Long before Corona, the actress Isabella Rosselini, who lives in the USA, began to drag Hollywood myths through cocoa. Now she is back – with a new animal project. Her "Sex & Consequences" shows usually take place on the farm and are streamed online. DW spoke to the actress and filmmaker.
Deutsche Welle: Isabella Rossellini, your show is called "Sex and Consequences". The sex part is pretty clear. But what are the consequences?
Isabella Rossellini: Well, I bet the sex part isn't entirely clear to you either, because I'm also talking about mating hermaphrodites, animals that reproduce asexually.
I'll give you a surprising answer about the consequences of sex: if you mate particularly friendly individuals over several generations, the end result will be a species that is tamer and has spots.
So there are surprising consequences when friendlier, more cooperative individuals mate. I bet you didn't know that. They just thought: the consequences are pregnant or not pregnant. That is also an issue.
Before the outbreak of the coronavirus, Isabella Rossellini was traveling around the globe with various shows that focused on topics from the animal kingdom.
Let's talk about your own animals: You have been rehearsing with your dogs, chickens and sheep for quite a while now. Which of your animals is the most talented?
I have a little circus dog that I toured with on a show called Link Link Circus. All of my shows are about animals. I have a Masters degree in Animal Behavior and Conservation, so I do weird shows about animals, be it their reproduction or their perception of what intelligence, courtship, motherhood means – different subjects about animals.
My bitch is of course trained for the circus. She is the most obedient. The sheep are the toughest. Because they're big animals, and the other day they just broke into my house. I went outside, I had her with me on the porch. The door was just ajar and they just stormed into the house.
So talent is one thing, obedience is another. You said you have a masters degree in animal behavior. Have animals taught you about people?
I believe biology and nature teach us something about ourselves. All of this makes us humble because we are part of nature. Somehow we perceive ourselves as "we against nature", but of course we are part of nature. We evolved from an ancestor we shared with the monkeys. When I study science, I keep remembering it, and it makes me feel more connected to nature.
Do you believe – after studying sex in the animal world so intensely – that there is something that animals do right during sex? Something we humans don't do?
I talked about this with Professor Diana Reiss, who has researched dolphins. And dolphins are very much in love; they swim together, they caress each other, there is same-sex sex.
And dolphins are very intelligent – their brains are bigger than ours and they are some of the most perceptive animals. So you also have a sexuality that is not only used for reproduction, as was the case with us. It is also used for bonding, for mutual understanding and for forming alliances.
So we asked ourselves whether in our culture we only imposed the goal of procreation on the sexual act. Sometimes, it seems, our culture has distorted our perception of sex.
You spend a lot of time studying animal behavior. What are your thoughts on human behavior in 2020?
We're still evolving. I don't know where we're going, but we are meant to get there. We know very little about animals. In fact, many people still think that animals are unable to think or that they have no emotions. And thoughts are so private that it's really hard for science to prove that animals think.
That is why today we have instruments like MRI and all that that can show a certain activity of the brain. So we know that an animal dreams. And when it dreams, it also has the ability to imagine something. We know mice laugh. We know chimpanzees laugh – I'm not surprised. But smiling and laughing are two different things.
I don't know if any of this teaches us anything other than that we are connected. We're all on a continuum, and I think that was Darwin's great revolution. Because before we had always imagined that we humans were different from animals, that we were created in the image of God. And then God created all animals so that we could tend them or eat them or whatever do with them. But that is not true.
I'm going to do an exhibition at the Musée D'Orsay in Paris, where I'll give two lectures. And the museum will show an exhibition on how art has changed since Darwin understood that there is this continuum, that we are not against nature, but that we all belong together.
And that's a thought that sometimes makes us very nervous – because if we're animals, what does that mean? What about morality? But according to Darwin, animals have morals. Especially animals that live together share a code and use rituals to get along.
Conservation is very closely related to all of this: you create a national park, but you also have to understand the behavior of animals in order to correctly set the boundaries of the national park for animal behavior. This is because you could accidentally cut out a watering hole or cut off a passage for a certain animal walking along it to avoid a certain predator. So you have to understand animal behavior to become a better conservationist.
Speaking of evolution, what have you been doing most of the time you were locked up at home doing this online show with your animals?
I think we are very resilient. We are live with the evolution of technology. We can even see it in the way you and I do this interview. I think the problems that Covid-19 created have accelerated the process of finding new ways to be together and communicate. And this was also a problem that I had to deal with.
All theaters in America are closed, and I think they will be closed for another year, if not longer. Then how do you get in touch with your audience again? How do you keep telling stories?
I've seen a lot of business people use the Zoom communication platform. So I decided to do a live show on Zoom. Technically, it might not be perfect, but if you think about the origins of cinema: They were silent films with a large audience. It was all in black and white and there was an audience anyway. The essential thing is not the technology itself. Yes, of course we want stylish, beautiful things, but that's not the essential thing. The essence is what you have to say.
That is an optimistic outlook. And I have one last question for you that is about optimism: You made the United States your home. Do you see the future in this country as positive?
Its hard. We have never experienced such social tension and unrest before. I think we long for courtesy, for civilized discourse and for unity. Because this country is a great country.
There has been a tremendous split between people in recent years and the discourse has become quite violent. As a mother and grandmother, I always tell my children and my grandchildren that they shouldn't be a tyrant, that they should be polite, that they should have an opinion, but also respect other opinions. I tell them: if you listen carefully to others, you may even learn something.
That is why I would like to come back to this type of bourgeois discourse. I think that is the basis of democracy. To cut a long story short, I will not vote for Trump.
Interview conducted by David Levitz (adaptation: Philipp Jedicke).