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Isabella Rossellini: From Lancôme To Oyster Beds, She Steps With Style And Intention

Originally Posted: August 18, 2009

Douglas MacKaye Harrington

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Isabella Rossellini recently sat down with Douglas Harrington of Hamptons.com at the Tribeca Grand Hotel in New York City. Photos courtesy of Ms. Rossellini.

New York City - On a sunny afternoon I took some shade at the Tribeca Grand Hotel in lower Manhattan for a brief interview with actress, model, author and eco-activist Isabella Rossellini. The daughter of Italian film director Roberto Rossellini and Swedish actress Ingrid Bergman. Her resemblance to her mother is simply striking.

Her acting career has included films like Immortal Beloved, Blue Velvet and Cousins, along with numerous television appearances including the mini-series Napoleon. As the face of Lancôme for two decades, Rossellini has long been considered one of the world's most beautiful women and remains nothing short of breathtaking in both her beauty and her passion for the causes to which she is committed.

Attending the Watermill Center's Summer Gala on July 25 in Water Mill. Photo courtesy of PatrickMcMullan.com

A long time environmentalist, Rossellini has lent her image and support to various green campaigns, in particular the Nature Conservancy's effort to save the Great South Bay through a series of television commercials in which she appeared. She explained that, "We were so lucky that the Blue Point Fisheries was still owned by a single family and not fragmented. The conservancy recently purchased 13,000 acres, which represents a third of the bay bottom." Later in our conversation she alluded to some of the conservancy's success. "I did the campaign to raise funds so that the conservancy could re-seed the clam beds with three million new clams. They did a statistical survey a year later and they think that those three million clams made 450 million babies. Of course, there is still the problem of the water quality."

It is that body of water that holds a special interest for the actress, as she now lives permanently in Bellport, a little village along the bay that she discovered 23 years ago. Unlike most celebrities who settle in the Hamptons, I asked Rossellini why she chose Bellport, "I didn't really know the Hamptons because I had just come to the United States. Bruce Weber the photographer and his wife Nan Bush lived in Bellport. Nan had grown up there, and when I first started modeling I would go to Bruce's house to be photographed. It was so convenient, I'd take the train from the city and then a cab to the house. There was the little Inn in Bellport at the time, unfortunately it has closed. Then when I was in Manhattan and it was too hot or I wanted a day at the beach, I would just go to Bellport. It became a habit, I knew the route. I knew which train to take, it was easy. When my daughter was born I bought a little house."

Rossellini has since bought a larger house and called the village her main residence for the past two and half years because, "My son is not a city boy."

Rossellini's interest goes beyond her eco-activism to a real scientific curiosity, "I was always interested in animals. My entire life I took courses in biology, animal behavior and other sciences." Rossellini recently toured the Stony Brook University/Southampton campus with her son, a Ross School student, who is considering the famed Marine Sciences Department, as he would like to study Marine Biology. "I think I would like to take some courses there myself," Rossellini admitted.

Rossellini's latest project, dubed "Green Porno," is a series of short films for the Sundance Channel website that deals with species reproduction. The shorts star Rossellini in creative, almost cartoon like costumes and puppetry, as she portrays everything from bees to whales, to animals' very graphically specific reproductive organs. The actress explained, "Robert Redford came up with this idea to produce environmental programing for not only the Sundance Channel, but also the Sundance website. He thought the web demanded its own project that was very colorful, but very short. So he suggested I come up with something regarding the environment."

A devotee, Rossellini joined the efforts of the Nature Conservancy, to rebuild hard clam populations in Great South Bay near her home in Bellport.

I asked Rossellini if she was the actual creator of the series, "Yes, I came up the idea to do something about the sexual life of animals, because they mate so differently, and Redford liked it. I write it and direct it, but I have two great collaborators in Rick Gilbert and Andy Byers. They make it so much prettier than even what I had in mind. I do drawings, I know what I have in mind for the puppets, costumes and scenery, but I would not know how to cut the paper or bring in the various elements of production as they do. We wanted to make it very colorful, so we brought in the aesthetic of animation." The first two seasons of "Green Porno" are up on the web now and the next three shorts in the series will launch soon.

According to Rossellini, "The next three shorts will feature the sex lives of shrimp, squid and anchovies. These episodes mix some documentary footage with the puppetry and animation, so they are a little different than the previous seasons. We are also doing a piece on the elephant seals off the coast of Patagonia, so I went there. I work with a marine biologist on 'Green Porno,' Claudio Campagna, and he brought our attention to the depleting food supply for these animals because of over fishing."

Rossellini admits that the provocative title of her series was "used as bait to get viewers," but also admitted that the series was created to be fun as well as educational. "I wanted to make the name comical for a reason. I am not denying the importance of the issue, but the call that the planet is dying and global warming, the doom and gloom, had made me and other people think that, 'Well then there is no hope.' I hope that humor will draw those people back in. I myself, at one point, began to shut down because of all the bad news. As important as it is, I think that strategy was not working anymore, it was too much."

"I Was Always Aware..."
During our conversation she relayed a story that revealed how her father planted the early seed of environmentalism, "I was just thinking the other day, when someone said to me, 'Oh, we just weren't aware at the time.' I was always aware, my dad said to me when I was just a child that this would be our battle. He said that his generation's battle, the Italians, was democracy, but that ours would be pollution. It is a word that we really don't use anymore, but he had that insight. He was actually working with Rice University at the time of his death to make films about the science of the environment."

The author of two previous books, "Some Of Me" and "In The Name Of The Father, The Daughter, And The Holy Spirits," a book about her father, Rossellini has a new title coming out in September. She explained, "The book is about 'Green Porno,' it is a photographic version of the series. The book will also have a DVD of all 18 episodes. I have written very little commentary. I explain the series and with the help of Claudio have included some important statistics like 100 million sharks are fished each year, things like that."

Along with her work for Sundance and the Nature Conservancy, Rossellini is a participant in the SPAT program to raise oysters to re-seed the beds, she works with a local organic farm and raises dogs for the Guild Dogs for the Blind program.

Acting up for the camera in her "Green Porno" educational segments.

In fact, after our interview while an assistant to her publicist was determined to hail down a cab on Sixth Avenue, Rossellini informed her that mass transit was indeed the best way uptown. I walked her to the subway and she pulled a Metro Card out of her wallet as we said our farewells. As I shamefully walked back to my air polluting car, I wondered just how many of these subway straphangers would realize they were sharing a train with the face that for two decades graced the cover of the magazines they were reading and the impact she has actually had on the availability of the Oysters Rockefeller they might order tonight at dinner.

Beautiful, brilliant and creative, Rossellini has combined all her gifts and influence to impact the survival of the earth and the creatures that swim, fly and walk on it, ourselves included.

Frequently mistaken for the "Most Interesting Man in the World" from the Dos Equis commercials and the iconic gray-bearded Sean Connery, DMH is the Senior Contributing Editor at Hamptons.com. www.hamptons.com Hamptons HamptonsOnline HamptonsOnline

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Guest (Nick Santora) from Roslyn Heights says::
I wonder if Isabelle knows that the Nature Conservancy recently requested a ban on new clam permits and to limit the amount of clams bayman can take from Great south bay.
Jan 31, 2010 8:11 am


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