Catching Up With Isabella Rossellini
By Noah Michelson
Just when you thought you'd seen it all, Isabella Rossellini, one of the world's most beautiful women, turns up on the Sundance Channel swimming in a construction paper sea beside two male dolphin puppets engaging in blowhole sex. No, you didn't read that wrong, and no, this isn't some kind of sick joke. It's part of the new season of Green Porno: Seduce Me, Rossellini's brilliant short-film series (she serves as the star, director, and writer in collaboration with John Bohannon), which examines the unusual sex lives of animals like deer, spiders, sea horses, and the lowly earth worm. Recently, the stunning filmmaker stopped by the Out studio to chat about Seduce Me, her thoughts on sexuality as she's gotten older, and what she really thinks of Madonna's Sex book.
Out: I know you've always been a huge fan of animals, but why did you decide to do a series on their sex lives?
Isabella Rossellini: This came about specifically to make films for the Internet for SundanceChannel.com. We felt that on the Internet, very short films are what people like -- YouTube has created a little bit of this tradition -- so I was commissioned to make films that were two minutes long. I knew it was for the Internet and it would also be seen on small devices, so I needed colorful, very clear images. And that gave the art direction of paperwork -- very colorful, almost like cartoons. I've always loved animals and I was commissioned to do something environmental -- something about animal behavior. But I knew everyone was interested in sex, specifically about the behavior of sex -- how animals reproduce. And they reproduce in very scandalous ways, so that's even better.
Tell me how involved you are with the creation of each film.
The pieces come about with research about the animals, and also it's the varieties of things out there that are interesting. So whenever I'm commissioned to do five or 10 films at a time, I make sure that I represent an animal that has males and females, and then maybe one animal that might be a hermaphrodite -- an individual that has both sexes or an animal that changes sex in the middle of their life -- all these varieties, so that everything is represented. Then the specific selection really depends on how I figure out the costumes and the sets. I also work with two fantastic artists, Andy Byers and Rick Gilbert, who help me come up with all of this incredible paperwork, because all of our sets and costumes are made on paper. They are quite fantastic and glamorous.
I love your nonchalant, fun approach to sex, because America can be so dreadfully puritan about it.
[Laughs] I can't comment on sex in America because America is how many, 300 million? It's hard for me to generalize and say this is what's good for America. And it was not really meant to be anything other than entertaining and fun films. It may be for people to first laugh in one episode and then say, 'Oh, I didn't know that about a worm. I didn't know that about a spider.' There was no pretense to teach about sex. Just a good laugh.
It's also interesting from a queer perspective. So many of our enemies like to say, "Homosexuality is unnatural because it doesn't exist in nature."
It's very interesting to debate if gay is nurture or nature and that's the core of the debate. The scientific world is addressing this issue on animals right now. We all witness our dog doing something, and people say, 'What is that? Oh, it has nothing to do with sex. It's just a domineering behavior.' And now with penguins at the zoo where two males are raising babies or two females are raising babies, people are confused, saying, 'Why is this couple a same-sex couple?' They always say their behavior has been deformed by the zoo. But now there is a whole movement of scientists saying, 'Now wait a minute. Maybe it just exists. It's not something we did by keeping them in zoo or keeping them in houses. Maybe it's unnatural or distorting the animal's behavior. Maybe it is nature." The last episode I did for Seduce Me addressed this issue. Sundance Channel has a program called Girls Who Like Boys Who Like Boys, so they specifically asked me, 'Is homosexuality specifically addressed in science?' And I took deer and dolphins as two examples of animals where there have been studies where this is clearly the case -- same-sex sex is explicit.