Despite her Hollywood pedigree, Isabella Rossellini has sought decidedly novel roles. Famous for acting turns in Blue Velvet, Cousins and 30 Rock (where she has played Jack Donaghy's Big Beef and Cheddar-loving ex-wife), Rosellini's latest role has her appearing in homemade costumesas an expiring bee, an orgasmic snail or an angst-ridden limpet.
Rossellini writes, directs and stars in the Sundance Channel's Green Porno a series of short films that charmingly portray the sexual habits of oft-ignored animals. The first season had Rossellini tackling bugs; Season two, which finds her focused on marine life, premiered on April 1. (See pictures of 10 animals facing extinction.)
TIME: How did Green Porno first come about?
Rossellini: The idea came about because Robert Redford wanted to experiment in short film format, and one of the missions of Sundance is to be on environmental subjects. So, I had the two elements: something short and something environmental. I have been personally always very interested in animal behaviornot particularly the sex life, but on animal behavior in general. I thought it would make a fun and appealing series to explain how animals mateespecially animals that are not mammalian, that are far from us. It's a wild world out there.
Have there been any stories that you wanted to include, but couldn't depict visually?
I wanted to do the seahorse. It's the male who stays pregnant, so it's unusual and it's cute. And they have a beautiful way of moving with the sea, but I just didn't know how to translate it with paper. Also I try not to do animals that are already seen. For example a lot of people say, 'why don't you do birds?' Some of them do these fantastic courtship dances. But they are often filmed and so they're beautiful themselves, so I don't see any way that we could make it any better. But earthworms and flies have not been filmed this way, so it becomes more inspirational for me to make. (See pictures of tiny creatures from the deep seas.)
Speaking of dances, my favorite piece is 'Bees,' because you go through a dramatic arc that involves a dance and a tragic death scene. How do you bring your dramatic flair to these?
Because I write them, I already have a tone in my head. I occasionally make the males scream and suffer about their deaths, because I assume that nobody wants to die. Even in mating.
How did you pick your roles?
One of the frustrations that I've had is to read about some animals' extraordinary behavior, but maybe not being able to understand what their Latin name corresponds to out in my garden. So I kept it simpleflies, earthworms, a barnaclethings that people know.
The look and the feel of the series is very wacky and engaging.
When I wrote them, I also illustrated themI don't do fantastic drawings, but I did try to resolve the problem of the costumes. We had very little money, so I thought if we used paper it would be economically advantageous, but also to give it visual continuity. I spoke to my friend, Rick Gilbert, who is an art director, and he brought in extraordinary people Andy Byers, who had worked decorating Victoria's Secret windows. He's very skillful at paper and creating things. So the two of them, based on my drawings, added a lot of details to it. We also decided to keep the colors very simple and very bright, which was dictated by the fact that we imagined these films to be viewed on a lot of mobiles. (Read a 2006 interview with Rossellini.)
Did the series always look like this in your head?
I imagined it much simpler. With Rick bringing in Andy, we became more confident because he is capable of making three-dimensional origami. A good example is that the next one we're working on is a school of anchovieswe have 32 fish swimming with me. So we've became more confident in how to realize these paper costumes. Also, we work with Sam Levy who is the cinematographer. He added gels to the lights, so in the fish series, the colors have become even more vivid. And I think the lighting is glamorous. It added to the film, because I was photographed glamorously, but as an earthworm.
I thought you brought a lot of dignity to that earthworm. You're often in unflattering or strange costumesdo you have a favorite?
Some costumes are more uncomfortable than others. The worst was the earthworm. I was in this 36-foot-long costume, and I had to stay in a permanent sit-upor else they would be unable photograph my headfor hours!
One of the things that I'm thinking for the next one is 'a walk in the park.' So squirrels, pigeons, ducks, sparrows. Green Porno has turned out to be more successful than we had planned. Now Sundance is going to show them on television and the Independent Film Channel shows them before feature films. So they're viewed on the big screenand they look great, I have to say.