In Conversation: Isabella Rossellini

“When you’re an old lady like me,” says Isabella Rossellini, self-deprecating at 65, “you just do what you want.” So on a spring afternoon in a conference room at Vulture’s Manhattan offices, she takes a carton of eggs out of her handbag. “Look at the beauty,” she marvels. “Different shapes, different sizes. How does the supermarket make eggs all the same and boring?” She laughs, as she often does. “Do they make the chickens’ assholes uniform?”

As odd a pairing as they may be, chickens and beauty are two of the actress and model’s main preoccupations these days. Her charming new book, My Chickens and I, details her poultry-raising efforts on her Long Island farm (that’s where the eggs came from). And just this year, Rossellini returned after a 22-year absence as one of the faces of Lancôme. Animals and natural splendor also factor into Link Link Circus, the “theatrical lecture” that the Italian native, currently working toward a master’s degree in animal behavior and conservation at Hunter College, will perform at Manhattan’s Baryshnikov Arts Center in May. “When I look at my life now,” she says, “I’m glad to know that I’m in control. It wasn’t always this way.”

I know you’re always studying, but what’s the most fascinating thing you’ve learned recently?
So much! Menno Schilthuizen, who I’ll be with in discussion tonight at the New York Public Library, he talks about mosquitoes in the subways of London. The ones that live underground are their own species, and they have created different populations from station to station. They don’t travel on the trains; they remain at their own stations. And the ones that live in stations that are outside reproduce during the spring like most animals, but because they are in the dark, the ones that live in the underground stations reproduce all the time. They’ve lost their reproductive cycles. This evolution is interesting, isn’t it?

Evolution is a subject you often touch on in your shows, Link Link Circus included. Do you think your work would be received differently by audiences who might not believe in the science on which it’s based?
I’ve asked myself that question. The research about how many Americans don’t believe in evolution is very surprising. In Europe, everyone takes it as fact. Even the pope recognizes evolution. In America, you have the fundamentalists, in Europe we don’t. It’s amazing to me that people can dispute these things. Medicine is based on evolution. We change the flu vaccine every year because bugs evolve! So I don’t know. I’m sure I won’t get invited to perform by any churches that teach creationism.

Have you ever tried to learn about yourself in the systematic way you’re learning about animals?
It’s not the same, but in the ’70s in Italy, I was very much part of the feminist movement, and at that time in the country divorce was difficult, we didn’t have abortion, we didn’t have contraceptives. But what we did have is what was called a piccolo gruppo: a small group. A consciousness-raising group I think it’s called in America. It was unbelievably powerful. It was a group of maybe five or six women and it was a feminist practice. Anything you said there would remain a secret, so you would say everything, you would confess everything, and you could see the commonality of problems. For example, back then people never talked about what the vagina looked like. There were no images of vaginas. You couldn’t just find vaginas on the internet like you can now.

Yeah, that’s not really a problem anymore.
Do you remember there was a period when all these penises and vaginas would just show up in your email? You’d open an email you thought was from your children: Why have my children emailed me a huge erection? Somehow that stopped — so why can they not stop the Russian hacking? [Laughs.] Anyway, I was too shy as a teenager to even ask my parents about sexual things. My mom talked about it a little because she was Swedish.

Do you remember what she said?
I thought it was a stork that brought children. I couldn’t believe the rumor that a man has to penetrate a woman. I thought, My mom didn’t do that. That’s impossible. But she admitted to it, and she drew it for me.

Ingrid Bergman drew the birds and the bees for you?
My mom drew little stick figures and showed me.

That’s fantastic.
This was a mama trying to explain this subject to her child. You’re trivializing it because that’s what journalists do.

That’s not what I do, but I’m sorry if I came off that way.
Okay, I know. I am sensitive to this because people always say, “I cannot imagine Ingrid Bergman changing diapers. I cannot imagine Ingrid Bergman washing the dishes.” This was my mother!

