Getting to Know Rebecca Dayan, the Muse of Ryan Murphy’s Halston

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There are a lot of flashy things about Halston, Netflix’s new limited series that follows the rise and fall of the iconic fashion designer, played by Ewan McGregor. But it’s the life of Halton’s muse, Elsa Peretti, that will leave you the most mesmerized.

Peretti’s legacy deserves its own Ryan Murphy–produced series, in truth. The Italian-born model turned jewelry designer came up with the iconic teardrop-shaped bottle for Halston’s first fragrance and eventually went on to launch her own mega-successful collection with Tiffany & Co. She was so influential in the fashion world that when she passed away earlier this year at the age of 80, Vogue referred to Peretti “the most successful woman ever to work in the jewelry field.”

And then there’s the woman who plays her in Halston: French actor Rebecca Dayan perfectly captured the designer’s ability to say everything there is to say with a look. And when she does speak, it forces everyone to stop what they’re doing and take note. “I think that’s the real definition of a muse,” Dayan tells Glamour from her home in New York’s Lower East Side neighborhood. “It’s not just this ethereal image—it’s the strength that keeps pushing you. I think Halston and Elsa were that for each other.”

Rebecca Dayan actually met Ewan McGregor’s daughter, Clara, before she met her costar. The two have the same modeling agent—and many mutual friends—so they met up for lunch a week before Dayan auditioned for Halston.

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Rebecca Dayan actually met Ewan McGregor’s daughter, Clara, before she met her costar. The two have the same modeling agent—and many mutual friends—so they met up for lunch a week before Dayan auditioned for Halston.
© 2021 Netflix, Inc.

Dayan—pronounced like “Dye-yon”—never got to meet Peretti but nevertheless felt a deep loss when she heard of the designer’s death. “Getting to know her through interpreting her is definitely something that kept me sane through this crazy past year,” Dayan says. “It was very sad for me when she passed. I really wanted to meet her, not even in relation to the show, but because I just think she’s so fantastic.”

Dayan’s own rise to success is just as interesting. Born in the South of France, she acknowledges it was quite magical to be raised so close to the aquamarine waters of the French Riviera. (“Going to swim in the sea with your friends after school was pretty cool,” she tells me.) Even so, she feels most at home in New York City. “I studied art and did theater as a kid, then went into fashion design and modeling in Paris. I had so much hope when I moved to Paris, but things were a little bit difficult,” she says. “New York was the city where I was like, ‘This is it. This is where I want to call home.’ The freedom I felt when I got to New York was something I hadn’t felt in a long time.”

While New York might offer more freedom, Dayan’s about to get a lot more recognizable with the launch of Halston. So what was her audition like? How did she prep for the role? And what magic potion does she swear by for that luminous glow? Get to know Rebecca Dayan better, below, in Glamour’s New Here column.

Glamour: What was your idea of what it meant to be a successful actor when you were a kid?

Rebecca Dayan: I imagined working with people, playing different parts, wearing different types of clothes, getting immersed in different time periods, and working with different directors and actors. I don’t think I had any concept of what the day-to-day would be. That was a surprise.

What do you know now that you wish you’d known then?

The resilience that you have to have, because sometimes you’re not working for long periods of time. Being able to continue to believe in your passion and yourself is always very challenging. It’s hard to have faith when you’re constantly facing rejection.

When asked what she hopes viewers take away after watching Halston, Dayan says: “That you should be careful what you wish for, and you should never compromise. Stay true to yourself.”

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When asked what she hopes viewers take away after watching Halston, Dayan says: “That you should be careful what you wish for, and you should never compromise. Stay true to yourself.”
JOJO WHILDEN/NETFLIX

Which actor or director have you always wanted to work with?

David Lynch. I loved Blue Velvet and Mulholland Drive.

What would we be surprised to know about your audition for Halston?

Originally I was going in for another part, but my manager said, “Wait a minute, there’s this role that I think you’re better for.” That role was Elsa. The role I was supposed to go in for doesn’t exist anymore because there were rewrites, so kudos to my manager for this one.

How did you celebrate when you got the role?

It was December 2019, and I was on a plane from New York to Nicaragua, where I was going to meet my family for Christmas and New Year’s. My manager kept calling me, but I couldn’t answer because I was on the plane, so I found out when I landed. But I was by myself because everyone else didn’t arrive until the next day, so I celebrated at the hotel, sitting by the pool and having a drink by myself. [Laughs.]

How did you most relate to Elsa?

I related to her in a lot of ways, especially with her being from Europe and living in New York. And having to work hard to find my way in something that I love, plus that need of belonging and recognition for your work. And then her personality—that fiery woman who has a strong opinion; plus an interest in art, music, and fashion.

“He’s a very open, very real person,” Dayan says of her costar. “He’s super easy to talk to, and very approachable.”

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“He’s a very open, very real person,” Dayan says of her costar. “He’s super easy to talk to, and very approachable.”
© 2021 Netflix, Inc.

Fill in the blank: “The scene that made me the most nervous and excited was….”

The fight scene with Halston at the beach house. It was the first scene we shot after we got back from the COVID break. Everyone was wearing masks and shields and trying to navigate this new world. I had never been on a job that was interrupted and all of a sudden gets shut down for six months. So there was a lot of anticipation, and I definitely felt a bit scared. But at the same time, it was such an exciting scene to film. We had such a great set. It was the best memory and the scariest memory at the same time.

What helped you most get into character?

I wore a wig. And in the later years, we did some tricks with the makeup. My eyebrows change a lot and got skinnier. I didn’t have any prosthetics, just makeup.

What was your favorite costume to wear?

I love that I got to wear this Tiffany mesh silver bra under a very cool suit that costume designer Jeriana San Juan had custom-made. That’s one of the ones I would have taken home! And I got to wear multiple original Halston looks, which was really nice. I got to wear an original Ultrasuede coat.

What makeup and skin-care products did you rely on while filming?

We were always doing a frosty look on the eyes for Elsa. But on my own, there are a few different products I love, including Vintner’s Daughter. I use their essence and their serum. And my dermatologist, Dr. Macrene Alexiades, has a really great serum that I’ve been using called Macrene actives. And I love Dr. Barbara Sturm’s foaming cleanser.

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If there was a superlative for you on set, it would be:

Most talkative. [Laughs.] Maybe.

What was the most rewarding part of the entire experience?

The friendships that came out of it, specifically with [director] Dan Minahan, the cast, and the producers. That was definitely the most rewarding.

Fill in the blank: “My choice of beverage and snack on set is….”

This chocolate called Honey Mama, a vegan, all-natural chocolate. It’s the best thing in the world. I can eat most of it in a day, no problem. It’s cacao and honey and pretty much nothing else. And I drink hot tea with lemon and honey. Every production assistant now knows that!

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What’s next for you?

I’m focusing on writing, because I developed a feature I’m hoping to get off the ground soon. And I produced a documentary about birth in America that we are trying to find a home for. I got interested in the topic when I saw a documentary called The Business of Being Born, about how childbirth is approached in the United States, because it’s the only country in the developed world where mortality rates are rising. We also started a nonprofit called Mother Lovers to raise awareness. Women’s rights and health care are very important to me.

Finally, when you’re not working, what’s your idea of a perfect day?

Definitely seeing friends, going for a nice, long lunch, and watching a movie.

Jessica Radloff is the West Coast editor at Glamour. You can follow her on Instagram at @jessicaradloff14.

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Originally Appeared on Glamour