Isabella Rossellini: ‘When you’re old, you have the courage to say what you want’

When I was 20 I interviewed for a job at a Blockbuster video, which was the hottest job in town in the early 90s. The manager wanted to know my favorite celebrity and I said “Isabella Rossellini.” I think he was looking for someone like Winona Ryder or Johnny Depp and I didn’t get the job. My attitude, all black ensemble and combat boots surely didn’t help, but do you remember the time, a few years after Blue Velvet, when Isabella Rossellini was the epitome of coolness? I would have liked to have seen her continue that streak. She has, she’s just done her own thing and we’ve only seen her occasionally in the interim.

Isabella, 65, has a new interview with Vulture. She went back to college recently and is currently getting a masters degree in animal behavior at Hunter College in New York. She has a new book out called My Chickens and I which has drawings, photos and stories about raising a brood of heritage chickens on her small farm. For years she’s done series of short educational videos about animal reproduction for the Sundance Channel called Green Porno. They’re bizarre and highly entertaining. In that same vein she has a one woman play premiering in NY in May called Link Link Circus which “addresses the latest scientific discoveries about animal minds, intelligence, and emotions.” Oh and she’s still representing Lancome! Her interview with Vulture was just fascinating. Here are some excerpts, with much more at the source.

Do you think your work would be received differently by audiences who might not believe in [evolution]?
I’ve asked myself that question. The research about how many Americans don’t believe in evolution is very surprising. In Europe, everyone takes it as fact. Even the pope recognizes evolution. In America, you have the fundamentalists, in Europe we don’t. It’s amazing to me that people can dispute these things. Medicine is based on evolution. We change the flu vaccine every year because bugs evolve! So I don’t know. I’m sure I won’t get invited to perform by any churches that teach creationism.

You’ve only ever referred to your own history with sexual violence once — in a single sentence in your memoir
This is a difficult subject, but yes, you can ask.

I do understand the value for some people to talk about their experiences, but for me, there is no value. The person that raped me — I was 15 or 16, he was a year older than I, why would I dig out this story 48 years later? What if people start to say, “No, you have to say the person’s name?” I don’t know what happened to him. He might be married. He might have children. I am a superstar in Italy, if I said who did this, I would destroy him. This man hurt me in the context of a culture that we are all trying to change. I don’t think that pinpointing one person and destroying their life because they made a sin in the context of that culture — I don’t have the heart for it.

What culture do you mean specifically?
In machista Italy, a lot of men are told that if women say no, they mean yes. So date rape is sadly something that happens to a lot of women. You go out with a boy that you like and you’re not ready to go to bed with them, but they read no as yes. But it’s a complicated thing, and I don’t want to discuss it further. With this subject, you can get into a storm you don’t want to get into.

I understand.
Yes, for me, the interesting thing is how the #MeToo movement has shown us all the subtle ways women can be diminished. Rape is a way of being hurt that everyone can recognize. There are other ways. It could be your boss saying, “I like your skirt on you.” It’s a compliment, but it makes you feel diminished. It’s like when people say to me, “You look so good for your age.” To hear other women express their stories and to show how devious some men can be — that is what has been so helpful to see.

What are some things that you’ve been surprised to find that you like about getting older?”
The most pleasantly surprising thing about getting older — I’m not saying it’s the same for everybody — is that thanks to Lancôme and a lot of other accounts, I’m financially secure in my old age, so I can study and do my shows and my books. I follow only what I’m interested in, and I want to share my wonderment and my amusement. Can I tell you, today I’m talking at the New York Public Library, and I had to give a one-sentence biography for them to use. It is a good idea, isn’t it?

I’m very pleased with my life because my other career was based on beauty, something I didn’t have control of. “You think I’m beautiful? You’ll pay me for this? Oh, thank you very much. How long will it last?” Then it becomes, “Oh, now you’re old, get out of here.” You are at the mercy of others.

When you’re old, you have the courage to say what you want.

Yesterday somebody invited me to a big fashion party, and I was able to answer, “I’m very touched that you invited me, but I’m so tired of going to these parties. I have to say no.” It was as simple as that. You have to be in your 60s to be able to answer like this. Before I would have said, “Oh, I broke a leg. I can’t go.”

[From Vulture via Jezebel]

I find it sad that Isabella cares so much about her rapist’s reputation. It’s her prerogative and her story to tell though and I don’t blame her in any way. She said she can “get into a storm” with this subject, which is true. She also talked about the fact that she’s neighbors with Charlie Rose and that she worked with Bruce Weber for 40 years. She said, of Weber, “I never experienced that aspect of him. I’m not denying it happened. I’m grateful that people who were victimized are speaking up because that is the only way to correct things. The important thing is for people to be healed.

As for her thoughts on having courage to say what you mean when you’re older, my mom has told me that too. She’s told me not to make excuses when I don’t feel like being social and just to say no without an explanation. It’s a hard habit to break though.

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26 Responses to “Isabella Rossellini: ‘When you’re old, you have the courage to say what you want’”

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  1. MJC says:

    She’s not still representing Lancome, she just started working for them again after they fired her for being too old 20+ years ago. There is another interview (maybe part of this same one) where she discusses why she went back to work for them again.

