Isabella Rossellini on Communicating the Wonder of Nature

I’m Alan Alda and this is Clear and Vivid, conversations about connecting and communicating.

Isabella: People always assume that animals mate like we do, a male and a female, but it’s not the case. I wanted to tell that story, and I thought it could always start with just simply a closeup of me saying, if I were, I don’t know, if I were a praying mantis, this is how I would make love. I would change myself in costume, because of course, I have a long experience as a model and so costume and fashion is my background. I could transform myself into that animal and show how they mate.
You probably know Isabella Rossellini from her extremely successful acting and modelling career. But you may not know her as one of the most unusual communicators about the sex lives of insects and other animals that you’ve ever come across. Actually, maybe the only one you’ll ever come across. Isabella has fascinated people around the globe with a series of videos on YouTube called Green Porno. It’s not only attention-grabbing, it’s also funny. And it comes from a place of curiosity deep in Isabella’s heart.
Alan: 00:00 It’s really interesting that you are very much as I am in the business of trying to help science be available to all of us. I think I read it some place that you said, you want to share what you experience as you learn more about science.
Isabella: 00:20 Exactly, exactly. I think my passion and curiosity for animal behavior was so great that I could overcome the difficulties of reading scientific papers about them.
Isabella: 00:53 But as I went back to university to take my master degree, I started to make films about them, and what I’ve learned, comical films about them. The biggest obstacle that I had, I have to say was to take the scientific papers and translate them into a language that is accessible to everyone.
Alan: 01:13 It’s interesting, it’s not just the language that I got out of it. For instance, Green Porno, that series of films about basically about the repro-
Isabella: 01:24 Reproduction.
Alan: 01:25 Reproduction among other animals.
Isabella: 01:27 Yes.
Alan: 01:29 Especially ones where one mate devours the other.
Isabella: 01:34 Yes.
Alan: 01:35 Or just knocks him off.
Isabella: 01:38 Knocks him off, change sex, anything is possible. That’s what I found it was comical. I think that my films, or my monologues that I do in the theater are comical. Frankly, I didn’t know that it started about wanting to be comical. But I realized that what meets my interest in animal is that they’re humorous to me, they make me laugh, and that’s what appeals to me. The first series I created Green Porno, was how animal reproduce, and there’s nothing funnier.
Isabella: 02:13 Because of course, we have all these morality, you have to be married. You may be best just to make love to have your babies, not just for pleasure. Then you look at the animal world, and animals change sex, have homo sexual relationships, devour their babies, devour their spouse, anything goes.
Alan: 02:37 I got to tell you. I sometimes found it funny, sometimes it scared the daylights out of me. I actually had a feeling of terror, and there you are, you’re dressed up in a bug suit, and I should have been laughing at it, but I thought, I don’t want to get my head bitten off.
Isabella: 02:54 Exactly, that’s the praying mantis. It’s amazing. The praying mantis, while the male is mounting the female, the female turns her head and start eating him. They start eating him by the head, and he evolved the brain where the neurons or whatever it takes in the brain to have the movement to penetrate her is away from the brain, has traveled down into the spinal cord. He can still do the thrashing movement that it needs to do when mating her, while his brain is being eaten.
Isabella: 03:32 Because by the time he gets to the end of him, and devours even that, then it’s ending. It is terrifying.
Alan: 03:49 It somehow doesn’t make me laugh. But it’s a wonderful exploration of the different ways one bug or animal can be punctured in any part of the body.
Isabella: 04:07 That’s the bedbugs, that has infested a lot of the beds in New York city. The bedbugs, first of all, you have to bring a beagle, a dog, who can smell your mattress. The beagle, it would be the best detector if you do have bedbugs or not, besides the bites that you have find on your body. But it could be maybe bites of other insect. That already makes me laugh. That I had a friend who had bedbugs, and the little beagle that came in, the exterminator came with a little dog, a beagle, that’s smelling the house and would bark at every piece of furniture, the sofa or the bed where she could smell the bug.
Isabella: 04:46 Bedbug is very interesting because it has, the female doesn’t have a vagina or anything similar to a vagina, or that it would be a receptor of sperm. She has evolved a body, a kind of a blood circulation system where the male penetrates her by puncturing her like an injection, anywhere it wants in the body, and ejecting the sperms, that would travel in her blood system, and find through the blood circulation the eggs, that then will be fertilized internally.
