BWW Interview: Isabella Rossellini Exploring LINKs, PORNO & a Masters
Actress/filmmaker/author/philanthropist/model Isabella Rossellini will be bringing her latest theatrical event LINK LINK CIRCUS to The Broad Stage for a quick, three-performance run starting January 25, 2019.
With decades of successfully gracing screens, cinematic and television; Ms. Rossellini makes her first return to the theatrical stage since her triumphant 50-city tour of GREEN PORNO in 2015. The ever-busy Ms. Rossellini managed to find a few moments to exude her excitement of her latest projects.
Thank you for taking the time for this interview, Ms. Rossellini!
GREEN PORNO, the show you toured 50 cities in 2015, could actually be called Part 1, with LINK LINK CIRCUS as its Part 2. What sparked your idea to create GREEN PORNO?
I started GREEN PORNO as a series of short films for the internet. They were financed by Sundance and we eventually did forty of them. We did a few different series, but always in the same style. But at that time, it was very difficult to monetize anything distributed on the internet. So I thought we'd go back to the roots and turn it into a stage piece that we could tour. The money generated could be shared with everyone [on the project].
GREEN PORNO was very successful. When there is success, they invite you again.
With GREEN PORNO focused on the bottom half of the animals (how they reproduce), was LINK LINK CIRCUS the logical next step, focusing on the top half of animals (animal intelligence)?
My children are now adults. I found at some point that I wasn't working much and I had a lot of time on my hands. So I went to school because I was always interested in animal behavior. I wanted to be engaged in something. I went to hear Temple Gradin give a lecture. She is a fascinating character, a professor of animal studies at Colorado State University, and has been a consultant to the livestock industry on the humane treatment of animals for consumption. That was around the same time Sundance offered me to do short films on environmental subjects. But I wasn't expecting a new career out of this!
I ended up studying this at university. There is the line that I have - GREEN PORNO is about bottom down and this one, LINK LINK CIRCUS is about bottom up - intelligence, not just reproduction. Intelligence is more complicated to talk about - thinking and feeling - than anatomy. How you reproduce is easier.
If you go to school, you have to make an effort to learn the lingo. It's fascinating to take the scientific (i.e. boring) terms and translate them for an audience. Being an entertainer, you want to make this as fun as possible!
A good example of a topic that fascinated me was asking "if maternal instinct really exists?" That has been actually studied and analyzed. I needed to go to school and read what they learned, and then I was able to translate all of this for the series and now these shows. I could not have written it ten years ago.
Would you explain how you came up with your show title LINK LINK CIRCUS? Something to do with 'Ding! Dong!' and Charles Darwin?
"Link Link" is a funny sound and "Link Link" refers to Darwin and Darwinian evolution. At the time that Darwin originally proposed his theories, it was an incredible scandal. That we are linked with animals? Part of my main responsibility is to translate this information and make it entertainment.
How did you decide to bring a dog to be part of the show?
GREEN PORNO was about sex. It is very easy to make people laugh about sex. I wanted this show to be funny as well - but I was worried that it would be difficult to make something funny about cognition - so I thought I needed some help. I figured if I make it like a circus - with toys, puppetry and a dog - that would help. I knew that I could handle both the dog itself and write the part for the dog.
I wrote the script and then tried it with my own dog - Pinocchio - who was more interested in the audience. He wanted to go say, 'hello' to everybody! I called several dog trainers and then I was lead to Bill Berloni, who trained the original Sandy for the musical ANNIE, and most productions of the musical since. I wanted a dog that was small enough to travel with me in a carrier. Bill read the script and helped me find and train the dog (he is a rescue). We've been to 20 cities between Europe and the United States with Pan.
Please tell us more about Pan.
Did you know that dogs with floppy ears are all domesticated dogs? When we select for characteristics for domestication, you start seeing things like dogs with floppy ears. It's linked with genetics and we haven't yet figured out what makes that change. So I wanted a dog with floppy ears, especially if you consider that dogs come from wolves.