I apologize. I didn’t mean to be glib.
It’s okay. But my point is that the piccolo gruppo was a safe place to ask about these things. Because you wonder, Am I normal? Am I deformed? It was very special to address these doubts and torments with a small group instead of on social media or something. I don’t find that as safe. I want to tell you another interesting thing.

Years ago, in Lancôme’s marketing research, they asked people to describe my home and if I was married or not and if I had children or not. The results were amazingly accurate. People correctly assumed that I was married and had children. They even asked people to describe how they thought my house was furnished, and people said, “European-style with white sofas.” I’ve always had white sofas! Maybe people just think I look European, but we can read so much from faces. There was even a model I know who was not very happy modeling, and when they did marketing research on her, the people said, “She’s just doing the job for the money. She doesn’t really like it.” How could people read this in her face? But they could.

Is it a stretch to suggest a link between your old interest in Lancôme’s marketing research and your newer interest in studying animal behavior?
Of course there is a connection — also with acting. Animals, like people, emanate a lot of communication. So as an actress, for example, it’s not really what I say but how I say a line that gives it meaning. I can say “I love you” and mean “I hate you,” and I can say “I hate you” and mean “I love you.” And sometimes I’ll read studies about the quack of an animal: Does quack mean something different from queek? But I think if the animal is like us, quack and queek could mean so many things.

Let me ask you something: Is it fair to say that looking at animal behavior to suggest broader ways of interpreting human behavior is the implicit theme of Green Porno, Mammas, and Seduce Me?

But humans have civilized ourselves. We’re not wild animals. So ultimately, how useful is it to make connections between human behavior and animal behavior?
I understand what you’re asking. Let me explain: Mammas was based on studies done by feminist biologists, and one of them is Marlene Zuk. I asked her to be my consultant on the series. She was very alarmed at the idea that nobody had studied the “maternal instinct” but still everybody believes it exists.

And also uses it as a way of understanding motherhood.
That’s right. So Marlene would ask people, “How does the maternal instinct demonstrate itself?” And across the board, people thought that the maternal instinct means mothers are ready to do anything for their babies. So Marlene thought, Wow, if the definition of femininity is that we’re ready to sacrifice ourselves for others, we are fucked. If the nature of motherhood is that we are biologically determined to serve, then how can we women say, “No, I want it all.” Marlene was very disturbed by this, and started to look at all females in nature to see if, indeed, all mamas are ready to sacrifice. She didn’t find it. The maternal instinct as characterized as “females ready to sacrifice themselves for their babies” is incorrect. I think this is a useful thing for people to know, isn’t it?

This is a question based on what I think is maybe a specious argument about human instincts, but what do you think about the idea that’s been put out there, in response to #MeToo, that if we’re going to fully reckon with harmful male sexual behavior, we have to recognize that the male sex drive can be inherently brutal? Does that argument hold any water? Something about it feels like a cop-out to me.
David, it’s going to be very difficult to understand the essence of female or male behavior. But it doesn’t mean that because you can never find the answer you don’t ask the question. I remember when I was a little girl in Italy — not so little, a teenager — men on the street would say, “I like your tits!” It was vulgar, it was normal, and it was done for different reasons. Maybe nature is one of those reasons but that’s not an excuse.

That crap always has the whiff of men performing for other men, doesn’t it?
They’re doing it for other men, but also, in Italy, men thought deep down that women wanted it. Yes, they thought women were a little bit annoyed, but at the end they believe we went home and said, “Well, he noticed me.” It’s so complicated. I’m happy that we are talking about these issues because all women have been harassed, but it was never discussed before. We just lived with it. Even if you didn’t have anything violent happen to you, there was always a way for a man to belittle you. This is changing, I think. Men have to see they can’t behave in these ways.

I have what is maybe an impertinent question, and please just tell me if you don’t want to talk about it. But when I was doing my research about you in preparation for this interview, it struck me that, as far as I can tell, you’ve only ever referred to your own history with sexual violence once — in a single sentence in your memoir, almost in passing.
This is a difficult subject, but yes, you can ask.

