09/05/1994 at 01:00 AM EDT
I KNOW ALL ABOUT HISTORIES," SNEERS JULIE DANTE, the rhymes-with-witch (in training) on Fox's new Wednesday-night soap Models Inc. "I've got a whole book." Maybe—but the scriptwriters for Aaron Spelling, the show's producer, will have to go some to match the résumé of Kylie Travis, the Australian actress who plays Julie. "My life," she says, "has been varied." That's an understatement: In her 25 years, Travis has been a model—and, briefly, a commodities trader and a horse breeder. Today, besides her acting, she is also a modeling-agency owner. Onscreen, since the show premiered in July, Travis has transformed Julie into the kind of back-stabbing, eye-catching viper perfected by such other Spelling creations as Alexis Carrington (Dynasty's Joan Collins) and Amanda Woodward (Melrose Place's Heather Locklear
)—the kind of character fans talk about the next morning at school or around the office watercooler. "It's astounding," marvels Travis. "Three months ago, I could've gotten run over and no one would've known it, and now it would make the newspaper! But it's really silly to get caught up in believing all of this stuff. I'm an actor, and I'm lucky to have a job. That's it."
Ironically, playing the pouty Julie wasn't Travis's first preference. But Spelling's casting director, Marcia Ross, could see that Travis was perfect for the role. "Why does everyone think I should play the bitch?" Travis whined.
"I told her it would be fun," Ross says now. And Travis has made it so. "Her humor is coming out more and more," she says of her alter ego. "She's got those wheels turning in her mind."
The wheels have been turning for Travis herself since girlhood. Growing up the oldest of four sisters in a tin house in rural Kalgoorlie (pop. 22,000) in southwestern Australia, and raised by a geologist father, Guy, and nurse mother, Lynn, Travis always had an independent streak. She wandered the Australian landscape learning survival training with her family. "Life was very unshackled," she says, wistfully. "We roamed around like nomads."
But it was her feet that got her out from Down Under. As Travis tells it, her break came in Perth when she was 15. One day while on a stroll she accidentally bumped, hard, into a 3-year-old boy, whose father just happened to be a clothing manufacturer. He was so taken by Travis, she says, that he signed her up as a model. "It's something I just fell into," she says.
At 5'7", Travis was too short to be a runway model, but she was a hit in fashion magazines and catalogs. The profession, she says, "is a great way to get around. I took off on my own when I was 16, 17." And modeling was only one of her adventures around the globe. There was that three-month stint trading oil commodities in Manhattan and another, with a boyfriend, breeding horses in Majorca, Spain.
"I wanted to try a bit of everything," she says. "I was looking for my niche." She found it on the stage. Travis studied acting in New York City and performed in London with the Crown Players repertory company. Last year, she says, "I thought, 'If I don't go to L.A. now, I'll never go.' " With few contacts in California, Travis just picked up and moved west. "Always the unknown is scary," she says. "But what are you going to do? Turn around and go home?"
Instead she landed a prime-time series and found an American husband, entrepreneur Jonathan Spanier, 39. The couple met at a dinner party in L.A. and, Travis says, "it was love at first sight." Travis and Spanier live in a four-bedroom house in the Hollywood Hills with their Old English sheepdog, Larry, and co-own a fledgling modeling agency, Models West. When they have a break, they get away to Jackson Hole, Wyo., for skiing and white-water rafting.
But Travis has had to forgo her favorite sport, skydiving, which her Models Inc. contract prohibits. She has made 35 jumps. "It gives you a natural high that lasts for days," she says. "You make decisions about your life and how you want to live it if you come down. We tend to say, I'll do this when..., or I'll be happy when.... The challenge is to learn to live in the moment."
KAREN BRAILSFORD in Los Angeles