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Life is a ‘Circus’ these days for actress Isabella Rossellini

Isabella Rossellini | Brigitte Lacombe Photo

Isabella Rossellini | Brigitte Lacombe Photo

It was no surprise that actress Isabella Rossellini went into the family business. After all she is the daughter of cinema royalty — Oscar-winner Ingrid Bergman (“Casablanca,” “Gaslight”) and Italian director Roberto Rossellini  (“Open City”). But what is surprising is the career path she’s taken in recent years.

A long-dormant interest was reawakened about a decade ago when Rossellini enrolled in a graduate program at New York’s Hunter College to study animal behavior and conservation. However the actress in her also inspired a theatrical take on the subject.

First there was a series of comical short films for the Sundance Channel about animal behavior titled “Green Porno,” “Seduce Me” and “Mamas,” which looked at animal reproduction and the mothering instinct. These morphed into Rossellini’s first touring show, also called “Green Porno,” which she performed in cities around the world.

Isabella Rossellini’s ‘Link Link Circus’
When: 8 p.m. Jan. 10-11
Where: Old Town School of Folk Music, 4544 N. Lincoln
Tickets: Sold out
Info: oldtownschool.org

Rossellini is currently touring her newest show, “Link Link Circus,” her knowledgeable look at animal cognition, which stops at the Old Town School of Folk Music for two sold-out performances.

“I found that as I got older more opportunities opened up for me,” Rossellini says. “I was an actress — a storyteller all my life of other people’s stories. I thought it was time to tell the stories that seemed interesting to me.”

“Link Link Circus” features Rossellini as a ringmaster, outfitted in deconstructed ringmaster attire, and her adorable dog Pan (aka Darcy) along with more comic films, home movies and animation. Pan, who was trained by Broadway animal wrangler William Berloni, is outfitted in little costumes portraying various animals.

The “Green Porno” monologue was written in collaboration with French screenwriter Jean-Claude Carriere who has collaborated with everyone from Luis Bunuel to Peter Brooks. “He took me under his wing and gave me the confidence to write on my own,” she says referring to “Link Link Circus,” which is inspired by scientific studies.

“If a layperson read these studies, they would be bored stiff,” Rossellini says with a laugh. “My job was to translate what I have studied into something visual and comical for the audience. This time around I thought I could do it by having a little circus, but instead of man dominating animals I show man sharing intelligence with animals.”

Actress Isabella Rosselini feeds a portion of the nearly 100 heirloom chickens she owns at her Long Island, New York, home. | Patrice Casanova Photo

Actress Isabella Rossellini feeds a portion of the nearly 100 heirloom chickens she owns at her farm near her Long Island, New York, home. | Patrice Casanova Photo

As a youngster, Rossellini, who grew up in Rome, developed an interest in animals after her father gave her a copy of Konrad Lorenz’s “King Solomon’s Ring,” a book about animal behavior and communication. When it was time for college, she considered studying animal behavior but found no universities offered the discipline.

“I was interested but it didn’t seem at the time a plausible study to lead to a career,” she recalls. “Now I have gone back to what I dreamed of as a little girl.”

Rossellini also manages a 28-acre organic farm near her home in Long Island where she keeps nearly 100 heirloom chickens plus bees, turkeys, sheep and goats. Several Brooklyn restaurants purchase heirloom vegetables grown at the farm. Her book “My Chickens and I” was published in early 2018.

“I think a little farm like mine besides being the great pleasure of the community might also contribute to maintaining the diversity in animals and plants,” she says.

Rossellini has, over her career, worked with a wide range of popular directors from David Lynch and Robert Wilson to David O. Russell, Guy Maddin and Taylor Hackford. She admits that like many actresses she faced a career turn as she headed into middle-age. Lancome, for whom she was a spokesperson, cancelled her contract, and acting roles suddenly became scarce. And with her children now older, it all spurred her return to her first love.

Now as she continues her study of animals (she has completed her course work and is working on her dissertation), Rossellini, 66, says she was not afraid of retiring as her career changed. In the next breath, she notes that’s not really the case at least at the moment as she experiences a resurgence of her previous work.

Lancome came calling once again, and she is again appearing in ads for the company’s Renergie Multi-Glow line. As for acting, she’s had a two-season arc as the matriarch of a crime family on the Hulu series “Shut Eye,” plus roles in the Eileen Atkins-penned “Vita and Virginia,” a film about the affair between socialite Vita Sackville-West and author Virginia Woolf, and “Silent Life,” a film about Rudolph Valentino.

“I went back to school and thought this is what I’m going to do now. The farm and these little shows, something that I created for myself. My life was slowing down but the last few years have been super busy. It’s been fun and demanding. And I didn’t expect any of this to happen again.”

Mary Houlihan is a local freelance writer.