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Isabella Rossellini hits back at claim David Lynch ‘exploited’ her in Blue Velvet

Italian actor Isabella Rossellini has responded to Roger Ebert’s infamous 1986 review of David Lynch’s Blue Velvet.

In the noir-horror, Rossellini plays a lounge singer named Dorothy Dorothy Vallens whose husband and son are held hostage by a murderous psychopath (played by Dennis Hopper).

In his one-star review of the film, prominent critic Ebert chastised Lynch’s casting of Rossellini in a role that had her “degraded, slapped around, humiliated and undressed in front of the camera”.

“And when you ask an actress to endure those experiences, you should keep your side of the bargain by putting her in an important film,” Ebert wrote.

“I didn’t read the reviews at the time [Blue Velvet] came out. I try not to read reviews,” Rossellini told IndieWire in a new interview when asked about Ebert’s review. “They’re always depressing. There’s always something that, even if [the review is] good, there is always one sentence that is negative and stays inside you forever.

“But I remember I was told that Roger Ebert said that [Lynch] exploited me, and I was surprised, because I was an adult. I was 31 or 32. I chose to play the character.”

Kyle Maclachlan and Isabella Rossellini in ‘Blue Velvet’ (Rex Features)
Kyle Maclachlan and Isabella Rossellini in ‘Blue Velvet’ (Rex Features)

“When I read the script I understood it could’ve been controversial and difficult,” the actor continued. “I did say to David, ‘You don’t have to say the lines, but I would like to rehearse with you all the scenes and paraphrase the lines.’

“I wanted to make sure that what you’re seeing is a person who has maybe a kind of Stockholm syndrome, and we rehearsed for a full day. I felt reassured that what I saw in the character, the way I wanted to play, he had agreed.”

Blue Velvet divided critics at the time despite earning Lynch a nomination for Best Director at the 1987 Academy Awards and has gone on to gain a cult following.

“I’m glad Blue Velvet was directed by David Lynch,” Rossellini told IndieWire. “It’s one of his best films. He’s such a great author. I think my character was the first time we did an abused woman, a portrait of an abused woman, but also she camouflaged herself behind what she was asked to be, which was sexy and beautiful and singing, and she obeys the order, and is also victimized it. That’s the complexity of Blue Velvet but also the great talent of David Lynch. I thought he did a fantastic film. I love Blue Velvet.”

Rossellini, who was dating Lynch at the time of the film’s release, later appeared in another of his films, 1990’s Wild at Heart.

The actor next appears in Alice Rohrwacher’s new film, La Chimera, which arrives in cinemas on 29 March. It stars The Crown actor Josh O’Connor as an English archaeological scholar who “has the uncanny ability of intuiting where to find hidden artifacts”.

“Recently released from an Italian prison, he returns to a small Tuscan village; there, he reunites with a ragtag band of misfits who search for and unearth Etruscan relics buried with the dead,” the film’s official logline reads.

“When the group encounter a treasure of immeasurable value, their attempts to traffic the objects bring their actions into sharp focus, and they must question their role in the plundering of history.”