interview by JANA LETONJA

Australian model and actress Charlee Fraser’s success as a model skyrocketed when she became the first Indigenous Australian model to work with international fashion houses. In 2023, Charlee turned her eye toward acting for the first time, quickly winning significant roles in two major film productions. In December, she starred in the romantic comedy ‘Anyone But You’ and next up, we’ll be able to watch her in Warner Bros’ action ‘Furiosa’, which will release in May.

Charlee, you started your modeling career when you got scouted at 18. How exciting and at the same time challenging were the beginnings?
I feel as though starting anything new can be quite nerveracking. If it’s not something you know much about, there’s so much unknown to explore and unfold, which is ultimately what I think makes something such as modelling both equally exciting and challenging. I also experienced a period of financial hardship that I learnt early on is quite common over the span of many creative industries, but matched with an infinate amount of possibilities, dedication, determination and hard work, there’s nothing quite like reminiscing on the days I may have struggled and welling up with gratitude and appreciation for my journey.

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One season, you got to walk in 40 shows. What was the hardest part of doing so many shows in one season, and would you ever do that again?
The hardest part of doing so many shows in my experience is being able to structure and balance your needs against the demand. The demand for doing shows requires an immense amount of time, attention and energy, both mentally, emotionally and phycially, paired with my personal needs for optimal health and performance, such as sufficient sleep, food, exercise and play, down time, self-care, connection, etc. The difficulty for me at that time lied within maintaining personal needs so that the demand was easily achievable and fulfilling. And with every show season that improved. I was able to understand more of what I needed in a day and what to expect. With experience, structures naturally formed and slowly more balance was restored. I love doing shows and with everything I now know, I would definitely do it again.

The historic moment in your modeling career came when you became the first Indigenous Australian model to work with international fashion houses. How proud were you of that moment and how proud are you of your roots?
I find it wasn’t necessarily a moment, but something that was achieved over time and also not something I was deeply aware of until later on in my career. When I first moved to New York in 2016 and began my international career, it didn’t occur to me that some of what I was accomplishing at the time hadn’t been achieved before by other Indigenous talent. It wasn’t until I returned to Australia at the beginning of the pandemic and became ambassador for First Nations Fashion + Design (FNFD) that I learnt more about the history of Indigenous models and who came before me. Upon knowing that, I felt and continue to feel deeply honored to have followed the path of my predecessors and continued to pave the way for others.

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earrings PDPAOLA

In 2020, you moved back to Australia, where you became the ambassador for First Nations Fashion + Design (FNFD), a not-profit organization that aims to build an ecology of Indigenous artists and talent within the fashion industry. How important are the efforts of FNFD around Indigenous artists and talent’s representation in the industry?
I originally met the founder of FNFD, Grace Lillian-Lee, during the Darwin Aboriginal Art Fair in 2019. At the time, I wasn’t able to take on a role such as ambassador, but felt completely aligned with the organisation’s values and vision. I was incredibly inspired and excited to jump onboard in 2020, once settling back down in Australia. The programs and events we began discussing and actioning hadn’t been done before within the fashion industry to the same degree. Once the realisation set in that Indigenous talent hadn’t been recognised or represented equally or at all and learning that the height of my journey in fashion was relatively new to my culture, I immediately felt an innate sense to be a defining factor in that change through the arms of FNFD. We have since made history in the collective space of Indigenous Australian fashion, art and culture, and will continue to support and build Indigenous creatives into the fashion industry.

What is your advice for up and coming Indigenous talents, not only in the fashion industry, but in any artistic career?

You have the power and the ability to walk in two worlds. You can achieve your wildest dreams whilst carrying your culture with you. Think big and know that you are supported by your ancestors here at FNFD and by me to follow what calls you. Your journey doesn’t have to be one or the other, it can be both. With your feet grounded firmly into the earth and your heart open, know that you deserve to be exactly where you want to go.

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earrings PDPAOLA
shoes BYFAR
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You are also the co-founder of Clearly Music, Arts & Wellness Festival, a unique annual event focusing on wellness, community and inclusion. The inaugural Clearly festival was held last November in Kiama, New South Wales. Tell us more about the festival, its purpose and your role in it.
I feel so lucky to be a part of Clearly. Founded by my good friend Dominic Furber, who has had a long-standing career in the music industry having managed artists, built production companies and developed other festivals previously, it was his dream to return the investment to his hometown of Kiama. His words were so inspiring and upon being offered a seat at the table as co-founder, it very quickly became my dream too. I was lucky enough to be able to explore what part of the festival interested me most and of course, my heart sang at the sound of nature and sustainability became something I wanted to invest in and understand in this space. I work on building sustainable structures and practises into the core foundation of the festival so that we can enjoy such an event without so much of a negative environmental impact. In 2023, you also stepped into the acting waters, where you quickly gained some significant roles.

What attracted you to explore a career in acting?
It’s quite whimsical timing. As I was preparing to take a short break from the fashion world, the opportunity arose to audition for my first film. I had nothing to lose and more time on my hands to explore and so into the deep end I dove headfirst. My time away from modeling quickly became filled with film and I fast fell more and more in love with my time as an actor. I soon decided this was something I wanted to fulfill.

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In December, we got to see you in your on screen debut, in the romantic comedy ‘Anyone But You’. How exciting was landing a role in such a film, and alongside such cast, as your debut?
Words cannot describe how grateful I am for the opportunity and experience of ‘Anyone But You’. Shooting with Will Gluck, who directed so many of my absolute favourite films growing up, was a dream come true. I can’t believe I’m now a part of his filmography. The cast became like family. We had so much fun together and I miss them all the time. I grew as an actor and made so many connections. When I first read Margaret’s summary, I didn’t feel deeply connected to her character, but as I studied the script and developed a relationship to her story throughout the audition process, I quicky became very attached. She felt hugely important to me and I really cared about her, so upon landing the role, apart from being excited, I already felt intertwined with her presence and energy.

What are your biggest career goals for the future?
My goals and aspirations grow exceptionally day by day. I’m a big thinker. As of now, I want to seriously develop my skills in acting and continuously work on my instrument. In acting, that’s your body. I’d love to see myself as the voice of an animated character and a ‘Bond’ girl, and in a Baz Luhrmann film, as well as so many other things. I’ve set the bar high, so best I start climbing.

What can you share with us about your upcoming projects for 2024?
I have my second film set to release in May, so keep your eyes peeled. Clearly Festival will return for the second year, FNFD have some big and exciting announcements on the way and I’ve recently started roller skating, so hopefully you’ll see me cruising around in the next big role I’ve been manifesting for myself.

bracelet PDPAOLA
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photography JUANKR
styling assistant NOCA & ELISA SANZ
interview JANA LETONJA