"There is a not a real place for people between 60 and 80," remarked Isabella Rossellini just shy of her 60th birthday, as we discussed her role in the film Late Bloomers, directed by Julie Gavras.
Speaking to me from her home in Bellport, N.Y., Rossellini said that she'd been intrigued to discover director Julie Gavras who was the daughter of another famous film director, Greek-born Costas Gavras, much lauded for his 1969 political thriller, Z. Witnessing her now-octogenarian father receiving honors for the 40th anniversary of Z, the younger Gavras realized how society had a way of marginalizing one after a certain age, summing up one's creative life and deciding it was over, and this inspired her to make her film.
In Late Bloomers, the husband an architect, played by William Hurt, receives a lifetime achievement award, and the wife, Mary, played by Rossellini, has a sudden crisis, realizing that the award signaled the beginning of the end. The architect, who is more in denial, subsequently gets an assignment to design a retirement home, but decides it's not a 'cool' enough project.
"I'm 30 years older than Julie, a completely different generation," said Rossellini of the director, "but her parents are even older, obviously. Costas is very active and healthy, and would like to direct more films than he is allowed at 80."
Rossellini was one of a pair of twins of the late actress Ingrid Bergman, who died in her 60's. I wondered if reaching 60 made Rossellini reevaluate her life and career. "There are moments, when one has these realizations, these page-turners: At 18 you can drive in Europe and that seems to be a landmark, and then you can vote, or you can retire, or when your parents die, events can create a very strong break... " said Rossellini.
Were the dilemmas of aging something you related to when you chose the role?
"Well I am 60, and I would not have been offered a film to play 20. There is very little in common between me and Mary besides the fact that we are 60. I don't use films to be my therapist if I need one. I didn't do Blue Velvet because I was a sado-masochist; I do a film because it is a narrative that is interesting."
But isn't the film's narrative also about the anxieties of transitioning from being a useful member of society to becoming obsolete?
"The film is much simpler than that, it is a romantic comedy, charming because it's about older couple. Generally the audience that go to movies is very young and they want to address their own concerns. The originality of the film was that it had a light touch on a subject addressed in solemn terms."
You also play an Italian mother in the film, was that role made specifically for you?
"I have an accent in English and they thought it was important that I justify it. Europe is very mixed these days, but (Julie) thought it was important that my children address the fact that I had an Italian background. That was added after I was hired."
Did you see I am Love with Tilda Swinton?
"Yes, she speaks Italian but you can tell that she speaks it like a foreigner, so once they got Tilda to be in the film they integrated it into the story that she was Russian."
The film depicts a couple whose views on aging are so divergent they separate and have infidelities after 40 years of marriage. Would you say it was a sign of their maturity that in the end they choose to stay together with a view of the bigger picture?
"Are you objecting to them making love in the end? During the separation they have affairs... but this does not lead them to fall in love, but makes them nostalgic of what they had together."
Were you close to your father when he was aging?
"My parents didn't age so much, they died relatively young. Dad died of a heart attack in 1971; he was working, and died very quickly, unexpectedly; neither declined. My mum died of cancer at 66."
The film suggests that there aren't enough older role models for women. Having been a Lancôme spokesperson, and being in the public eye, many may consider you a model of graceful aging.
"I age, it just happens; it's like, tell a baby don't grow (but) it will grow. Nothing I can do to stop the progress. I don't see myself as a role model... and I don't age gracefully to give anybody an example! ... I age comfortably. Some people are better at it. It depends on how well you are physically. I will die. (It's) not my choice. You are asking me questions as if aging or dying is my choice; it isn't. I have news: it will happen to you, too."
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