Nov. 1985
Isabella - Bergman's daughter bids for stardom.
By Jim Waters

"People always told me I should try to be an actress because of my mother, but that's not a very good reason," says Isabella Rossellini. She has a $2 million face--that's for Lancome's ads--and a pedigree that would make her a natural: She's the daughter of Ingrid Bergman and director Roberto Rossellini. So why is she just now, at the age of 33, making her American film debut? Taylor Hackford, who directed An Officer and a Gentleman, cast her in White Nights, a tale of escape from Russia he thought up for dancers Mikhail Baryshnikov and Gregory Hines. Hackford needed an actress to play Hines's Russian wife, and he remembered a magazine layout in which Isabella looked, in his words, "so versatile, so virginal in one pose, so punk in another, yet like her famous mother in still another. After two readings and without a screen test I told her the role was hers--I had that much confidence in her." Isabella studied Russian and did the role with little makeup and a wardrobe no model would be seen in. How does she feel about trying to follow her mother's shadow? With a throaty laugh that sounds like an echo from Casablanca, she says, "Now, I tempt fate."

"Mama used to tell this story that she grew so immense when she was pregnant with us, she thought she was carrying a monster. We were in front of one another, and the doctor heard only one heartbeat," explains Ingrid Rossellini, Isabella's quiet, shy twin, who is studying Italian literature at Columbia University's graduate school. Isabella calls Ingrid "the brain in the family, an intellectual like our father." Ingrid says, "From two years old, Isabella had a strong personality." Both are worshipful of their late, illustrious parents, although neither knew until their adult years of the international scandal caused when Bergman left her first husband, daughter (Pia Lindstrom, a TV critic) and Hollywood for the controversial Italian director.

"Our mother was a wise woman who kept everything in the right perspective. My sister has that quality too," says Ingrid. "I wish I had started things sooner, so they would last longer," says Isabella Rossellini. "I like all this so much--being a model, being an actress now. But maybe if I had done it all earlier, I wouldn't have enjoyed it because I couldn't have appreciated it to the full extent--I wasn't a grown-up woman." Dressed in a plain cotton blouse and slacks, hair short and simple, a speck of lipstick, Isabella is in a Manhattan restaurant, wolfing down a lunch of liver and onions. Officially, she's too old to cut it as a model; yet she's one of the highest paid in the business. She once got $335,000 for four days of work in Japan. She's just as late launching a major movie career. She chose White Nights over Witness, the Harrison Ford hit, and is currently making Blue Velvet, a mystery with Dennis Hopper, in North Carolina.

Talking in circles but never losing her point, Isabella id disarmingly warm and candid. She has a lilting Italian accent. "Obviously my life has changed tremendously. I make a lot of money. That brings a new kind of responsibility and some panic. I suppose it's saintly to say money is nothing to you, but it does bring its own worries."

Isabella's parents did not live to see her in every fashion magazine and on a new cover every month. "My father died eight years ago and my mother three, after suffering for nine years with cancer. She saw just the beginning of my career. And my father, who never had enough money to make his films, only got to see my work as a television journalist in the 1970s, but he was proud."

Isabella became a permanent U.S. resident in 1972, going to and dropping out of Finch College. At the New School in Manhattan she taught Italian while attending classes. Her work as an interviewer for Italian TV took her around the world and put her in touch with American celebrities such as Woody Allen and Muhammad Ali. She ended up marrying one of her interviewees, director Martin Scorsese. Isabella's comedic talents were displayed on a Saturday Night Live-type TV show in Rome. But it was modeling that captured what she calls "a passion I get for things I love." It also brought her bouquets as one of the most beautiful women of this generation. "I love the photographers, and i guess they like me. I am disciplined, very punctual, and I can drop three pounds fast if they ask. I'm just an angel." Isabella's laugh is deep, her smile exposes a broken tooth she won't have fixed. "I think teeth have their own equilibrium--is that the word? I have perfect teeth, no cavities, just this big chip. My brother broke it when he threw a telephone at me. He would insult my girlfriends with obscenities on the phone. I once tried to take it away, and he let go. I have to laugh."

The smile disappears when she discusses her recent breakup with second husband Jon Wiedemann. "He is not here to tell his story, is he? I have learned life is risky, but at the moment I don't feel a tremendous need for having a man or a husband. Maybe by Christmas, but not now." Isabella denies rumors of a romance with costar Baryshnikov. "We are best friends, and I know he has that women reputation thing. For our love affair, we sublimate--is that the word?--with our dogs. His female dachsund just had six puppies by mine. Just say that the dogs had the affair, and Misha and I skipped the trouble." According to one close friend, Isabella is the matriarch of the whole Rossellini clan of assorted siblings and their families. She tends to look on her friends as "an extended family, but there are limits if you really make each a part of your life."

Calling her a "fabulous hostess," Hackford says one of the best memories on location with White Nights was in Port, Finland, last year when Isabella celebrated her mother's birthday on the second anniversary of her death--Ingrid Bergman died on her 67th birthday. "Isabella had each of us sing a song," Hackford remembers. "She simply wanted to transmit the joy in her love for her mother to all of us on the film. And she did. When we finally left the restaurant that cold night, we had such genuine feelings. It was impossible to be immune from Isabella's great spirit and friendship."

Below are photos from this article; click on thumbnails for larger photo.

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