Actress Isabella Rossellini is playing A SUPPORTING ROLE these days ... working on behalf of animals of all kinds. Here's Erin Moriarty of "48 Hours":
Training a guide dog on the streets of New York might not be the role you'd expect for a woman with Isabella Rossellini's pedigree ...
She was born into a world of brilliance, beauty and fame, as one of the twin daughters of actress Ingrid Bergman and director Roberto Rossellini. Yet, Isabella says animals have always played a part in her life.
"I think I was always interested in animals," she said. "If a man likes a woman, you know, he might discuss business, but there's a part of his brain that is looking at the girl coming in and checking the girls. I do the same with animals."
Isabella's beauty and talent brought her fame both as a supermodel (she was the face of Lancome cosmetics for 14 years) and as an actress on television and in the movies.
She says of her films she is probably most proud of "Blue Velvet": "It is the most known, but also it was the most daring."
Daring and risky. Her role as abused nightclub singer Dorothy Vallens in David Lynch's shockingly violent film won her acclaim ... and criticism.
"I was very surprised, because the people that didn't like the film said David Lynch exploited me: I was a model, I had an image of a beauty, I was Ingrid Bergman's daughter, and all of a sudden he came and used it for his own advantage," Rossellini recalled. "Which I thought it was not only absurd, it diminished me as an actress, you know of course, and as a woman."
There is also her role as mom - to 27-year-old Elettra (a Lancome model herself) and 17-year-old Roberto.
Isabella is herself 58. With fewer acting jobs available in American films, she's simply reinvented herself yet again, as a student of animal behavior, a writer and a filmmaker.
"Green Porno" is a series of short films she wrote, directed and stars in, playing animals, of course - but not the cuddly animals you're imagining.
How about a fruit fly? A limpet? A worm?
"Here you are, you know, glamorous figure, face associated with makeup, but you went in this film, without much makeup to be a worm?" Moriarty asked.
"i made myself wormy-like," Rossellini said. "I really wanted the audience to laugh, and then go, 'Oh, I didn't know that!'"
Did you know, for instance, that some starfish are hermaphrodites? They have both male and female characteristics.
"It's funny, because I like fun," she said. "And then I thought, everybody's interested in sex. So if I make something about sex, I would get a bigger audience and it's easier to make people laugh!"
Funny or not, she says, the scientific community is taking it seriously. "I'm now going to Harvard next month to do a presentation of my film," she said. "And the Museum of Natural History in London is showing 'Green Porno.' Also, the Museum of Natural History in Paris."
And that brings us back to Isabella's other project: Raising and socializing dogs for The Guide Dog Foundation...
A six-month-old Labrador, Bau Bau - that's Italian for Bow Wow - is the eighth puppy she has trained.
"Bau Bau is learning, because when he will become a guide dog, the blind person that he would guide will always have his dog in a harness on the left," she demonstrated.
"I have them for about ten months to socialize them. Then he goes and he's trained by a more professional trainer for another six months until he's assigned to somebody who needs a dog."
She says it's tough letting go - but she'll be in touch with the person Bau Bau is going to assist. "We feel like a whole community," she said.
One of members of the community is Albert Rizzi, who was blinded by meningitis five years ago. Isabella met him at the Guide Dog Foundation when Albert was introduced to his dog Doxy.
"I remember that Doxy came in and jumped on Albert, covering him with kisses, and he burst into tears - and I burst into tears!" Rossellini said.
"This has to feel great to do something like this," Moriarty said.
"It does, it does feel good," she said. "But I don't think about goodness so much; I think about dogs."
A life ever moving forward ... with animals ... in the supporting roles.
For more info:
- "Animals Distract Me" premieres on Planet Green, April 23, at 10 p.m. ET
- "Green Porno" (Sundance Channel)
- "In the Name of the Father, the Daughter, and the Holy Spirits" by Isabella Rossellini (Haus Publishing)
- The interview was conducted at one of Rossellini's favorite restaurants, The Bellport in Bellport, N.Y. Our thanks to our gracious hosts, the magnificent chef Taylor Alonso and his lovely and talented wife Patricia Trainor.
- Guide Dog Foundation