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The Avant-Garde Isabella Rossellini


Isabella Rossellini walked into the Nasher Salon gliding with the grace of a ballerina and the confidence of a true Italian-American icon. She speaks with the same loveliness, her beautiful accent (being fluent in Italian and French).
The writer, model, actress, film-maker, mother, twin, and philanthropist graced Dallas last week to speak at the Nasher Salon.
She is known for her intelligence, beauty, style and elegance. She is one of those people who you just know is beautiful on the inside because it radiates from the outside. Her radiance has been seen on the covers of twenty-three Vogue magazines. Modeling was a lucrative job for her; in 1983 she made $9,000 a day. Her style has been influenced by Georgia O’Keefe and Jackie Kennedy Onassis.

Isabella and her daughter Elettra modeling for Lancome

Isabella has been in America since 1979 and is currently living in Long Island, NY. She is the daughter of three-time Oscar-winning actress, Ingrid Bergman and master director, Roberto Rossellini.
Skip Hollandsworth, a journalist for Texas Monthly, had the pleasure of interviewing Isabella at the Nasher Tuesday night to an intimate crowd of two-hundred. Throughout the interview, Isabella would think of many wonderful stories that brought you into her life as if you were sitting at her dinner table. She began each one with “Let-a-me-tell-a-you-a-story!”
My favorite story was the one of her daughter when she was five. She says that when her daughter, Elettra, was little and in school she was being trained to learn her address and phone number. Elettra’s teacher asked her if she got lost in the airport what would she do. Her answer was that she would sit under her mom’s poster. Elettra thought that all around town, there were photos of moms and dads in case kids get lost. She assumed that the world was covered with images of parents, not advertisements.
Her daughter, Elettra is now the spokes model for Lancôme and has her master’s degree in biomedicine.
                                          Isabella and her daughter Elettra and Isabella with her mother Ingrid
Isabella’s parents were divorced when she was two. She grew up in France and Italy. She lived in a separate apartment across the street from her father with her three siblings, the housekeeper’s child and the housekeeper (who she says was a saint). Isabella says of this time that they were four wild kids and she would bring home every stray dog and cat from the street. It seems like Isabella has always lived a bohemian life.
Isabella shared stories from her teenage years and said that for a whole six months she didn’t go to school before her parents figured out she was skipping. She would put on her uniform but then go to the beach. At night she would pretend to go to sleep, and would sneak out and go to night clubs. She admits that she was a terrible teenager and says that if her children had done that she would kill them!
                                                      Isabella's mother Ingrid BergmanGrowing up she suffered from scoliosis. Her mother, Ingrid Bergman, took two years off to take care of Isabella when she had an operation and had to wear a body cast for a year.
Isabella talked about her mother’s passion for acting. She said her mother would say, “I didn’t choose acting, acting chose me.” Isabella said she is grateful to have had the opportunity to have worked with her mom on a movie in 1976, A Matter of Time, in which Isabella made her movie debut in Vincente Minnelli’s film.
At the age of nineteen she came to the United States to work as an American correspondent for an Italian television network and interviewed Martin Scorsese. He fell in love with her and they later married.
She has a joie de vivre; she is always on a curious quest for adventure. She has jumped at any time an opportunity arose to get to know someone that was going to stimulate her mentally. She says it was such a pleasure to be enchanted by Martin for the years they were married (1979-1982).
Isabella says about remembering her mother that the voice is more painful than the image. “The voice is their voice; it takes your breath away.”
She has imaginary conversations with her parents. She says that when you are very close to a person and the person dies, the person is still with you...thinking of them helps keep you company.
Isabella has a love of the avant-garde. She speaks highly of European actors because they disappear into different roles, but a Hollywood star is always the Hollywood star. She mentions how Angelina Joli and Julia Roberts are always the star…their movie is always the adventure of them. Hollywood stars don’t disappear in the role like a European actor. She prefers the avant-garde because it is a release from the financial pressure…it’s more of an experiment…like her bohemian life style.
The biggest problem in her life was reconciling family with work. Work and family were organized at different levels. A woman who has a career eventually pays a price. As she says, “There are consequences with age, so you have to evolve.” She discovered how interconnected life can be and how it naturally evolves as you are open to it.
She spoke earlier on Tuesday to high school students at Booker T. Washington and encouraged them to stay open to new desires and challenges saying that life rarely goes exactly as planned. “As you evolve your career, it never ends.” Fortunately for Isabella, she has always been able to navigate and transition smoothly from one career to the next.
When Skip Hollandsworth asked her, where she is at sixty compared to her mother, her response was that she wishes she had done things earlier…modeling (starting at eighteen instead of twenty-eight), acting (afraid she wasn’t as good as her mom), directing (fifty-six).
Isabella recently bought a farm and says she always wanted to have lots of animals. She bought it on a whim and has become partners with a woman farmer and says she is her kind of girl because she’s organic and plows with horses.
Isabella’s most recent work, a series called GREEN PORNO, seemed to satisfy her thirst for knowledge and love for animals in her curious bohemian way. The series, GREEN PORNO, on the Sundance Channel’s online series explores nature’s sexual habits in a poetic style.
Hollandsworth’s final question was, “if you could be any animal what would you be?” Isabella hesitated answering but then gave the audience the pleasure of an unusual and surprising answer. She began her response by explaining the anatomical specifics of female ducks. Without getting into the graphic detail, her point was that female ducks have something of a trick by which they can chose not to conceive the baby ducklings proposed to be fathered by a male duck (drake) that she does not approve of. I think her point was somewhat feministic; females may have different methods of getting their way that males are not always aware of. Now that’s not so far off the mark, is it?

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