Isabella Rossellini is the type of woman who can do virtually anything and remain beloved. For Lancome, she used her enviable lips and cheekbones to sell makeup for fourteen years. For auteur filmmaker David Lynch, she participated in sex scenes that shocked and traumatized American audiences. And this year, she created a series of two-minute indie films about sex in the insect world for Robert Redford’s Sundance Channel. In the films, she dresses as various bugs and graphically describes their mating habits and genitalia. Did she alienate viewers? The network just confirmed that they’ve ordered a second season of the series, this time involving sea creatures. So, apparently, no.
The series, titled Green Porno, is completely original and strangely hypnotic. Rossellini enthusiastically acts out various sex acts while costumed as an earthworm, a spider, a bee, and other invertebrates. Her goal is to both amuse and raise awareness of the animal kingdom’s beautiful diversity. She spoke to the Daily Beast about the project, and why the second installment might be even weirder.
Were you the type of child who collected insects and brought them back to your bedroom?
I’ve always been fascinated not only with insects but with animals in general ever since I was a little girl. I did have boxes of snails, aquariums with ants and flies and all that. That’s where I had all the information to write Green Porno.
From your childhood?
No just from throughout my life, I read a lot of books about animals, I take courses at university on biology or zoology, it’s always been an interest of mine.
Did you emerge from this project with a favorite insect sex act?
I don’t really have one. I’m not interested specifically in bug sex. I’m just interested in animals. What’s interesting to me is the infinite variety. One of the frustrations I have when I read these books is, sometimes they tell you about an animal that does something incredible, then they give you the name of the species and I am not clear what animal that is because it’s a latin name, or it’s a specific species of a subspecies, so I get lost. Or it’s a very exotic animal in Africa or Asia, a special bug I’ve never seen in my life. So I wanted to do very common animals [in Green Porno]. And I wanted it to be funny. My desired reaction to people watching Green Porno was to first laugh, and then to say, oh I didn’t know that about a fly, I didn’t know that about a snail.
Yeah, who knew that earthworms are hermaphrodites who have sex by 69’ing? Do you think it makes human sex seem a little boring?
I feel a little bit embarrassed. When I presented the film, a lot of people wanted to analyze my sex life or my sex pleasure, and to tell you the truth I think it’s a very genuine interest in biology, it’s not a twisted or unusual kinky way of me being interested in sex. I just thought that sex is an interesting subject because everybody’s interested in sex, that it would make a comical film, but to say to you, “Yes, my life sexually has been very strange,” I can’t say, first of all because I’m embarrassed to answer it, and also because I don’t think it is.
I didn’t mean your sex life personally, I just meant humans in general.
Listen, I took advantage of the fact that there’s a certain fixation in people about sex, and that’s why I called it Green Porno. I was very aware that the name was provocative, and there’s a lot of people coming to our site who think it’s porno, and then they get a nice little film. There’s a titillating interest in sex, and I took advantage of that in making a film about how the animals have sex instead of a film about how they take care of their babies. If we made a film called Different Ways To Be Mamas, we wouldn’t get the same hits.
Who made the costumes and which costume was the most difficult to wear?
I draw the costumes, and everything had to be more or less be made with paper, partially because of budget and partially because it is something that everybody can do in their kitchen. It looks like a little homemade theater. I didn’t want it to look like all those special effects and spectacular – I wanted to preserve the homemade feeling, so paper seemed to be a good way. I draw them and I do think of some of the executions, but the people who execute the costumes are two friends of mine. One is Andy Byers and the other is Rick Gilbert. They add a tremendous amount of detail. The most difficult one [to wear] was the worm. I was caught in the different rings and I couldn’t move and I was 35 feet long and I was trapped there all day – without drinking, without being able to scratch my face.
There’s a titillating interest in sex, and I took advantage of that in making a film about how the animals have sex instead of a film about how they take care of their babies. If we made a film called Different Ways To Be Mamas, we wouldn’t get the same hits.
During your research, did you discover any insect mating habits that repulsed you?
Um…no, all of it is fascinating. I mean, some animals are a little more squirmishing than others, but not in terms of sex – sometimes they look funny. I’m now doing a whole new series on marine animals -- you know, barnacles, shrimps, squids, starfish, anchovies -- and they all have different ways. Some fish even change sex. Males become females and females become males and it becomes even more interesting.
Of the sea creatures, can you give me an example of one of the sex acts that you found the most fascinating?
Starfish. They have two ways of reproducing. One, they can have sex regularly - male exchanging sperm with the female. Or, they can clone themselves.
Yeah. That, I thought was pretty wonderful. Another one that I loved is that not all shrimps, but a species of shrimp, is born male, then becomes female when it becomes older. Sometimes we also wonder, “What would it be like to be a man?” And a man wonders, “What would it be like to be a woman?” Shrimps don’t have that question. They are both sexes in different moments of their lives.
These films were made specifically to be watchable on a mobile device. Do people want to watch stuff like this while in transit?
We don’t know yet. We do know that more and more people are abandoning magazines, abandoning televison, and they’re getting their information on the web, on the mobile. It seems like mobiles are going to become more and more like iPhones—better screens, much better viewing. The only problem is, to Robert Redford, it seems absurd that you see on mobile a lot of films that were conceived for the big screen—like to see Apocalypse Now on the mobile would not do it justice. Robert Redford was thinking, what if we create an art form that is conceived for the mobile. That’s why Green Porno is very vivid in color, and we decided to do them in a studio because we tried to do them outside but once you have a background it gets all muddy.
You’ve performed in unconventional sex scenes before, in your roles in Blue Velvet and Cousins. Do you seek out these types of roles or is it coincidence?
I think it is coincidence. December 9, I’m doing a reading at the Metropolitan and I cannot believe that the reading that the Metropolitan is asking me to do is about erotic poems of the Renaissance. I’m delighted to do it, but sometimes I think, what is this?