Alan: 05:25 Which as I understand is not actual blood, but it’s a serum like blood.
Isabella: 05:29 Right, the insect, they don’t have a blood like ours that is red, but they have, yes, a liquid that carries the antibodies, the oxygen, whatever you need, the same function as the blood. She has that stream that runs through her body, to run, to be able to include the sperms that then would find, as they’re circulating her body, they’re finding the eggs and fertilize them.
Alan: 05:55 Isn’t it amazing how nature finds so many ways to accomplish the same thing?
Isabella: 06:00 Exactly, that to me …
Alan: 06:02 Like walking, locomotion, all different ways of doing it.
Isabella: 06:04 Yes, well, the reason why I did sex is well, is because I thought that if I do locomotion or digestive system, I wouldn’t find an audience. But sex already had, and now, my next show, that I’m doing is about intelligence, cognition, as the scientists prefer to call it. I was very afraid not to find an audience. My new show is called Link Link Circus, and of course, link is referred to Darwin. Darwin was the first, with his theory of evolution, that linked us to the animals. He said, we have a common ancestor with the apes.
Alan: 06:42 What’s the circus part?
Isabella: 06:43 The circus part of it, so because I was intimidated that not talking about sex but intelligence. As I said, this show is about waist up, the other one was about waist down. That I had to have an element of charm, to charm my audience. So I have a little dogs, a trained dog that is with me, that I dress her up like different animals. She does a little bit of training. I mean, she did need training. But she doesn’t do anything spectacular. She doesn’t jump into any loop of fire. But she barks, and she sits on command, and she comes and goes.
Isabella: 07:20 But most of all, she’s dressed like different animals, as I am talking about animals. For example, at a certain point, I talk about sheep. The natural, now sheep, they’re white, but that’s not their natural color. They were selected by our ancestor to be white, because white is easier to dye, so fashion.
Alan: 07:42 What color were they originally?
Isabella: 07:43 It’s the black sheep, the famous black sheep is the ancestral natural color of the sheep …
Alan: 07:48 Oh really?
Isabella: 07:48 … which is a dark brown. If you think of any wild cousin of the sheep, antelope, they’re all brown, beige, but white is very rare color in the wild, unless you’re from the north pole and you want to camouflage.
Alan: 08:02 Right, you had not much protection from predators if you’re white and down south.
Isabella: 08:07 Exactly. When I talk about this way that our ancestor manipulated wild animal, to select certain traits and create a domestic animal such as the domestic sheep, the white sheep that we see in the flocks. My dog first comes out dressed like a sheep, and then I have a series of puppets coming in to create a flock, and then she mingles with the puppets to be creating a flock of sheep. This is what the dog does, and I thought he would add charm, so that we can talk about cognition, and how men intervene in the evolution of the animals.
Isabella: 08:43 But I always want my shows to be entertaining. I mean, above all, I am an entertainer. So the dog is helping me bring that element.
Alan: 08:54 It’s very interesting to me, because we’re both on a similar trajectory to share our love of science, and the pleasure, and at least from point of view, the pleasure I get, the amazement that I feel of what’s being discovered.
Isabella: 09:16 Me too, exactly.
Alan: 09:17 I just wanted to share that with people.
Isabella: 09:19 Exactly.
Alan: 10:15 How did you get the idea of using the animals in such a theatrical way? You have this love of animals obviously, was there some moment where you said, I’ll put them center stage?
Isabella: 10:27 Yes, it came about … My father is a filmmaker, was a filmmaker called Roberto Rossellini, who in 2006, it would have been his centennial. I wanted to do an homage to my father. I created a 20 minutes film that Sundance saw at the festival in Toronto liked it and bought it, and that was my first relationship with the Sundance channel. They liked my film and they offered me to do short films with an environmental message. At first, I said, “I’m not a filmmaker, I don’t know how to director.” Then almost like a little lamp bulb went into my head, I said, “Oh, I can make a series of film called Green Porno.” The title came later, about how animals mates.
