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Isabella Rosselini Biography


Home > Actresses > R > Rosselini, Isabella > Biography


Birth Name: Isabella Rosselini
Born: 06/18/1952
Birth Place: Italy


Isabella Fiorella Elettra Giovanna Rossellini was born in Rome, Italy on June 18, 1952 - 30 minutes before the arrival of her fraternal twin sister, Isotta Ingrid Rossellini. The union of her mother, actress Ingrid Bergman, and Italian neo-realist director Roberto Rossellini, was a major scandal in the early 1950s, due to the fact that Bergman was already married to Dr. Peter Lindstrom and the mother of Pia Lindstrom; later an actress and television presenter. Bergman was denounced on the floor of the U.S. Senate and abandoned her acting career for much of the decade while she lived in Italy with Rossellini. Their marriage produced a brother to the twins, Roberto, before ending in 1957.

Raised in Rome, Santa Marinella and Paris, Isabella Rossellini's early years were marked by pain beyond the separation of her parents. At the age of 13, she was diagnosed with scoliosis, which required traumatic therapy and spinal surgery that took a year of recovery in a body cast. Despite these setbacks, she emerged from childhood with an education from Finch College and a wanderlust that led her to New York at the age of 19, where she worked as a translator and reporter for Italy's RAI Television. She eventually found her way to acting in 1976 with a brief appearance as a nun opposite her mother in "A Matter of Time" for Vincente Minnelli. Roles on Italian television preceded her first lead performance in Paolo and Vittorio Tavani's Marxist-influenced drama, "The Meadow" (1979). Despite the international work, she remained a resident of New York, due largely to her marriage to director Martin Scorsese, which lasted from 1979 to 1982.

Rossellini put her acting career on hold for much of the 1980s to focus on work as a model. Her porcelain features - so reminiscent of her legendary mother - made her a favorite of such acclaimed photographers as Richard Avedon, Bruce Weber, and Helmut Newton, and graced the covers and layouts of countless international publications. In 1982, she was made the exclusive spokesmodel for Lancome cosmetics, a position she held for 14 years until 1996, when she was rather unceremoniously replaced. During her tenure with Lancome, she was involved in the development of one of its fragrances, Tresor; in the 1990s, she developed her own line of fragrances and cosmetics, including the Manifesto line. Rossellini was also married to German model Jon Wiederman from 1983 to 1986 and gave birth to a daughter, Elettra.

In 1985, Rossellini returned to acting for her American big screen debut in Taylor Hackford's sudsy glasnost drama "White Nights," co-starring dancer-actors, Mikhail Baryshnikov and Gregory Hines. Her true acting ability was not given a proper showcase until the following year, when she starred in then-boyfriend David Lynch's "Blue Velvet" (1986). As Dorothy Vallens, a torchy nightclub singer in the grip of a psychopathic gangster (Dennis Hopper), Rossellini gave a fearless performance in a challenging role that required her to appear nude in an unflattering scene. Her bravery paid off with critical respect and an Independent Spirit Award for Best Actress.

She worked consistently throughout the late 1980s, largely in roles that either played to her noirish image in "Blue Velvet," like Norman Mailer's overwrought "Tough Guys Don't Dance" (1987), or lightweight material like the romance, "Cousins" (1989). She reunited with Lynch in 1990 for "Wild at Heart," which cast her as seductive criminal, Perdita Durango. The 1990s saw a turn in her cinematic fortunes towards more substantive fare; "Fearless" (1993) cast her as the emotionally estranged wife of plane crash survivor Jeff Bridges, while the Robert Zemeckis comedy "Death Becomes Her" (1992) earned her a Saturn Award as an alluring mystery woman with the secret of eternal youth. She was Big Nose Kate, companion to Doc Holliday in Kevin Costner's sprawling "Wyatt Earp" (1994) and an alleged paramour of Ludwig van Beethoven - played by her one-time, off-screen boyfriend, Gary Oldman - in "Immortal Beloved" (1994).

The year 1996 marked the beginning of a long and fruitful collaboration with actors Stanley Tucci and Campbell Scott. She was the unfaithful girlfriend to Tucci's Italian restaurant owner in "Big Night" (1996) - his directorial debut with Scott - and later reunited with them for "The Imposters" (1998), a delirious valentine to Depression Era comedies which gave her comic timing a terrific showcase as a queen in hiding. Rossellini and Scott teamed for a third time in the indie drama-comedy "Roger Dodger" (2002), with Rossellini as the girlfriend and boss who gives the heave-ho to commitment-phobic Scott.

Rossellini began to explore opportunities on television in the late 1990s and into the early millennium, which yielded considerable success for her. She received a Golden Globe nomination as Anna Hauptmann, wife of accused Lindbergh baby kidnapper Bruno Hauptmann, in "Crime of the Century" (HBO, 1996), and later earned an Emmy nod for a three-episode arc on "Chicago Hope" (CBS, 1994-2000). Other television roles came as Athena in the Hallmark adaptation of "The Odyssey" (NBC, 1997), "Don Quixote" for TNT (2000), as the Empress Josephine opposite Gerard Depardieu's "Napoleon" (A&E, 2002), and a five-episode stint as the aunt of super agent Sydney Bristow (Jennifer Garner) on "Alias" (ABC, 2001-06). In 2007, she again gained a chance to show off her comic skills as the former wife of TV executive Jack Donaghey (Alec Baldwin) on "30 Rock" (NBC, 2007), in which she more than held her own against formidable comics, Tina Fey and Baldwin.

In 2003, Rossellini began her working relationship with Canadian arthouse director Guy Maddin. "The Saddest Music in the World" (2003) was perhaps her most unusual feature since her films with Lynch; a surreal melodrama about a contest to find the most heart-rending music imaginable, she played the legless brewery heiress who sponsors the offbeat competition. She and Maddin re-teamed two years later for "My Dad is 100 Years Old" (2006), a fanciful short film that paid tribute to her father, whom she played in the film by wearing an enormous "fat suit," as well as channeling Alfred Hitchcock, her mother and Charlie Chaplin.

Rossellini also published a book about her father that same year titled In the Name of the Father, The Daughter and the Holy Spirit: Remembering Roberto Rossellini - a project she hoped might shed light on the less famous of her two parents. The film project was reportedly denounced by her twin sister, Ingrid, who considered it something of an insult to her father's memory. In addition to her book about her father, Rossellini published two autobiographies. The first, 1997's Some of Me, was a fictionalized remembrance of her early life, while 2002's Looking At Me took a more realistic approach. She was also a trustee of the George Eastman House and a recipient of the Eastman Award for her work in film preservation, as well as a national ambassador for the U.S. Fund for UNICEF.

As the new millennium progressed, Rossellini divided her time between features and documentary projects; the former included co-starring roles with Anthony LaPaglia in "The Architect" and Uma Thurman in Griffin Dunne's comedy "The Accidental Husband" (2008), while the latter included narration for an episode of "Discovery Atlas" (Discovery Channel, 2006- ) in her native Italy and the IFC series "Iconoclasts" (2006- ) in which she was featured alongside Segway creator Dean Kamen. Both occurred in 2006, the same year she made her directorial debut with the comic short, "Oh La La." She returned to the director's chair for the truly offbeat series "Green Porno" (2008), which she also wrote and produced. The eight shorts examined the mating rituals of various insects by enacting them while wearing oversized costumes - many worn by Rossellini. Popular on the festival circuit, they appeared on The Sundance Channel's web site, which ordered another series - this time focusing on marine life - for 2009.