  2. Rhys says:

    I absolutely adore her. She is so natural and real and normal ( at least the way she presents herself) woman. And I was skeptical of her decision to go back to Lancome when they came back crawling 20+ years later and asked her to represent them, but she said they admitted they were “wrong”. So her return is happening for the right reason.

    • FHMom says:

      The thing that makes me laugh when these high end cosmetic companies let go of ‘older’ models is that they don’t know their customer. Does an 18 year old have $22 to spend on mascara? I know I didn’t when I was that age. It was drugstore brands for me. NOw that I’m in my 50’s I can afford higher end cosmetics, and I don’t want to see the face of a 20 year old trying to sell me moisturizer.

      • AnnaKist says:

        Same here, FHMom. When I was 18, I always used Prue Acton (Australian designer and artist) mascara – it was The Best Mascara in the Whole Wide World, and very reasonably priced. I was beside myself when they stopped making it, but then discovered the Maybelline in the pink amd green tube – still a favourite when I do wear makeup, which is rare.

        I don’t mean to be shallow, but Signorina Rossellini really is beautiful, inside and out.

      • Rhys says:

        I feel the same way. I think things are changing though.

      • Christin says:

        I eyeroll each time I see the K family young’un (model) as the fave of a department store brand. It was a big deal to ever purchase a single cosmetic item from anywhere outside the drugstore when I was younger. I’ve never understood why they went for 20s/30s models only.

      • NotTodaySatan says:

        I totally agree. I have a regurgitation reflex when I see Kendall Jenner selling high end eye wrinkle products….or 15 year olds modeling Prada Sandals

  3. slowsnow says:

    I deleopped this “strange” habit of listing what I have to do if I cannot attend something or if I am tired because unlike what the elderly say, it’s not well received when you just say no or no thanks. Worse yet: thank you but that’s not down my alley. You loose good friends. And before anyone tells me they are not good friends, yes they are, and that is why they want you there, doing something you don’t care for because they feel supported by your friendship and also support you in your thing.
    Being candid is for older people and I can live with that.

    • Annabel says:

      My go-to for years has been “thanks for the invitation, but I have plans that night.” Typically my “plans” consist of “not going to your party,” but the other person doesn’t need to know this.

      • Christin says:

        I say something similar — “Thanks, but I won’t be able to make it.” Life is too short to do things you don’t want to do (socially).

        And if it bothers someone else who tries to guilt trip you, yet you’re uncomfortable attending whatever little event it is, then that’s on them.

  4. Sansa says:

    If she is elderly then all of us over Fifty are done.

  5. Lucy says:

    I find that sad too, but as you said, can’t blame her in any way for how she feels.

  6. Lightpurple says:

    Green Porno was fabulous. Really hoping she tours with Link, Link Circus too

  7. Ann says:

    Weird that men don’t worry about “destroying a woman’s life” with all the vile things they do to them.

  8. Mabs A'Mabbin says:

    She’s been one of my top favs since I was wearing combat boots myself. Still wear mostly black lol. Blue Velvet. So many years ago. Dang.

  9. Betsy says:

    I never saw Blue Velvet (certainly not when it came out – I was a bit young), but I have adored this woman since forever. Like how all the Trumpsters look like rotting corpses because their souls are rotten, this woman’s essential kindness comes through in her appearance and mien.

    I still make flowers and crosses for births and deaths on my calendar because I read in her autobiography that she did it and I thought that was such a lovely thing.

  10. Dee says:

    She can do no wrong for me. None. I love her and always have.

    Blue Velvet, combat boots, black clothes (and presumably badly applied black eyeliner)…sounds like we are all the same generation for sure!!

  11. Mrs. Wellen-Melon says:

    Her hair color is too dark for that gorgeous skin. Lighten it up just a touch and IR’s beauty becomes so aspirational to me.

    • ValiantlyVarnished says:

      Or…she can keep it exactly as it is because that’s the way she likes it. How do you read what she said about beauty and getting older and then make a comment like this is beyond me.

      • Mrs. WelenMelon says:

        IR is a model/actress. She Is closely associated with a cosmetics firm. Her job is to sell stuff for them.

        That’s how.

  12. Ashley says:

    She looks so much like her mother its uncanny.

  13. Stella in NH says:

    She was also in Cat People—a very strange film.

    I just watched a couple of the Green Porn videos. They are pretty wild.

  14. msd says:

    She’s backed down a lot with regards to Bruce Weber. Her initial comments were very insensitive and privileged. She talked about how great he was, suggested that he wouldn’t have done something like that because he didn’t with her and her kids and didn’t mention the victims. She got slammed hard for it. I’m glad she’s acknowledged that her experience with him doesn’t really mean anything but I’m disappointed that it took people criticising her for her to understand the issue of him victimising male models. Unfortunately I still get the impression she thinks people shouldn’t make a fuss about such things.

  15. indefatigable says:

    I’ve always had the ‘courage’ to say what I want. A lot of effing good its done me. 😅

    Life for me has been all about reconciling what I want with what I can have. Not getting what you want is disapointing but dwelling on the disappointment gets in the way of enjoying what you can have.