to talk about. –ERNESTO MACIAS
PAT CLEVELAND: We sound like twins because we laugh and we’re happy to be alive. The stuff you had to go through, goodness gracious I admire you. I’m happy you did what you did. I watched everything you did on Halston. Look, life is so beautiful and life has so many wonderful opportunities. To play Elsa Peretti the way you did, it was really good to see. It was very sensitive and you really studied her movements and her way of carrying herself quietly. I just want to ask you a question. Did you know that she threw that fur coat into the fireplace?
REBECCA DAYAN: Of course I did. It’s such a famous story. But we had to work around that and dramatize it in a different way. So we ended up combining the other fight scenes that they had in the basement of Studio 54.
DAYAN: Were you there when she threw the coat in the fire?
CLEVELAND: Everybody was at that party. He didn’t rip it off of her when they were out in public. It’s just so funny that you had to do all of those things. She was not really very public like Halston. She was shy and you brought that across. I have some questions about you growing up in the South of France; because to me, that’s perfume A La Mode. What was it that brought you into art?
DAYAN: Growing up in the South, being close to the Mediterranean, going to the sea every summer, and the smells. We used to take school trips to Grasse, and the perfume industry is there. Also to glassblowing places because there’s a glassblowing town in the South of France.
CLEVELAND: Are you kidding?
DAYAN: It’s a very artistic area where I grew up. Picasso and Matisse lived there for a really long time. So definitely that was what I grew up around. My parents were inclined with arts and music and all beautiful things.
CLEVELAND: We have similar things in our life. My mother is a painter, my father a jazz musician. There were all these delicious scents of perfume around. Glassblowing as a child!
DAYAN: That was amazing.
CLEVELAND: I also studied art and fashion design. Did you ever think, “Okay, I’m only going to do that,” or was it deep down that you really wanted to be an actress?
DAYAN: I started doing theater when I was a kid and when I was a child always putting up little plays, and also little fashion shows, for my family. I always had a hard time choosing one thing.
CLEVELAND: Let me ask you, are you a Taurus? Because Elsa Peretti was a Taurus.
DAYAN: No, I’m an Aries. Are you a Taurus?
CLEVELAND: No, I’m a Cancerian. Victor was an Aries. Oh boy, he was passionate. It was crazy because you see that in your performance—that brewing of Elsa’s. You can let your fire come out. How long did it take for you to conceive of her inside of yourself? How much time did that take?
DAYAN: Luckily in some way, COVID happened and we had a lot of time in between the moment we started. I had all the time to do even more research on Elsa. Dan [Minahan] the director, was so helpful. He had all these different clippings, interviews, and books about Elsa. I watched a lot of videos of her. I was inspired also by her designs. She was very shy and very private. It seems like what she tried to put forward was more her work rather than herself. So I had to use my imagination, I guess.
CLEVELAND: I guess what you did was you took on her androgynous look. She would wear big pants and big glasses and heavy big shoes. She would wear these boyish clothes. You did put on the big glasses and at some point when you were doing the design scenes and hanging over the desk and looking at things, I felt Elsa came back to life.
DAYAN: That’s the most beautiful compliment you could ever tell me. Thank you.
CLEVELAND: I felt like crying.
DAYAN: Well, it was really helpful to have all the costumes that Jeriana San Juan created. I’m sure you know Billy Beyond. He was helping a lot with the choreography of the show and helping us move how people were moving back then because it’s very different.
CLEVELAND: It was very delicate. It’s like a drop in the room and you could actually hear the models breathing. It was so quiet. It wasn’t like today. Everybody stomps around and very loud music. We had numbers that we carried through those curtains.
DAYAN: It must have been amazing being in the room and watching Halston create and be there during that time. I can’t believe how exciting that must have been.
CLEVELAND: Well, the thing is that when you first meet your friends and you’re at the early stages of your career, nobody really knows you that well. So it’s just a bunch of kids together, I would say he would be the teenager, and we’re all just trying to put on a show like you did when you were a little girl. The funny thing was that after the show, we would think, “Oh my gosh, we did it. We did it.”
DAYAN: That was exactly how it felt being all together with the cast. We really felt like a bunch of kids having fun. And then we were like, “We did it. We made it through.”
CLEVELAND: Playing Elsa, what did you bring away from that for yourself? Do you think this is going to help other women who are creative to see this? How do you feel about that?
DAYAN: I really, really hope so because that’s one thing that I took away from playing Elsa. I knew her work but I didn’t know much about her life or her struggles and what she had to do to get to where she ended up. So bringing that story to people is really important. I think she’s an amazing role model for young women, for creative women in general. I keep saying in a way she didn’t compromise. She abandoned things, left things behind that didn’t help her go forward. She believed in herself and she knew her worth. All those things, I think, are still very important today for women and for everyone. Just don’t compromise, follow-through, stay who you are.