Isabella: 11:18 Because people always assume that animal mate like we do, a male and a female, but it’s not the case. They have animals that have the same sex, there are hermaphrodites, or there are animal that are born male, and then become female when they’re older. I wanted to tell that story, and I thought it could always start with just simply a closeup of me saying, if I were, I don’t know, if I were a praying mantis, this is how I would make love. I would change myself in costume, because of course, I have a long experience as a model and so costume and fashion is my background. I could transform myself into that animal, and show how they mate.
Alan: 12:00 And I don’t want to embarrass you but as an actress, you set yourself a, I don’t think an easy task, and you’re so convincing as these bugs and would have an objective that’s of utmost importance to them, and you really played that so authentically. With all your heart, it’s just wonderful to see as a fellow actor.
Isabella: 12:22 Thanks.
Alan: 12:23 I loved it.
Isabella: 12:24 I play a very good worm, yes. I get into it.
Alan: 12:29 You mentioned your work as a model, and I was interested to read or hear you speak in an interview about the research that I think Lancome did on asking people how they read you and other models. What they thought your private life was like, just from looking at pictures of your modeling.
Isabella: 12:55 It’s so interesting. Exactly, isn’t that interesting?
Alan: 12:57 They came up with kind of accurate answers.
Isabella: 12:59 Completely accurate, so they do marketing research, and I’m not allowed to read these marketing research, but sometimes people gossip and report back to me. One of the things that was most fascinating to me is that the Lancome used me for many years, but without identifying who I was, my name or my background. And the advertisement was just this image of this woman wearing the crème, or advertising the crème. Then they do marketing research, and they asked the people to describe this person. They say, “Do you think she’s married? Do you think she has children? How do you think she lives? Does she live in a city, in th e country?
Isabella: 13:38 How do you imagine her, the core of her house to be?” And they were so detailed. It was amazing. They guessed that I was married, that I was a mother, that I had a European background, and that my sofas were white, and indeed my sofas are, they have a slip cover that is white. I couldn’t get over of how we can read so many details in a face in an expression.
Isabella: 14:07 This is one of the question, going back to animals and when you study animal communication that I ask myself, is it enough to just study the animal odors and sounds? To trying to decipher what they say, when we are able, without words to guess so much about just a person in their expression. I think communication goes through much more than just language.
Alan: 14:37 I watch dogs with the people who care for them on the street, and a dog will be walking with someone on a leash, and about every three or four steps, look up into the face of the human, checking that person out. And there’s a real, it’s easy to anthropomorphize another animal, but there almost seems to be this look of concern on the dog’s face, is everything okay? Are we still together on this? It’s this taking in the face of the human that sounds like, a little bit to me like what you’re talking about, about how we read one another’s faces.
Isabella: 15:24 I mean, no, when you were talking about the dog checking the faces, I remember a paper that I read in school, and they made a comparison between wolf and dogs. Of course, the dog is domesticated, and the ancestor of the dog is the wolf. But the dog was domesticated by men and they co-evolved probably, and the dogs look at human beings much more than a wolf does. Just probably, we assume to detect what does he want, is he okay? I have noticed things that are very mysterious, you probably have a dog too. Sometimes I’m at my desk writing or reading, and then I think, okay, enough, I’m going to take a walk.
Isabella: 16:45 Before I can get up, just that thought, my dog runs to the door looking at the leash, as if he could read my mind. Now, maybe he cannot read my mind, but do I exude a different smell, because a different thought has happened in my brain? I certainly communicates something that I cannot detect, but he can.
Alan: 17:08 You got to get a notebook and keep track of every time you get up out of the chair, and see how many times the dog goes for the leash.
Isabella: 17:15 For the leash, yeah.
Alan: 17:15 Yeah.
Isabella: 17:16 They seem to anticipate what we want to do, especially things they want to do, like taking a walk.
Alan: 17:22 You remind me of research I read about the hormone oxytocin that is considered to be very important in bonding among people.
Isabella: 17:40 Yes.
Alan: 17:41 The research indicated that when the human and the dog look at each other’s eyes, they hold the gaze of one another for a while, like maybe a minute or two, the oxytocin in both the human and the dog goes up.
Isabella: 18:03 Goes up, yeah.
Alan: 18:04 The idea of looking in the eyes as a boost to bonding may be part of what’s going on.
