Q&A: Green Porno's Isabella Rossellini
The actor-filmmaker brings her surreal Web series about the sex lives of animals, Green Porno, to the stage
Thu Jan 16 2014
Photograph: Mario del Cutro
What the fuck is that spider doing to that other spider?!? If you’ve never encountered Green Porno, Isabella Rossellini’s racy nature show for the Sundance Channel website, you are missing out on one of the great joys of the Internet. Dressed in elaborate paper-and-spandex costumes, the actor-filmmaker-model describes and acts out the sexual behavior of animals ranging from praying mantises to anglerfish, uttering unforgettable lines like, “I would stick my palpi in her epigyne and run off!” Now, she’s collaborated with writer Jean-Claude Carrière and director Muriel Mayette to adapt her quirky wildlife docs into a one-woman stage show running through January 25.
What were the roots of Green Porno?
About six or seven years ago, the Sundance Channel had allocated some budget to create films for the Internet, and they asked if I wanted to make a short film series. It started as an experiment—it was the beginning of YouTube, and the Web was still finding its way. The assignment was to do films that were no more than two minutes long. [Sundance founder Robert] Redford thought that the art of short film had disappeared, and he felt that the Web would be the opportunity to reestablish it.
What was the inspiration for the series?
Well I’m interested in animals, but most other people are interested in sex. [Laughs] With the combination of these two things, I thought, I can make films for the Internet. I had to find something that had a formula that I could repeat. So all the [episodes] start with me in a close-up saying, “If I were a fly…” or “If I were a worm…,” and then I describe some of my characteristics, and I [act out] the way that I mate. Generally in more established [nature] documentaries, the humor is not there. They are beautiful, and I am very passionate about [them], but I did not want to repeat what was already there. But I thought by doing something comical, there could be some originality. Because biodiversity is very funny.
The humor definitely comes across.
I really want the films to be funny, but I think they can be only if they’re true to science. I don’t think that if I, just as an old lady, go nuts and say things that are not anchored to anything, it can be funny. It’s very important that the science is correct. We spend a lot of time trying to make these [scientific] papers that are often very dry funny. The writing is the biggest effort.
How do you go about researching? Do you do a lot of it on your own?
I’m taking a masters degree on animal behavior and conservation. So some of it of course is me, but we always have scientific consultations. For this [stage show], the consultant was Alan Grafen, who is an Oxford professor and a mathematician. It was interesting to talk to him to make sure we understood these very vast theories; some of them are very complicated. It was good to have Alan say, “No, you’re wrong! That’s not what we said!” because sometimes [scientific] papers are not so clear. [Laughs]
Can you talk about the costumes in the video series?
We hired Andy Byers, who does beautiful work in paper, to execute [the costumes]. At the time, he was working mostly with Victoria’s Secret, doing their windows. And Andy added a lot of his ideas to the costumes until they became extraordinarily complicated and beautiful. The more we collaborated, the more they also gave me ideas.
Should we expect lots of costumes in the stage version as well?
No, because it’d be impossible to change [that often]. I do three changes, but it’s not like a Las Vegas parade where every two minutes I come up with a different costume. I’m at the podium and I’m talking and showing films.
What made you want to adapt Green Porno into a stage show?
I have a friend who is an actress, very known in France—Carole Bouquet. It was her idea that I should transform it into a theater piece. At the beginning, I just couldn’t see it—because I was so trained to [make] these little two-minute fragments that I just didn’t know how to put them together into an hour. But [Carole] called the wonderful writer Jean-Claude Carrière, who has a mythical career. He helped me write my monologue. [The show] includes some of my film, but it is much more in-depth about biology and also pondering about life. It won’t be a boring moralistic lesson—it’s very comical—but we also ask deep questions.
For example, recently, scientists have found out that homosexuality is quite common among animals in the wild. This makes us think about [human] homosexuality, and can we condemn it as being against nature? Certainly you can’t. And there has also been research done recently by woman biologists on maternal instinct. Generally it was assumed that females are more inclined to self-sacrifice and altruism, because they would have to take care of the baby. But then if you further look at it, you see there are many, many ways of being a mother, and not all of them are self-sacrificing and nice. [Laughs]
What’s the strangest animal sexual behavior you’ve come across?
To me, what is interesting is the diversity; it isn’t so much that one is very strange. There are so many ways to solve how to reproduce, how to perpetuate a species. There are so many solutions to the same quest. To me, that is astounding.
Green Porno is at BAM Fisher through Jan 25. $90–$120, limited rush $30. bam.org.