Why we love Isabella Rossellini

Thursday, October 18, 2018 - 17:16

Model, actress, writer, stage-performer, expert on animal behaviour. There are few people to whom all five of these labels could be applied, but then Isabella Rossellini is as remarkable as she is unique.

Rossellini joined us at Southbank Centre to present her latest performance show, the half lecture, half circus Link Link, at the end of October, 2018. Which gives us the perfect opportunity to celebrate the life and career of a truly individual talent.

She comes from famous stock

Born in Rome in 1952 Isabella is the daughter of the celebrated Swedish actress Ingrid Bergman, and Italian film director Roberto Rossellini. A step on the ladder perhaps, but also an incredibly tough act to follow. However, rather than stay in her mother’s shadow, Isabella Rossellini has orchestrated a very distinct path of her own.


She found fame as a model

Naturally beautiful, Rossellini began a career in modeling when she was photographed for British and American Vogue, by Bruce Webber and Bill King respectively, at the age of 28. She has worked with an incredible number of renowned photographers including Peter Linbergh, Norman Parkinson and Annie Leibovitz, and in 1982 became the exclusive spokesmodel for French brand  Lancôme. In 1988 the Musee d’Art Moderne in Paris held a special exhibition dedicated purely to photographs of Rossellini titled Portrait of a Woman.


Her big acting break was controversial

In 1986 Rossellini catapulted herself into the world of film as she played the tortured nightclub singer Dorothy Vallens in David Lynch’s Blue Velvet. Now considered a cult classic, the film received decidedly mixed reviews at the time of release. The American critic Roger Ebert, though critical of the film at large, praised Rossellini’s performance as ‘convincing and courageous,’ whilst Janet Maslin in The New York Times enthused on how Rossellini; ‘gave herself entirely over to the material’. But her performance wasn’t without criticism, something she candidly reflected on in this later interview.

Isabella Rossellini on Blue Velvet Brooklyn NYC May 5 2002


But she soon became a much sought-after actress

In the late 1980s and 1990s Rossellini’s film work ensured she very soon became a household name. Following Blue Velvet, she starred in the 1989 Amercan romantic comedy Cousins, before appearing in another Lynch film, Wild at Heart in 1990. Though she will perhaps be familiar to most film fans for her role as Lisle von Rohman, alongside Meryl Streep, Goldie Hawn and Bruce Willis in the hugely successful Death Becomes Her.

Death Becomes Her: Youth is expensive by Meryl Streep


She’s a woman of many languages (and accents)

Raised in both Rome and Paris by her parents (who split when she was five) Rossellini spoke both Italian and French from an early age, and soon became trilingual - learning English, albeit in Sweden, through her mother. When she first moved to New York she worked as a translator and a reporter for the Italian broadcaster RAI. As an actress she has been cast in roles that have seen her having to adopt accents from across mainland Europe, though has trouble with empathetic German, as she explained in this interview on the talk show, Conan.



She can deliver a ‘international’ cameo

Established as a film actress and model, Rossellini also made steps into television with a number of guest appearances, including a two episode appearance in the US medical drama Chicago Hope which earned her an Emmy nomination. Other well-received American television cameos also include 30 Rock and The Simpsons although what is perhaps her best known appearance came as herself.

Friends - Ross and Isabella Rossellini


She combined her interest in animals with her creativity

In 2007 Rossellini enrolled at Hunter College to study Animal Behaviour, and began a collaboration with the Sundance Channel for a short film project; combining the two Rossellini decided to make the short film about animals. The result was Green Porno, a truly unique performance piece, written and acted by Rossellini, that explained the reproductive behaviour of various animals. It proved a huge hit on YouTube, and went on to spawn a stage show.

GREEN PORNO: Bee | Starring Isabella Rossellini


Link Link is Rossellini’s sequel to Green Porno, and whilst the latter focussed on animals reproduction systems, the new show instead brings the focus to the animals’ minds. Though the focus may have changed, it is still undoubtedly Rossellini through and through. 


With a passion for works that defy categorisation, Southbank Centre is the place to see things you have never seen on stage before. Dance, theatre, comedy, cabaret and all sorts in between, brought to you by international artists and up and coming names. 

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