Isabella: 18:15 Yes, I totally agree. I know that that’s why we have service dogs. I volunteer for the guide dog foundation, so I mostly train dog for the blind. But I know that some of these dog who may not be able, who doesn’t have a talent to guide end up being service dog, in the sense that they go to the hospital or old people home or hospices, because there is a definitely relation between calming by caressing the dog. I have a friend of mine with whom I raise bees, and his wife has Alzheimer’s and she’s now dead, but she didn’t react to anything. But when a little dog would come and she would then caress it, and seemed she would have a smile. She seemed that the dog brought her some solace. I attribute that to the fact that we co-evolved. Dog has been the first animal that has been domesticated, 15, 20000 years ago. Most of the other animals have been domesticated about 8000 years ago with the event of agriculture. Most of them have been domesticated because we want to eat them, chickens, pigs, cows. Dog is unusual because most civilization don’t eat the dog, but we co-evolved for friendship. We created an alliance with them.
Alan: 19:42 It’s a powerful alliance.
Isabella: 19:44 I always feel because I have many dogs, I have a little farm, and I first had dogs, and I said, “Oh, I want to have all animals. My relationship with the dog is so great.” But I feel the history with dogs, still the dog is the one that I’m most bonded with.
She may be most bonded with dogs, but Isabella has a knack for connecting with all kinds of animals, including chickens. Her interesting thoughts about how chickens have different personalities, and about how that might have helped them survive as long as they have, right after this.

This is Clear + Vivid. Now back to Isabella Rossellini, and what she has learned from her passionate study of animals.
Alan: 20:02 What about all these chickens? You have h ow many chickens do you think?
Isabella: 20:07 I have about a hundred chickens.
Alan: 20:09 Do you get close to any one of them?
Isabella: 20:11 The biggest surprise that I’ve had is that they have personalities. Now, this is a new item that science is interested in, personalities. They always assume that animals have no personalities. You won’t imagine a chicken would have a personality. But they definitely have personalities, and I think that the difference in individuality is essential for evolution, because evolution works. The differences, a physical difference is if you have more fur and the weather changes, the pattern of the weather change and it become colder, that animal that has more hair will probably, the babies of that animal will inherit more hair, and they will have a better chance to live.
Alan: 21:35 To the extent, I would imagine, what do you think, to the extent that personality can help you survive like more fur can …
Isabella: 21:43 Exactly.
Alan: 21:43 … if you naturally come in with a personality that favors the survivability …
Isabella: 21:49 Exactly.
Alan: 21:50 … then you need that variation in the personalities, I guess.
Isabella: 21:54 Perfect, exactly. I don’t think it’s only variation in physical trait, which was long recognized, but also it’s personality. It might be better to be shyer, more flighty, or maybe it is better to be friendlier, and in fact, they assumed, there is a wonderful scientist called Brian Hare that wrote a book called The Genius of Dog, and he wrote several paper about the evolution of the wolf. He doesn’t think that wolf was domesticated by men, but he think that wold self-domesticated. Meaning that the wolf that were least aggressive were allowed to live near human dwellings, near the [girdle 00:22:41].
Alan: 22:41 Weren’t they drawn to piles of refuse where they would feed?
Isabella: 22:46 Exactly, but if they were attracted to a pile of garbage, they would eat, but then the men would appear with these garbage to throw in the pile, and then the wolf would eat the men. The men would make sure either to change the way of disposal of the garbage, or would kill the wolf. It was the non-aggressive wolf that was let to be there, because he’ll eat the pile of garbage and would clean up the, would be kind of a housekeeping service, primitive housekeeping service, and was allowed to live there.
Isabella: 23:17 Little by little, in the many, many centuries, the wolf that was least aggressive had the greatest advantages. That eventually it became the dog. He proposes this new idea that the wolf self-domesticated. That the wolf that was least aggressive had tremendous advantages. Then we don’t know why, and that is also very interesting to me, as you evolved, as the wolf evolved to become the dog, things happened physically that Darwin calls in his book, Origin of Species, the unexpected physical changes, flap ears, patchy coats. Those are very signs of domestication. Patchy coats, for example, you see it in cows, domestic cows, you see in domestic goats.
Alan: 24:11 Patchy meaning?
Isabella: 24:11 Patchy meaning black and white.
Alan: 24:13 Patches of color.
Isabella: 24:14 Patches of colors. You don’t really see that much in the wild, but you see it in the domestic animals. We do know that it is a characteristic of domestication. Probably the gene that is linked with being not aggressive, being tamers, being kinder to human being is also linked to something physical among them all, because after a while, they start having these black and white and brown patchy coats, dogs, cats, cows, goats, all of them.