I couldn’t help but wonder if the way that, in the wake of #MeToo, some women have found a degree of empowerment and solidarity in going public about their personal trauma has made you think that the value of sharing those experiences is more attainable than it was when your memoir was published two decades ago.
I do understand the value for some people to talk about their experiences, but for me, there is no value. The person that raped me — I was 15 or 16, he was a year older than I, why would I dig out this story 48 years later? What if people start to say, “No, you have to say the person’s name?” I don’t know what happened to him. He might be married. He might have children. I am a superstar in Italy, if I said who did this, I would destroy him. This man hurt me in the context of a culture that we are all trying to change. I don’t think that pinpointing one person and destroying their life because they made a sin in the context of that culture — I don’t have the heart for it.

What culture do you mean specifically?
In machista Italy, a lot of men are told that if women say no, they mean yes. So date rape is sadly something that happens to a lot of women. You go out with a boy that you like and you’re not ready to go to bed with them, but they read no as yes. But it’s a complicated thing, and I don’t want to discuss it further. With this subject, you can get into a storm you don’t want to get into.

I understand.
Yes, for me, the interesting thing is how the #MeToo movement has shown us all the subtle ways women can be diminished. Rape is a way of being hurt that everyone can recognize. There are other ways. It could be your boss saying, “I like your skirt on you.” It’s a compliment, but it makes you feel diminished. It’s like when people say to me, “You look so good for your age.” To hear other women express their stories and to show how devious some men can be — that is what has been so helpful to see.

Is it destabilizing when the subjects of those stories are men you know? I’m thinking of Bruce Weber and Mario Batali.
And also Mario Testino and my neighbor, Charlie Rose. It is difficult. Bruce Weber and I worked for 40 years together. My children worked with him. What can I say? I never experienced that aspect of him. I’m not denying it happened. Of course it might have happened. The situation is very sad. The work Bruce did for Calvin Klein — it was the first time many people were seeing gay men being beautiful and attractive in advertisements. Bruce made a contribution, and it’s sad if no one will remember this. But I’m grateful that people who were victimized are speaking up because that is the only way to correct things. The important thing is for people to be healed.

How far have the sexual politics of Hollywood come in the time since your mother was blacklisted?
The balance was off. My mother committed adultery. She did wrong, but she was not allowed to come back to this country for eight years. She lost her income. She lost her reputation. She was considered evil. She was responsible for what she did — adultery hurts people — but the punishment didn’t fit the crime. I don’t know. These issues are too hot.

It’s amazing how high the stakes of every political conversation feel right now, isn’t it? It doesn’t matter if you’re talking about sexual politics or President Trump — or both.
It was funny, I asked a friend of mine who is from South America, “What do people [in South America] think of Trump?” She said, “Oh, we love him because he is like our corrupt politicians.”

They recognize him.
They understand the nepotism.

Have you met Trump?
Once. It was in New York years ago. I was invited to a dinner at Tavern on the Green, and I was like, “What? You sit me next to Trump?” I mean, more recently I was surprised that some of my European friends thought of him as, I don’t know, like Steve Jobs or Bill Gates. I said, “No, no. He’s not like them. Even in New York he was considered not on the same level as those guys. He built buildings that weren’t very good. They’re not the top of luxury.” So anyway, I was at this dinner, I don’t remember the occasion, and I was sitting next to him. My mama always said that when you are sitting at the table, you should speak a little bit to the person on the right, speak a little to the person on the left — he did that to perfection for about ten minutes and then went to go work the room. I thought he was going to be obnoxious, but he was very courteous. It was a surprise.

A minute ago, you mentioned how it can be hurtful when people say, “You look good for your age.” But what are some things that you’ve been surprised to find that you like about getting older?    
The most pleasantly surprising thing about getting older — I’m not saying it’s the same for everybody — is that thanks to Lancôme and a lot of other accounts, I’m financially secure in my old age, so I can study and do my shows and my books. I follow only what I’m interested in, and I want to share my wonderment and my amusement. Can I tell you, today I’m talking at the New York Public Library, and I had to give a one-sentence biography for them to use. It is a good idea, isn’t it?

