Isabella Rossellini
Photo: Gary Gershoff/WireImage.com
Growing older has given the actress the courage to do what she always wanted: go back to school.
I was born with a love of animals, the same way I was born with brown hair. When I was a little girl in Rome, I always had pets, which I adored. I grew up in a family of filmmakers, so I always wanted to make films about animals, especially comical films. Something about animals amuses me. And they have a great mystery. It's the same mystique some people might feel looking at the stars or the ocean.

My parents always told me, "If you follow your heart and do what you like, there's a better chance that that is where your talent lies." I should have listened to them. I'm 57 now, but better late than never. About two years ago, when my daughter, Elettra, was 23 and my son, Roberto, was 14, I thought, "My children don't need my daily presence. I'm not modeling anymore, and I act, but in fewer leading roles. Maybe it's time for me to go back to school."

I went to New York University, and began to design a program on animal behavior. I cannot tell you how much fun it is. I'm doing it slowly, just one course a semester. But I've taken classes in science and in ethics, and they have given me the technical information to start my Green Porno films. [Rossellini writes, produces, performs in, and codirects the series of comic shorts, in which she dresses up as an animal or insect and acts out its mating ritual. Her Green Porno book comes out this month.]

Recently I realized I don't have to apply my schooling to my work. If something comes to mind, and I have somebody like Bob Redford [a producer on Green Porno films], who's also old and wants to have fun, we'll do it. But there is no urgency. And that is fantastic.

When you're young, you need to prove to yourself that you can succeed, have a career, and be financially independent. Now I can just do what I always wanted to. What seemed frivolous, but isn't.

This is a time in my life when a lot of things have lifted. Nobody talks about that! I've had a lot of aha moments, but the big aha about growing older is the mental freedom. I'm older than my teachers. It's fantastic—I was always afraid of teachers, but now I'm not. I just like to study. I plan to get a BA and probably a master's degree.

In interviews, the first question I get in America is always: "What do you do to stay young?" I do nothing. I don't think aging is a problem. What irritates me a little is growing fatter. It irritates me that if I eat what I want to eat, it shows. Yes, my face has wrinkles. But I don't find it monstrous. I'm so surprised that the emphasis on aging here is on physical decay, when aging brings such incredible freedom. Now what I want most is laughs. I don't want to hurt anybody by laughing—there is no meanness to it. I just want to laugh.

As told to Johanna Schneller

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