Alan: 24:48 Do you think that the wolves got a good deal, as they began to be domesticated? Is it better to be on your own hunting your prey, or to be dependent on a human for feeding you?
Isabella: 25:04 Well, sometimes I’m asked if you were to choose to be an animal, what animal would you be? I always say a dog, a dog especially in America or in Europe, because in some other countries, I might be considered like vermin. Because look, there are millions and millions of dogs and we all love them, especially in our culture, and wolf, whether the loss of habitat, they’re endangered. Most of the time wild animals are endangered. I would choose to be a domestic animal, but probably not a farm animal because then you risk these big industrial farming, which could be quite cruel to them.
Alan: 25:52 Do you recognize individual chickens in your farmyard?
Isabella: 26:00 Yes, I do, I recognize them by their personalities, definitely. Of course, I can see the extreme personalities, not the personalities in between, I can see the one that is very bold, that is the first one to always run to me. To even, if I say to fly on my lap. Then I see the very flighty one, the one that I can never catch. The one in between are harder to see, but I’m sure that they exist.
Alan: 26:28 Do you name them?
Isabella: 26:30 I have a hundred of them, so the one that are very, they have distinct personality like the boldest and the shyest one, they have names. One is called Red, the other one is called Speedy, ’cause she always runs off. But the one in between, where I’m sure there is personalities, but I can’t really detect them, they don’t have a name.
Alan: 26:53 It just occurred to me that you must be vegan, right?
Isabella: 26:53 I’m not.
Alan: 26:53 That’s interesting, tell me your …
Isabella: 26:59 I’m not even vegetarian.
Alan: 27:01 Interesting.
Isabella: 27:02 I’m not vegan. Do vegan, I have to understand, I mean, I understand that the principle of eating things where animal they don’t have to suffer, and I respect it. A lot of vegan eat only vegetables, but I run a farm and the vegetables, it’s an organic farm, so we use organic practice. But even organic practice, we kill the insect that are eating our salad. We kill them with organic chemicals or we give them for example, there is something horrible, I don’t know if the vegan don’t know this information, but there is some kind of grounded stone that you can cover your crop with.
Isabella: 27:48 If a bug lays the eggs and the babies of this bug eat that leaf, they will also eat part of the stone that would kill them. We also have methods that are quite cruel if you want, but otherwise, our vegetables would be eaten by bugs. I never understand how the vegan come to terms with how do we eat vegetables, because if you grow your vegetables, you would also have to kill.
Alan: 28:19 Right, I guess there is a line drawn between bugs and other animals.
Isabella: 28:26 Probably.
Alan: 28:27 Or maybe the thought never occurs to them.
Isabella: 28:32 I’m not vegetarian because although, I cannot eat my own chickens, I eat their eggs, but I don’t eat my own, I don’t kill my chicken and eat them. But I do go to the supermarket and buy a chicken that I don’t know and eat it. It seems horrible. But one day I went to a conference with Temple Grandin, you know, the great lady …
Alan: 28:55 Yes, yes.
Isabella: 28:56 … that does all of the animals welfare and designs a slaughterhouse to ease their death, and I asked her, and I said, “Do you think it’s because I’m an actress, I’m a model, and so I’m a hypocrite, I cannot kill my own chicken, but I eat the chicken from the supermarket?
Alan: 29:13 It’s okay to be a hypocrite, because you get to hang on to your values, while you do anything you want to do.
Isabella: 29:19 She said, “Oh, that’s so normal, that’s typical of a lot of farmer. They eat their neighbor’s animal, not their own animals.” I felt very good about that.
Alan: 29:29 Yeah, I was going to ask you about one of the things that I wanted to ask you when I found that you really study this seriously, or you have a master’s in animal …
Isabella: 29:48 My last, I’m doing my last course. I have to do an experiment with my chickens. It will be my dissertation as well, and then I’m done with master degree.
Alan: 30:00 What will the experiment be?
