Isabella Rossellini has played a salmon, a duck, a squid—and now a bee. In a new series of short films that expand her body of educational work on the lives of animals, the actress and model imagined a conversation with bees to help create buzz about the plight of pollinators.
Rossellini dons antennae and various yellow-and-black get-ups to play each hive member—worker, drone, and queen—in the films, made for National Pollinator Week in June. Her favorite? Not the regal queen but the most uncelebrated. “The drone is always sort of a bum,” she laughs. “Its only responsibility in life is to have sex, so it’s the easiest one to make fun of.” She’s tickled that male bees are born from unfertilized eggs and die after they mate.
She also assumes the role of Burt Shavitz, the Maine beekeeper whose image graces some of the products made by Burt’s Bees, the company he co-founded. “We thought if I play Burt it would add to the comical tone,” says Rossellini.
That kind of absurd touch is part of Rossellini’s creative sensibility. She wore a beard made of shredded New York Times newspapers to play the bearded Burt.
The new films are a natural extension of Rossellini’s educational shorts for the Sundance Channel, Green Porno and Seduce Me, in which she playfully depicts the mating rituals and behaviors of various animals. As with those series, she wrote and directed Burt Talks to Bees, reading books and asking experts a bevy of questions for the scripts.
It also helped that she works with beehives at her local co-op on New York’s Long Island, where the films were shot in her barn because it looks similar to Shavitz’s, but “he has a small one and mine is quite big.” Big enough, in fact, for Rossellini to keep an assortment of beloved animals: two dogs, a cat, chickens, two pigs, and a rabbit.
“I like animals but of course insects are very interesting because they’re so far out,” she muses. “And since I don’t live in Africa or a place where I can go on safaris, insects are totally satisfying.”