To sum up who you are so briefly?
Yes, I thought about it and I’m very proud to have come up with my sentence.

What is it?
Curiosity is my engine, but laughter is my fuel. That’s pretty good, no?

It is!
I’m very pleased with my life because my other career was based on beauty, something I didn’t have control of. “You think I’m beautiful? You’ll pay me for this? Oh, thank you very much. How long will it last?” Then it becomes, “Oh, now you’re old, get out of here.” You are at the mercy of others.

Just yesterday, I was reading a piece about what it’s like to go through life as a beautiful woman, and it made me curious about the ways in which you think being beautiful has, underneath the surface, affected what makes you you.
So you have to define beauty for me to answer that question, and if you ask different people, they will give you different answers. But for women who have been a sexual object, like myself, beauty often has been an instrument for work. I recently read about a documentary made by the French actress Delphine Seyrig called Be Pretty and Shut Up. She asked actresses if they had any regrets, and the most interesting answers were from the successful older women because they said, “I really wanted to be a director. Of course, I never knew how to get there.” Directing was precluded to women, so the only job you could have to tell a story in film was to be an actress. That was also true for me.

But that answer is about beauty as it relates to work. Put work aside. How do you think being famously beautiful affected your being-in-the-world?
I wasn’t looking in the mirror every day like the queen in Snow White: “Mirror, mirror, on the wall …”

This doesn’t apply to you at all, but I have to admit I’m thinking of the episode of 30 Rock where Jon Hamm’s character doesn’t get that people are so nice to him because of how handsome he is. Do you think there’s any unintentional distortion that happens?
[Laughs.] I never looked at myself and thought, I am so beautiful. I don’t think that any model or actress looks at themselves and says how beautiful they are. Instead, we just say how lucky we are that some people think we are beautiful and that being considered beautiful can open so many doors. That’s what I mean about beauty as an instrument. But I’m not a sociologist of myself, so I cannot make a scientific study and say, “Men react this way to me; women react that way to me.” But the question of why would my face sell? This was interesting to me.

You mean trying to figure out the psychology behind your modeling success?
Yes. I’m interested in the kind of research advertisers do to try to understand that mystery. I was on the cover of Vogue 23 times. Once, I had four covers in a row. I asked them why they did that and they said, “Because you sell copies of the magazine.” Of course, they don’t have a clue why I sold copies. Lancôme only had a little better idea. Their marketing research showed that I was not intimidating to women. There is a beauty that seems to attract more women than men and that is what I had. And you know, when I began modeling, the only responsibility was to be beautiful — and anonymous. I was married [to Martin Scorsese] at the time I started, in the early ’80s, and I had to remove my wedding ring in pictures because models weren’t supposed to have an identity beyond the photograph. You were the element for people to complete their fantasy of an ideal woman. I knew I was not an ideal woman, but I suggested something that allowed people to complete their fantasies.

I read a quote you gave once where, in response to a question about how you’d like to be remembered, you said you’d prefer to be forgotten. Why is that?
I’m always surprised by this question of Americans: How would you like to be remembered? I don’t understand it. We’re destined to be forgotten.

Given that they once fired you for getting older, were you ambivalent about working with Lancôme again?
I was gone for 22 years. Twenty-two years! So when they called me, I was very surprised. But I had a question: They used to say to me that a woman’s dream is to be younger, which is to condemn yourself to disappointment. But now I’m older and the company is asking about me again? What happened to the women’s dream? But Françoise Lehmann, the CEO, a woman in her 40s, said to me, “There are other dreams now. I want to be inclusive. I’m a woman. I’m getting older and I don’t count anymore. I can’t accept that.” This made sense to me. Thirty years ago, I had been wondering if my communication with a cosmetics company would be different if the executives were women. Now I saw that it was. And, also, this career, the one I have now, it’s mine. When you’re young, you have to please your parents, please the professor, please the economy. When you’re old, you have the courage to say what you want. Do you know what?