Isabella: 30:04 We’re going to do an experiment, I’m designing the experiment as we speak. I think I would like to see chickens, I have three groups, and the three groups are decided by, I get the chickens when they’re about two days old, and they grow together. Then I get another group a year later, and then another year later another group. That’s basically to have younger animals, not to buy them all at the same time, and then end up with a group, six years later with a lot of chickens who are in menopause, because chicken also go in menopause, and won’t lay the eggs.
Isabella: 30:46 But I don’t mix the group. Not because of age, but because I think they create families, and they have a flock, and they don’t like new chickens. Of course, in a farm, they mix a lot of chickens. You take 10, you kill them, you bring 10 new ones. That creates a lot of tension. I would like to design an experiment where I would have a group of chickens living together, and then I bring a new chicken, and see how they react. Will they let that new chicken eat with them, or do they push them away?
Isabella: 31:21 Then I would like to bring a rooster, and to see if a rooster, a male will be more accepted than a female. That’s my experiment.
Alan: 31:29 That’s so interesting. It sounds like what you’re talking about to some extent is communication among these animals.
Isabella: 31:50 Yes, definitely, communication. I’m sure that they communicate to one another. It would be impossible to survive this world that is so unpredictable, if there isn’t a way to communicate, to alert. They do know that chickens already have different sounds. For example, a chicken can alert the other chicken with a different call if the danger is from above, like a hawk who’s circulating, or from below, a snake. That chicken that spots the predator would emit different sound, and the chicken would react differently.
Isabella: 32:32 If it is a predator from above, they would go and hide on the bushes. But if the predator is from below, they will all fly up on trees to be away. They do know that there is calls that have specific meanings.
Alan: 32:47 An interesting and important distinction to make if you’re a chicken and you have to hide from either a hawk or a snake, so you can see how that difference in the call would have evolved for the safety of the flock.
Isabella: 33:03 For the safety of the flock, and also that they communicate to the flock. That they don’t just do it just the one that spots the snake or spots the hawk saves herself, but she emits a sound for the flock to be protected. That is already gives you an idea that they’re social animals, that they have grown, evolved together, so there is altruism, and it’s a very big word. But Darwin himself said, “How can we account for the evolution of altruism if it is all about the survival of the individual? It is sometimes the survival of the group.”
Alan: 33:41 Yeah, and the awareness of the other animal seems to be there at least for some animals. I was part of an experiment on the science show that we did where a chimp would send out a distress call when someone dressed like a researcher in a white coat carrying a huge hypodermic came in, because they don’t like it when they get these shots. But the distress call would be to alert a chimp that couldn’t see the doctor coming in, and there was this apparent awareness that the one making the call knew what the other one knew, which is an awareness of the state of mind.
Isabella: 34:28 Absolutely.
Alan: 35:25 Do you get any sense from your studies and your experience with animals that there is a kind of tonality that has shades of meaning, because as active as you and I both …
Isabella: 35:39 Yes.
Alan: 35:40 Don’t just say lines, we need the meaning of the line.
Isabella: 35:43 Oh, I have, I can tell you, I’m going to quote from my last monologue called Link Link Circus. I say as an actress, I know it isn’t what I say but how I say that gives meaning. I can say, I love you and mean I hate you. Do you want me to show you? Then I do three I love you, with different tones.
Alan: 36:06 Do you mind doing them now?
Isabella: 36:06 I’m doing it, I know if it works in a radio, so the first one, I turn my back to the audience, then I turn with a very angry face and I say, “I love you,” meaning I hate you. Then I pretend I’m distraught, I love you. Then I walk around checking my nails and with great distraction, I say, “Yeah, yeah, I love.” Then one, I’m laughing out loud, “I love you.” Here, I have given one sentence, but I could mean complete different things. We call that prosody in the theater. There is a professor called Eugene Morton that hypothesized that maybe animals also have prosody.
Isabella: 36:57 Actually, because we all co-evolved, there might be a language that it’s understood by all, at least terrestrial animal like birds and mammals. I give an example in my show. Eugene Morton thinks that every call that goes from down to up, always express surprise and delight in all species. But up to down might express always appeasing. An abrupt sound, is always a threat. He believes that’s common among all animals, and that’s how also we can communicate intra-species, and it’s very interesting. I like his hypothesis quite a lot.
Alan: 37:37 Very interesting, and I wonder are you aware of any attempt to find variations in the tones for shades of meanings in those sounds?
