Tjelmeland takes on role of Dali in indie film
A Roland native is a key supporting actor in a feature film to be released in theaters nationally and internationally next year. Douglas Tjelmeland, who grew up on a farm outside of town, will play the role of Salvador Dali in the movie “116 MacDougal.”
Now living in Pittsburgh, where the movie is being filmed, Tjelmeland (pronounced Chumaland) has enjoyed a career as a high-end model, actor and photographer, and at age 57 this will be his first role in a feature-length film.
“Salvador Dali is a very challenging character,” Tjelmeland said in a phone interview recently. “He had a bizarre philosophical direction to his life. His personality was truly unique.”
Tjelmeland has studied videos of Dali, including interviews the artist did with Mike Wallace.
“I haven't ever had a character like this,” he said. “Acting is kind of an applied science, and I've been studying Dali as he was in the '50s and '60s so that I can portray him accurately from that time period.
“Basically, I've absorbed the character through research and meditation exercise.”
The movie “116 MacDougal” is based on the world-famous icons who frequented the Gaslight Café in Greenwich Village in the 1950s and '60s.
“John Mitchell, a Pittsburgh native, was driving through Greenwich Village and had a flat tire,” said Lynda Schneider, publicist and one of the producers of the film. “He opened the first coffeehouse there, sold it and decided to open the Gaslight Café. He fought City Hall, fire marshals and the mafia to keep it open. It was a space that allowed artists to hone their craft — artists that went on to change the world.”
Mitchell called the Gaslight's 19- and 20-year-old performers his “Kids” — artists such as Bob Dylan, Noel Paul Stookey of Peter Paul & Mary, Tom Paxton, Dave Van Ronk, Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac, Wavy Gravy (Hugh Romney), Len Chandler and John Brent.
In Mitchell's grimy, dimly-lit, cramped place on unswept floors — where the menu consisted of bad coffee, stale pastry and no booze — the Kids performed for packed audiences every night.
The audience often included Andy Warhol, Marlene Dietrich and the eccentric Salvador Dali, his wife, his mistress and his pet ocelot that had its own chair at the table.
“Douglas is irrepressible as Salvador Dali,” Schneider said. “He's really done an amazing job of becoming his character.”
Audience members at the Gaslight snapped their fingers instead of applauding and it had something to do with the ceiling. Weeks later, finger snapping became an international craze, symbolizing being “hip” and “cool.”
In the film, audiences will see a young Bob Dylan composing “A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall” and “Blowin' In the Wind” in the Gaslight's upstairs poker room that the police insisted was actually a drug den and Beatnik brothel. The movie will also depict how Peter Paul & Mary form one of the most famous singing trios in history.
But the movie is about more than music. It's about the turbulent times of the '50s and '60s — civil rights movements for race, gender and sexual orientations, the imminent threat of nuclear war, the growth of Russian power, police misconduct, the infiltration of organized crime, and rampant conspiracy theories.
“This film reminds and inspires us that we can survive and gain strength even in the most turbulent times,” Schneider said.
She expects the film will be entered in film festivals next year — festivals like Tribeca, Sundance, Cannes and Toronto — and will be released to theaters immediately after the festivals.
“This is not just an independent film — this is an epic independent film,” Schneider said. “The breadth of it is so different from most independent projects.”
The movie has more than 60 speaking roles, 10,000-square feet of space for sets, and musicians of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra performing the score.
“The soundtrack from '116 MacDougal' is going to be amazing,” she said. “It's all falling together absolutely beautifully with a cast that's come together like family” — much like Mitchell and his Kids.
For Tjelmeland, the role as Dali is another interesting step in a life that has taken unexpected turns. The son of Dwayne and Betty Tjelmeland, he is a 1979 graduate of NESCO High School.
“I grew up with horses and sports and activities and chores,” he said. “My life was pretty much: school, chores, sports, study and go to bed. I was also in choir and band.”
He developed a strong work ethic and sense of pride in his family heritage. Working and learning aside his mother and father helped him to nurture a very strong “Heart to the Earth” mentality. His full yearly memberships in FFA and 4-H were great club events with many competitive projects, he said, including photography where he used a Polaroid land camera “when times seemed simpler to shoot images that were much loved by family and friends.” However, he especially enjoyed the Skipper W and Sunny Dee Bar-bred quarter horses, which he broke, trained, bred, showed, judged and taught others to ride. He also loved rodeo.
After high school as a National Honor Society student and first team all-conference basketball player, Tjelmeland continued study at Iowa State University receiving a BS degree in agricultural business. He was a Pi Kappa Alpha fraternity member and was a walk-on on the ISU basketball team as a freshman and became a student manager for Coach Johnny Orr, running summer basketball camps.
After graduating in 1983, ag careers were scarce, so he worked at the adult and adolescent psychiatry unit at Mary Greeley Medical Center as a psychiatric technician and then secured a career with an animal health pharmaceutical company.
In 1989, while attending a pharmaceutical convention, Tjelmeland caught the eye of a Los Angeles-based talent scout. Tjelmeland had some test shots taken and was sent to Milan to model.
“It turned into a magical journey in 1989, but it was a lot of pressure. You either sink or swim, and I got thrown into a tank of sharks in Milan,” he said.
Tjelmeland walked the runways in Milan, Paris, Rome, London and New York for some of the world's best designers. He's best known as one of the faces of Ralph Lauren Polo advertising and promotions, which he did for a decade. He was also featured in major advertising that included Perry Ellis, Corneliani, LaCoste, Valentino, Calvin Klein (as a fit model), PGA, Donna Karen, J. Crew, Brooks Brothers, Mercedes Benz, Volvo, Delta Airlines and Victoria Secrets' line of men's undergarments.
The farm boy-turned-international supermodel has graced the pages of high-fashion publications including American and British GQ, Vogue, American and British Esquire, Harpers Bazaar, Uomo Vogue, FHM, Mondo Uomo and other international and national commercial catalogues.
Tjelmeland rounded out his talent career studying acting in New York City and has kept that craft alive doing many international and national TV commercials and film.
While modeling and acting, Tjelmeland rekindled his youthful passion in photography. He resides in Pittsburgh for his children Welcome, Prosper and Grace and has his 500 Daylight Production Studios there.
For the past 23 years, he has been expressing his vision and also coaching and working with established and aspiring talent.
“It is very exciting coaching, directing and developing one's sense of spontaneity, poise, projection and confidence that creates the finished process,” he said. “I'm inspired by making true creative moments of time, detail and movement from my modeling and acting to my photography combining the boundless elements of environment, light, style and purpose.”
Tjelmeland's goal in “116 MacDougal” is to “create to perfection one of the most complex, paradoxical and fashionable artists of modern culture — Salvador Dali.” Like Dali, Tjelmeland is a combination of disparate experiences, much of which he can pull from to try to understand what it was like to have been Salvador Dali.
The pre-production website for the film can be found at www.116macdougalmovie.com.
Click on the videos below to see some of Tjelmeland's past acting work. The first video is Tjelmeland's demo reel, which is a compilation of some of his work. The second link is a music video for Silencio's song "Black Umbrella," which is a jazz-noir tribute to David Lynch and Angelo Badalamenti. Tjelmeland is the main male character in the music video.