Yesterday somebody invited me to a big fashion party, and I was able to answer, “I’m very touched that you invited me, but I’m so tired of going to these parties. I have to say no.” It was as simple as that. You have to be in your 60s to be able to answer like this. Before I would have said, “Oh, I broke a leg. I can’t go.”

That reminds me: In your memoir, you talk about your habit of what you call coloratura — telling colorful, harmless lies.
Nowadays it’s really difficult to use coloratura, isn’t it? Because Trump does it so much. But coloratura is not really a lie. It’s the imagination spilling over. You know, Isabel Allende is one of my favorite writers. She started as a journalist and she was going to interview Neruda, but he said he would give an interview only if he could read it back before it was published. So she wrote the interview, sent it to him, and Neruda said, “You should be a novelist because you just wrote your fantasy of what happened.” Coloratura is a little bit like this.

I know you were a journalist very early in your career. Did that work inform what you did after?
I wasn’t really a journalist journalist. I’d come to America and I didn’t know English very well. So I took some courses to learn and eventually was hired by an Italian journalist. His name was Gianni Minà, he was like the Howard Cosell of Italy, and he needed an assistant for his segments in America because he didn’t speak any English. I worked for him for three years. I covered all the Muhammad Ali fights. It was the best job you could do. I learned problem-solving, research. I would also do skits with a comedian named Renzo Arbore, who was then offered his own show. So I went to work with him, doing little funny stories from America. One of them was a very light interview with Martin Scorsese. That’s how I met Marty. We were talking about The Last Waltz and rock and roll, which was not something that was normally covered by the Italian news 40 years ago.

I’ve never actually heard you tell the full story of how you met Scorsese.
So what happened was, I always wanted to see the interview subject’s films or read their books before I did the interview. But somehow I didn’t see The Last Waltz before I had to interview Marty. I went to the interview and told him the truth: “There was a mess-up and I’m gonna see the film tomorrow, but I have the interview today.” And he said, “Oh, you want to see it tonight?” So we did the interview and then went to a screening, and he’s a big film buff, so he would be saying, “I did the tracking of the camera like that because of John Ford.” Then he would see my eyes glaze over and he’d say, “You didn’t see that film of John Ford? You have to see that film of John Ford. I’ll do a screening for you. Come see it.” That’s how we started. I think he liked me.

I think so, too.
Yeah, but it wasn’t “You can grab ‘em by the pussy” like the president! [Laughs.] Marty was so fascinating talking about film. I liked it very much.

Martin Scorsese and David Lynch are so different as directors. Do you see commonalities between them that other people might not?
Only that they have original brains. Originality amuses me, and originality is familiar to me because of my father. It makes me feel immediately like, Oh yeah, I’ll help you. What do you want me to do? If someone has an interesting brain, to go with them is an interesting ride. Also, my mom used to say that she didn’t choose acting, acting chose her — it was a calling. David and Marty have a calling. They have to do what they do.

Do you have a calling?
I didn’t think I had it, but now as an old lady I do.

You’re not that old!
[Laughs.] No, I know. But for a long time I saw myself as a person who makes herself available for someone else’s art. If David Lynch was trying to capture a mood in Blue Velvet or Wild at Heart, I would embody it for him. Many times, an artist may not know exactly what they want until they see it. So you help them find it. You play it more dramatic, more comical, as if you don’t realize something horrible is happening. It’s like water, water, water. Fire! Fire! Fire! Is that what you say?

I think people say hot or cold, but I know what you mean.
Hot or cold, yes! Hot or cold, hot or cold, and when you play that game with artists, you also get to follow their thoughts and their creativity. I always saw myself as that person — I would make myself available for the art of others.

Was it satisfying to be a conduit for other artists?
That’s part of being an actor. In Italian, an “actor” is also the word for an interpreter. I like to work with directors who have a strong signature and try to adhere to their vision. Also, maybe because I come from Europe, I like when the directors are auteurs. It might be less enjoyable if I were doing big commercial films where the vision is less personal. But those are not the movies I’ve usually done.

