Isabella Rossellini, daughter of Italian neorealist film pioneer Roberto Rossellini and legendary Swedish actress Ingrid Bergman, was born to be creative.
As a child living in Rome, she eschewed the daily siesta to daydream of the “full and interesting life I promised myself.” Growing up, Rossellini absorbed her mother’s down-to-earth sense of practicality and her father’s love of fantasy and imagination.
Rossellini moved to New York when she was 19, where she attended Finch College, worked as a translator and a circus ringmaster, and expressed her playful sense of humor on the Italian TV comedy revue The Other Sunday, conducting offbeat interviews with notables like Muhammad Ali and Martin Scorsese. Her credo was simple: “I meet a person who strikes me as intelligent and interesting, and I want to take a trip into their brain.”
Rossellini married Scorsese in 1979—a marriage that last three years—just at the time she emerged as a high-fashion model photographed for British and American Vogue. While she has one of the most beautiful faces in the world, she is modest about her physical attributes and gives much of the credit for her success to photographer-artists Richard Avedon and Bill King, who made her warmth and intelligence radiate from, ultimately, 500 magazine covers around the world. Beginning in 1982 Rossellini served as Lancôme cosmetics exclusive international spokes-model, until the company decided in 1996 that a forty-four-year-old woman was no longer the Lancôme ideal. Rossellini moved on, launching her successful cosmetics line Isabella Rossellini’s Manifesto. Ironically, Rossellini’s daughter Elettra, from Rossellini’s marriage to model-turned-Microsoft-executive Jonathan Wiedmann, is now a face of Lancôme cosmetics.
Rossellini’s ability to project thought and emotion in still photographs led her into an outstanding film career. Over the past thirty-three years she has appeared in sixty-four films and television shows, from White Nights, Cousins, and Fearless to episodes of Alias and 30 Rock. Her iconic role remains the benighted nightclub singer Dorothy Vallens in Blue Velvet (1986) by David Lynch.
Rossellini wrote the memoir Some of Me (1997), Looking at Me (on pictures and photographers) (2002), and In the Name of the Father, the Daughter and the Holy Spirit: Remembering Roberto Rossellini (2006). In the Name of the Father comes with a short film in which she plays Alfred Hitchcock, Federico Fellini, her mother Ingrid Bergman, and her father, who is seen as a large, pillowy, talking tummy.
Through all of her creative expressions, Rossellini embodies her own definition of “true style: the fullest, boldest expression of a self.” Two years ago Rossellini created Green Porno, a series of short films for the Internet about the sex lives of animals, now in its second season on The Sundance Channel. She writes, directs, and performs one-minute shorts in costumes she designs. “I was also fascinated by the infinite, strange, and ‘scandalous’ ways that insects copulate,” says Rossellini. The book Green Porno was published this fall by HarperStudio. It includes 125 film stills of Rossellini in costume along with a narrative text and a DVD of both series.
Rossellini gives time and money to the preservation of her parents’ films and she is a former trustee of George Eastman House and a 1997 George Eastman Award honoree for her support of film preservation. She is involved in various conservation efforts and is a dedicated trainer of Labrador puppies for the blind. Rossellini is working on a B.A. at NYU. She lives outside New York City.
Excerpt from Some of Me (1997)Objects that decorate my house have a history; they aren’t just there to look pretty. There’s the carved Neapolitan market that’s there to make my heart a little melancholy about a city I love but see so seldom.
There are the stones around my sink, all from places meaningful to me. One is from Dannholmen, the little Swedish island my mother used for summer holidays, where she wanted her ashes to be scattered. There’s the volcanic black one from Stromboli, where my parents fell in love and made the film with that title. There’s the San Pietrino from Rome, the cobblestone…that makes me think of my native city and the 1968 movement during which we used to throw such stones at the police. There are the ones picked up by my aunt, Zia Marcella, from the beach at Santa Marinella, where we had our summerhouse, which she used to make a soap dish. There are stones from the holy Ganges to make me think of my Indian relatives.
Next to my bed there are Madonnas, Christs, Vishnus, crucifixes, devils, burning souls, horns, and a Buddha—all there together just in case one works better than the others, and to celebrate coexistence.
There’s the “bee board” that David Lynch made for me, to humor my love for animals, and his “chicken kit” with instructions on how to put back together a butchered chicken like those you buy at the supermarket.
Framed on the wall are the stamps the Italian government issued with an image from the film Open City, which my dad directed. They made me feel we had reached a pinnacle of fame. My dad even got a street named after him.
My mother’s four Oscars are now safely kept in the archive at Wesleyan University in Connecticut, but on my desk, to counterbalance all this success and remind me of another aspect of fame, I keep a little article my mother framed. It was to remind herself not to get upset with the press. The newspaper wrote…“Ingrid Bergman to make a film about Indira Gandhi in Iceland.” She was actually making a film about Golda Meir in Israel. As my mother put it, “They just got the ‘I’ of ‘Iceland’ and ‘Israel’ and the ‘G’ of ‘Golda’ and ‘Gandhi’ right.”
Selected WorkBooks/Short FilmsGreen Porno (short films 2008 and 2009; book 2009)In the Name of the Father, the Daughter and the Holy Spirit: Remembering Roberto Rossellini(2006)My Dad is 100 Years Old (short film, 2005)Looking at Me (on pictures and photographers) (2002)Some of Me (1997)
FilmographyMy Dog Tulip (2008)Infamous (2006)The Saddest Music in the World (2003)Empire (2002)Big Night (1996) Immortal Beloved (1994)Wild at Heart (1990)Zelly and Me (1988) Blue Velvet (1986)A Matter of Time (1976)LinksGreen Porno on the Sundance Channel Newsweek article on Rossellini and Green Porno, September 17, 2009 February 1996 interview with Rossellini after 14 years with Lancôme May 2007 interview with Rossellini about her career and parents Author biography