Dogs are happy, or they are not. You can't make a dog happy in performance. There is no way to make them do this.
Pan is very joyful! And she is less interested in the audience than Pinocchio is. Bill actually had Pan be an extra in ANNIE for six months to get acclimated to the stage.
Does Pan have an understudy?
Bill Berloni thought we should have an understudy so there is one. We have two dogs that are trained. One of the dogs became my dog - and that's the dog that performs.
The show also has a puppeteer and animal handler on stage - Schuyler Beeman. It is a fun collaboration and as the show has grown, Schyler has evolved his role into a real character. This is all of his creation.
Complementing your role in LINK LINK CIRCUS, you've included your short comic films, home movies, and animation. Did you have a lot of these pieces (home movies) to choose from? Or did you shoot some pieces for the sole purpose of being in this show?
The majority are new films made for the show. I wanted them to be different than the films that I made before. There are some that are home movies of me with animals, and there are three films that were part of my other series.
You have always been an animal person, starting way back when you were a little girl with your pet dog. Do you find you can recognize other animal people from non-animal persons?
I am always surprised by someone who was traumatized by animals. I live on a farm! And my best friend is afraid of birds! We always have to be careful with her around them. How can you be afraid of chickens?!
I would venture to guess that your co-writer, Oscar-winning screenwriter Jean-Claude Carrière and LINK LINK CIRCUS' director Muriel Mayette are animal people?
I want to have people that respect the science. Jean-Claude is definitely an animal person. He is in his eighties - so he writes everything shorthand and he has a pencil and a yellow pad. He is a famous, famous writer - but he was also completely victimized by cats.
As much as I write, I needed to workshop and I needed a director to help me shape the show.
Are you still working on completing your Master's Degree in Animal Behavior and Conservation at Hunter College in New York City? Or have you completed it? And brava to you still working towards another college degree!
I will complete the masters after one more class. I did it with a professor this summer. Hunter College has been wonderful in accommodating. I did it privately in the summer because that was when I was around. As this project became bigger, and since these classes are only offered in the spring, I still have to take the final exam. But, basically, it's completed.
Animal studies is so fascinating to me. For example, while we don't know for sure if dogs dream, we have instruments that can help us to study animals dreaming. They have started to study rats. When they dream, we see the same brain paths. Their dreams repeat the same paths of what they've done during the day. You can see the same activities in the brain.
These studies were ones that Jane Goodall promoted as well. Interestingly when they were working with rats, two technicians got different results - until they realized one technician had a cat at home and the rat smelled his cat on him. So, of course, the animal perceived they were different. Goodall was so brilliant and courageous to live in the jungle to study chimps. She revolutionized the study of animal behavior.
As one who has performed in the mediums of film, television and stage; could you tell us what specific aspect of each medium satisfies you the most?
I like modeling the best. Because it was very nice - and I love images. I love fashion. The people are pleasant. Also, shoots don't last very long. A three-day shoot is not a long period of time. If you don't like the shoot or someone at the shoot, you are on to the next person.
Now that you've covered the bottoms and tops of animals, what will your Part 3 undertake?
It's hard to think of another show while I am still touring this one. You need a lot of concentration to write. If I write anything new, I will write it in a way that's light production-wise, so I can perform in New York City, or in an experimental theatre, but still satisfy my love of storytelling - but that doesn't have to be produced in such a way that you have to travel.
I enjoy writing and directing and would like to do more writing and directing. If I write a third one, it's for another actress. I don't dislike performing, but the touring is becoming difficult.
Maybe things I have to say might end up being a film. It might be something else. I try to make science funny and explainable - but the shape it will take, I don't know it yet.
Thank you again, Ms. Rossellini! I so look forward to seeing you humorously lecturing me on the top halves of animals!
For ticket availability for shows January 25, 26 & 27; log onto www.thebroadstage.org