Are you generally happy with the acting roles you’ve gotten to play? I know you like comedy, and aside from things like Cousins and Death Becomes Her, it’s not something you’ve been able to do much of.
It’s true. Earlier in my career, because I had an accent, I was made to play the mysterious beautiful woman. That role is hard to play — it’s a projection of who other characters see. What do I do with that? How do you act mysterious? But I’m doing lots of very good work now that I love.

What’s a piece of advice you’ve gotten about acting that’s stayed with you?
Bob Wilson was going to direct me in The Days Before, which was based on a book by Umberto Eco. I went to Bob and said, “I’ve always wanted to work with you, you know this, but I haven’t understood the script, and I’ve read the book twice and I don’t understand that.” He said, “Me neither.” I said, “You don’t understand it? How do you direct it?” And he said, “If I understand it, why would I do it? I do the things I don’t understand.” I immediately understood what he meant. Trying to understand is to me the most wonderful part of being an actress.

Wait — you didn’t tell me what your true calling is.
To me the calling is about animals. I wanted to do it my whole life, but then modeling started, acting started, and I didn’t do it. Now I do. It’s funny, when I was a little girl and had my little dog and it seemed that we understood each other so well, I was asking questions about how much animals think and feel emotion. I’m still asking.

They’re questions without easy answers.
Yes, I know that I will die without knowing the answers to my questions. But I study not just to know answers but also out of curiosity and laughter.

Speaking of which, the way you deliver the line “Ejaculate on my wound!” — it’s so funny.
[Laughs.] The bedbug, yes. The male has a penis that can penetrate everywhere, and the female has this blood system — it’s not blood, but like it — that carries the sperm to the ovary. Can you imagine this evolution? Fantastic.

Is there a lesson there?
You don’t need a vagina — bedbugs, not people. People need vaginas!

This interview has been edited and condensed from two conversations.

Annotations by Matt Stieb.

