By Reuben Stojanovic-Rowe

Behind every icon is a source of inspiration. For both the Spanish surrealist artist Salvador Dali and Australian trans model/actress Andreja Pejic, this would be Amanda Lear. Starting out as a fashion model in the mid-1960s, Lear was a close friend to Dali, becoming his muse in the latter stages of his artistic career. For Andreja, it meant taking on a role of someone that she held very closely to her heart.

“It was a wonderful opportunity to step into the shoes of this icon. She meant so much to Dali and to myself, I couldn’t pass it up,” says Andreja.

The Australian fashion model who came out as a trans woman in 2013 and has become a hugely recognisable icon herself, Andreja is expanding her talents into the world of film acting. Having appeared in the 2018 The Girl in the Spider’s Web and the late musical icon David Bowie’s music video The Stars (Are Out Tonight) all the way back in 2013, she now stars alongside Sir Ben Kingsley in Daliland; n opportunity that she didn’t take lightly.

“It can be intimidating working with someone that big, but he (Kingsley) was so nice. He was so incredibly friendly. He made all of us feel really at home and united. It was a pleasure to work with him.”

Daliland is directed by Mary Harron, who first came to attention with 1996’s I Shot Andy Warhol and followed this up with the 2000 cult classic American Psycho starring Christian Bale. Along with television credits, Harron developed an interest in cultural figures such as Bettie Page for her 2005 film The Notorious Bettie Page as well as the notorious Manson Family in the 2018 film Charlie Says. Her latest, Daliland takes on the legacy of the Spanish surrealist who turned the art-scene on its head. One lobster phone at a time.

Daliland is not your typical biopic. Instead of going for a straight-forward run-down of the eccentric artist, this film focuses on the latter stages of his life where he moved to America and embraced his celebrity icon status; something that the art critics of the time did not take lightly. Alongside this, personal troubles brewed with his wife Gala Dali [Barbara Sukowa], who was having extra-marital affairs with dashing, young artists. At the same time, Dali began to grow a great fondness for fashion model Amanda Lear.

“Amanda and Dali were very close,” says Pejic today. “He certainly saw her as a bright light in his life. And Amanda the same to Dali. Which is made clear when you read her book My Life with Dali.”

“They were actually looking for American actresses at first, but I was very fortunate that my management got in contact with Mary Harron and the role was offered to me,” says Pejic.

Heading into production in 2021, a certain pandemic would shut the world down again and dare to take Daliland off-course. Originally planned to shoot in Portugal, COVID made this impossible, but due to a British insurance scheme that was to help the creative industry thrive in these uncertain times, the production moved to the UK to stand in for New York and the Catalan coast in Spain. Despite all these dramas, Andreja Pejic couldn’t have been less worried.

“Being new to this business, it’s hard to know how it all works. Especially in comparison to fashion which I’m more comfortable in. And you know, there are long waits between shoots and takes and it’s very easy to get bored on set.

“We were all really close with each other,” she continues, “which is super important especially during such times as COVID. But we had so much fun on set.”

It certainly feels appropriate for a movie set around the life of the eccentric Salvador Dali to be a place of acceptance, creative collaboration and embracing the wild side. You can be sure it was a requirement then to recreate the excess life of Dali accurately through the staging of elaborate party sequences for the film. One critical component to this was to get the period fashion right, which fell to the wonderful costume design work of Hannah Edwards. Andreja Pejic adored the nostalgic and fun style that the designer brought to the film.

“I love ‘70s fashion. You know, it brings you back to a time which really felt vibrant and free to express yourself. And to be surrounded by the incredibly fashionable people that Dali was connected with, was such an important part to get right for this film.”

According to Pejic, a real inspiration for her was the director herself. “Mary was wonderful, I learnt so much from her. She was so down-to-earth and was so professional. She really helped us push ourselves in making the most authentic film possible.”

Authenticity is very important for the actress, especially when taking on the role of someone who is still alive today such as Amanda Lear. “I really wanted to honour her. And hope she approves of my portrayal of her. She meant so much to me growing up.”

It’s not impossible that Andreja Pejic will stop there either. Since Daliland is set in the later stages of Dali’s life and essentially closes off his story, for Amanda Lear, this was only the beginning of a very fruitful career. “Yeah. It’s funny. Dali was sort of the beginning of her iconic career. She respected him very much and that I think inspired her. There is so much more to tell of Lear. When she became a disco queen. When she transformed into this icon for the LGBTIQA+ community.”

Pejic thinks on it. “To get that opportunity to play her again, would be wonderful. And to tell her story that needs to be told. To inspire generations to come. Yeah, I’d love to be part of that.”

Daliland is in cinemas from July 13, 2023