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Isabella Rossellini says the main goal of her show is to make the audience laugh. (Mario del Curto)
Isabella Rossellini says the main goal of her show is to make the audience laugh. (Mario del Curto)

Luminato 2014: Isabella Rossellini declares ‘This is not a porno conference!’ Add to ...

This may disappoint environmental fetishists, but Isabella Rossellini’s Green Porno, Live on Stage is neither pornographic nor especially green. Adapted from a series of Web shorts Rossellini did for the U.S.-based Sundance Channel, the one-woman show finds the actress (Blue Velvet, Enemy) and former model (Lancôme) dressing up in a series of animal costumes while delivering a lecture on bizarre zoological reproduction tales. It opens at Toronto’s Luminato Festival on Friday. We spoke with her by phone from her home in New York.

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The New York Times review said Green Porno “is about sex, but it’s not at all sexy. If anything it’s likely to cause (people) to be creeped out by the thought of such activity.” Do you agree?

Hahahaha! I do say in the monologue, ‘In spite of the title, this is not a porno conference!’ But I don’t know your taste. Hahahaha!

Would you expect people to be creeped out?

Well, some of it is funny. You know, I dress up as a praying mantis – the male is eaten while he’s having sex, by the female. So, because I’m dressed up like a praying mantis, there is inevitably a sort of anthropomorphic thing. So people say: ‘Oh my God! The poor male! I don’t want to be eaten by a praying mantis!’ But this is part of the humour.

God, I remember praying mantises terrified me when I was a kid.

Exactly! That’s not a good animal to be if you’re a male.

The show reminds me of Grade 8, learning about the sexuality of worms. When you’re a 14-year-old boy, that kind of stuff is fascinating.

I’m sure! I mean, part of my choosing [to talk about] sex was that. I didn’t do a monologue about different digestive systems. I did it about sex, because I capitalized on the morbid curiosity that we have about it.

Do you hope the show moves people? Makes them think? Turns them on?

The basic goal is to make them laugh. The secondary goal is – maybe if this piece becomes a revelation about how interesting nature is, we’ll become more curious to discover it, or protect it. But this is not a militant thing. I’m taking a master’s degree on animal behaviour [at Hunter College in New York City] and I showed it to some of my professors, and they said: ‘Ah, but there is not a message on conservation! You cannot talk today about animals and wilderness, ignoring that we’re in a period of mass extinction.’ So I added a little sentence in that regard, because I thought maybe if I don’t mention it at all, I might come across as completely ignorant of this massive problem.

Actors and other celebrities are often activists.

I know! It always surprises me.

How so?

I think it’s a very American mentality. We don’t have that in Europe.

Well, there were Vanessa Redgrave, Brigitte Bardot …

Brigitte Bardot, but not when she was acting. You know, I’m old, so I can tell you something historical: I don’t know if it has to do with my age or if it has to do with changes in the world, but up to [age] 40 – so, up to 20 years ago – every interview would always end in them saying, ‘I am terribly sorry, but I have to ask if you are in love and with whom? I mean no indiscretion, but our readers are curious, so would you please say something about your romantic life?’ Now, after 40, that question has never been asked of me again. I don’t know if it’s that I’m considered too old. But I’m always asked: ‘How do you give back?’

Really?

I’m not feeling ambivalent about helping foundations or causes, but I feel ambivalent that everybody has to be an advocate. Of course, I support many causes – of animals, and animal research – but I never really talk about it publicly. I’m old-fashioned.

The Green Porno short films have a droll humour that reminds me of your work with Guy Maddin, the Winnipeg filmmaker.

In fact Jody Shapiro, who produces some of Guy’s films, he is co-director of my films. When I am in my costumes, I can hardly move and I can’t look at the monitor and cannot look at the framing, and cannot move almost. So I always work with Jody – he is really my right hand – often with the same crew. And he’s from Toronto.

This is your first time back on stage in a few years. Are you planning more stage work?

I’m not. I would like to do more writing and finish my school, and so I really don’t have much time for anything else. I would like to write something else – whether it’s a short film or a long film or monologue, that will depend on where money will come from, the format. But I think I’ll continue to write about biology in this comical way. They say ‘Never say never’ – because of course if Spielberg called me, then I’d say of course I’ll be there. But generally speaking, I don’t have an agent, I just create my own work.

Wait, you don’t have an agent?

I haven’t had an agent for many years. Actually, it wasn’t my choice, it was their choice, they felt after a certain point, when actresses reach a certain age, there is really very little work, so the agency I was with asked me to leave, and so I left. And that was it. Hahahaha!

I have one more question. I’m sorry to ask, but would you care to comment on your love life?

Haha! Well I don’t have an agent and I don’t have a husband or a boyfriend – so, I would like both!

This interview has been condensed and edited.

Follow on Twitter: @simonhoupt

 

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