A Dutch evolutionary biologist, Schilthuizen has studied the evolution of genitalia in Nature’s Nether Regions, and evolutionary adaptations in the city in Darwin Comes to Town. Divorce became legal in Italy in 1970, but was almost removed from law in a 1974 referendum. Abortion during the first trimester became legal in 1978. The pill first came to Italy in 1964, but wasn’t widely available until the late ‘70s. And on top of all the legal difficulties, women also had Italy’s Catholic cultural traditions to contend with. Ingrid Bergman, the three-time Oscar-winning Swedish actress who starred in Casablanca and Hitchcock’s Notorious. Isabella’s father was Italian director Roberto Rossellini, the Italian neorealist known for Rome, Open City, and Stromboli, which starred Bergman. Her twin, Isotta, is a professor of Italian literature. Her half-brother Renzo is an Italian director, and her half-sister Pia Lindström, is a Swedish TV journalist. In 1982, Rossellini became the exclusive spokesmodel for the perfume and cosmetics company. In 1996, at the age of 43, she was fired from the role for being “too old.” From ’99 to ’03, she ran Manifesto, an inclusive makeup line with products that could be used in several ways — multipurpose eye shadow, blush, and lipstick — with models ranging from 14 to 67. Twenty years after her firing, with Lancôme’s first female general manager Françoise Lehmann at the helm, Rossellini was rehired as a global brand ambassador; in 2018, she will begin to appear in ads again. Green Porno was a 2008 Sundance Channel mini-series on the sexual behavior of animals.
Seduce Me was a 2010 short series with puppets about Earth’s seduction rituals. Mammas was a 2013 short describing the difference in maternal instincts among species. All directed and written by Rossellini, who frequently appears in them dressed in charmingly homemade costumes, some of these funny, absurd shorts went viral.
Some of Me, Rossellini’s 1997 memoir, discusses her relationships with her famous parents and partners, and her work with Avedon, Weber, and Lynch. A word for male chauvinist, machista is a culture of gaslighting, objectification, and double standards — a performative, Mediterranean riff on the global treatment of men toward women. In Italy, it played out on TV when the former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi told an opposition politician, Rosy Bindi, “You are increasingly more beautiful than you are intelligent,” or when the host of the Campiello literary award ceremony asked the cameraman to zoom in to the low-cut dress of the 2010 winner, Michela Murgia. In January, the New York Times revealed that photographer Bruce Weber had allegedly sexually harassed male models and assistants. In December 2017, Eater reported that four women had accused chef and restaurateur Mario Batali of sexual harassment, and that he created a work environment of harassment and bullying. Batali was forced to step down from his restaurant empire, and fashion publishers — including Condé Nast — ceased working with Weber. In the same Times article that dealt with the allegations against Weber, similar accusations were made against photographer Testino. Publishers quickly ceased working with him, too. In November 2017, eight women who worked for Charlie Rose told the Washington Post that the CBS and PBS host had sexually harassed them, including groping and walking in front of them naked. Within hours of the Post report, PBS, CBS, and Bloomberg LP had fired Rose. Beginning in the 1980s, Weber photographed men as the object of desire, a rare reversal of the sexual gaze in print media that helped open avenues for gay male representation in glossy magazines. Ingrid Bergman was married to neurosurgeon Petter Lindström for 13 years before she met Roberto Rossellini while shooting the 1950 film Stromboli. Hollywood was outraged by Bergman’s affair and subsequent marriage to Rossellini, blacklisting her for six years until Anastasia, for which she won her second Oscar. For the majority of her remaining career, she turned to Europe: She would work with American studios, but did not film in Hollywood again until 1969. Directed by the Lebanese-born French New Wave star Delphine Seyrig, the 1981 documentary is a stark, black-and-white series of interviews with two dozen French and American actresses — Maria Schneider, Jane Fonda, and Shirley MacLaine included — on their experiences of misogyny and belittlement in the film industry. In her own 30 Rock cameo, Rossellini played Bianca, the aristocratic ex-wife of NBC CEO Jack Donaghy, played by Alec Baldwin. While dividing their assets, Jack demands custody of their Arby’s franchise outside of Telluride. Rossellini is broken. “Damn it Johnny, you know I love my Big Beef and Cheddar.” Her comparatively late start as a model at 28 in 1980 was the beginning of a prolific decade, one in which she worked with Richard Avedon, Robert Mapplethorpe, Helmut Newton, and Annie Leibovitz, and was featured on the covers of Harper’s Bazaar, Vanity Fair, Marie Claire, and Elle. In 1988, the Musee d’Art Moderne held an exhibition of photographs taken of Rossellini, called “Portrait of a Woman.” Rossellini was married to the director from 1979 to 1982. From 1983 to 1986, she was married to model Jonathan Wiedemann, with whom she had a daughter, Elettra, in 1983. (She also has an adopted son, Roberto, who was born in 1993.) From 1986 to 1991, she dated David Lynch, and from 1994 to 1996, she dated Gary Oldman. In Blue Velvet, Lynch’s classic 1986 psychosexual fever dream, Rossellini played Dorothy Vallens, the bruised cabaret singer who is forced into sex by the sadistic Frank Booth (Dennis Hopper). Rossellini also played a short role in Lynch’s 1990 film Wild at Heart as Perdita Durango, a blonde-wigged, unibrowed friend of Sailor Ripley (Nicolas Cage). The 76-year-old theater director Robert Wilson’s noted works include Einstein on the Beach, a four-act opera written with Philip Glass, and the CIVIL warS, a daylong opera with music by Glass and David Byrne, designed to soundtrack the 1984 Olympics — it has never been performed in its entirety. Rossellini sat for Wilson’s 2005 series of video portraits of famous actors; hers features Rossellini with neon hair in an Alice in Wonderland dress. She also acted in his adaptation of author Umberto Eco’s The Island of the Day Before. “Ejaculate on my wound,” said Rossellini in Green Porno, describing the reproduction of bedbugs. “The sperm will travel on their own to my ovaries.”
Isabella Rossellini on #MeToo and the Good Parts of Aging