Isabella: 37:47 You know, I saw my chickens. First of all, they emit many, many different sound, but they do combine them with body postures and attitudes. Maybe like us actors, they can say just I love you, but they can say it with a sense of humor, with a sense of dismissing, with a passion. It could be that that call that scientists might have recorded and studied, if it now taken into consideration the body language, does it mean anything? Like I love you, it doesn’t mean for us actor anything unless it’s how we say it that would give it meaning.
Alan: 38:25 Well, people listening to this haven’t been able to see your body language, but you’ve been incredibly interesting and communicative, and I really appreciate you talking with me.
Isabella: 38:35 Thank you so much. Great, great, great, great to talk to.
Alan: 38:39 Let me ask you something, we always end our shows if you’re agreeable to this with seven quick questions.
Isabella: 38:46 Okay.
Alan: 38:47 At the end of the day, just ask for a quick answer. Here’s the first question.
Isabella: 38:53 Okay.
Alan: 38:54 What do you wish you really understood?
Isabella: 38:58 If animal think.
Alan: 39:02 What do you wish other people understood about you?
Isabella: 39:10 They understand about me, that I want to laugh, ’cause they always think that the most thing for me is to be beautiful because I’ve been a model, but I think it’s more important for me to laugh.
Alan: 39:23 It’s crazy. What’s the strangest question anyone has ever asked you?
Isabella: 39:28 The strangest question they ask me during the interview is the philosophical questions like how do you think you can obtain happiness? Those are questions that I say, “Where am I? I’m not a pope, I’m not a politician.” Maybe they could give answers and they’re relative answers anyway. Those are the hardest.
Alan: 39:50 Here’s one, how do you stop a compulsive talker?
Isabella: 39:56 I think I’ll walk away.
Alan: 39:59 Pretty good, pretty definitive. Is there anybody that you just can’t feel empathy for?
Isabella: 40:11 I cannot name a person, but I think people that are very aggressive or argue their opinion with enormous aggressiveness, so that they try to undermine me. It doesn’t work. I always wish that people can express their different opinion with kindness in trying to convince me rather that overwhelm me.
Alan: 40:34 Right. How do you like to deliver bad news, in person, on the phone, or by carrier pigeon?
Isabella: 40:41 Carrier pigeon, definitely, let the pigeon do it.
Alan: 40:46 They’re getting better and better at it too. Last question, what if anything would make you end a friendship?
Isabella: 40:59 End a friendship, I have many friends. I have to say that if anything, there is the regrets of not being able to see more of my friends, because my friends are in Italy where I grew up. Some friends are in France, where I worked a lot as a model. Some friends of course, are in Los Angeles, where I worked an actress. But I live in New York, and now in a farm, so I have so many friends. Rather than the regret of what would stop me from a friendship, is the regrets of not being able to cultivate and see all the friends I have more.
Alan: 41:40 That’s very nice, it sounds like the only thing that would separate you is geography.
Isabella: 41:45 I always say I would like to drain the Atlantic Ocean and just put the two continents back together as they used to be.
Alan: 41:53 That’s good. Thanks so much. It’s just been a lovely time.
Isabella: 41:57 Thank you. Great.

This has been Clear + Vivid, at least I hope so.

My thanks the sponsors of this episode. All the income from the ads you hear go to the Center for Communicating Science at Stony Brook University. Just by listening to this podcast, you’re contributing to the better communication of science. So, thank you.
In December of 2016, Vanity Fair wrote a feature on Isabella in which the author described her as the world’s most uncategorizable star. And I think she is that, in every way. A delightful enigma, an extraordinary talent who is also affable, warm and down to earth, and really curious. You can find her latest book, “My Chickens and I” at The book’s a delight. It’s filled with more of her wry observations and hand-drawn illustrations. And if you haven’t seen Green Porno yet you can find this Webby award-winning series on Sundance TV and online at

This episode was produced by Graham Chedd with help from our associate producer, Sarah Chase. Our sound engineer is Dan Dzula, our Tech Guru is Allison Coston, our publicist is Sarah Hill. You can subscribe to our podcast for free at Apple Podcasts, Stitcher or wherever you listen. For more details about Clear + Vivid, and to sign up for my newsletter, please visit You can also find us on Facebook and Instagram at “Clear and Vivid” and I’m on Twitter @alanalda.

Thanks for listening. Bye bye!