CLEVELAND: That really touches me. I’m glad you had that experience. We learn a lot through TV and film and we always, all of us—the Halston gang always loved movies and there were always a lot of movie stars around. Elizabeth [Taylor], Liza [Minneli]; it was a wonderful time. It was just very bugled, beaded, and shiny. You know from modeling how things can be.
CLEVELAND: You have done other films too, right? Which was your first acting job? I want to know.
DAYAN: I had a very small part in a movie with Bradley Cooper called Limitless.
CLEVELAND: Oh my goodness! Is that the first time you had been on the set in that way?
DAYAN: That was the first time I was on a big set like that and I got to stay an extra day and watch Robert De Niro work, which was pretty amazing for a young actress to just sit there and witness that.
CLEVELAND: Oh my goodness! He’s one of the people who used to hang out with Halston too. He was just sitting on the sofa up at Olympic Tower. Robert De Niro. So you’re acting at Studio 54. Did you actually go there to do it exactly?
DAYAN: They had to recreate Studio 54 inside Hammerstein Ballroom. The production designer is amazing. What he did with the Olympic Tower set was incredible. I’m sure you can tell. Because it was all set.
CLEVELAND: It was great. I thought, “Oh my God! It’s really the Olympic Tower. Can I tell you why we loved Studio 54? Because we could dress up and no one would ruin your clothes. Your clothing was considered your escort. Your best accessory was your dress and everyone would go there to see how well you were dressed.
DAYAN: So I guess that’s why it’s such a mythical place.
CLEVELAND: It was for artists. Sometimes at midnight, they’d have a VIP section behind the curtain, and the moon would come down and the curtain would go up. The VIPs would mix with the people. The regular people. [Laughs] I mean, it was just a blend of all those wonderful people together. It was very exciting. What did you do to celebrate the premiere of the show? Because we’re still in lockdown and there’s still COVID.
DAYAN: Well, Krysta [Rodriguez], who plays Liza, David [Pitt], who plays Joe Eula, and Gian Franco who plays Victor Hugo and I drove up to Provincetown to Dan’s house. We had a little celebration weekend altogether. Ewan couldn’t be there because he’s filming. But it was so nice. We had champagne and oysters and walked on the beach.
CLEVELAND: I love Provincetown. I love it. John Waters has a house there. I was thinking so many things about you and this chance to work with Ewan McGregor. He is one of my favorite actors. He’s so beautiful. He put his foot down in the right direction, like Halston. The way he stood in the black trousers and the turtleneck, he always went into the right pose. His voice, I couldn’t wait to hear him speak.
DAYAN: He was such a dream to work with. He’s so generous and so obviously talented. We all became really close. It’s a combination of the characters that we had to play, and we spent a lot of time before filming, doing things together, dinners as a group.
CLEVELAND: You’ll have that forever. This is maybe the dream job.
DAYAN: Definitely, it was a dream job.
CLEVELAND: So, when you’re not working, what do you do after coming off of such a great work period; how do you go back to yourself after all of that excitement?
DAYAN: I was lucky that I was able to travel a little bit at the beginning of this year. I spent some time in Mexico, so that was a nice way to reward myself after that long year and working on the show and all of that. I’m also preparing some new projects. I produced a documentary that right now, I’m trying to tell that because it’s very dear to my heart. And so that’s what I’m doing right now and writing also.
CLEVELAND: It’s all beautiful. It’s one of my favorite places. We have a lot in common—the modeling, the sketching, and I hear you do watercolors.
DAYAN: I do portraits. Maybe I can do your portrait one day.
CLEVELAND: Well, maybe I can do yours. I also paint in acrylic and I love painting. It’s the thing I do to relax. Do you know what I loved? I loved the way you wore the metal bra. That was my favorite.
DAYAN: That was my favorite costume. That was the best. I wish I could keep that. It was so amazing living with her for so many months. I didn’t really want to let her go. I still don’t really want to let her go.
CLEVELAND: When Elsa and I first got together and were friends on 68th Street, I came into the RTA, wearing a belt that I bought in an antique store. Elsa looked at the belt and it was of an embryo and she said to me, “I’m going to make that.” She said, “I am so inspired. Give me that belt.” Just so inspired, the embryo shapes of some of her jewelry. We went out to Montauk all the time. Did you actually go to Montauk?
DAYAN: We didn’t get to film in the actual Warhol compound.
CLEVELAND: Halston, and Victor and I would be sitting out there baking on the stones in the middle of the day like, “Are we crazy?” But we only had a weekend to get a tan. There was a room called the Martha Graham room, which was next to Halston’s room. I slept in the Martha Graham room. Every morning he’d go out and raise the American flag because, at 6:00 a.m., he’d go out like a boy scout and raise the American flag because he was very patriotic. He loved America.