American auteur David Lynch is revered by many for his astounding achievements in the world of cinema. Dubbed the “first popular surrealist”, Lynch’s works have managed to transport the obscure mysteries of surrealism to our own world in ways that were thought to be impossible. His masterpieces like Eraserhead and Mulholland Drive have revolutionised the art of filmmaking forever, urging countless young artists to think outside the box.
Lynch’s 1986 psychological thriller Blue Velvet was the first time that Isabella Rossellini and David Lynch had collaborated on a project. The filmmaker had initially wanted to cast Hellen Mirren in the iconic role of Dorothy Vallens but Mirren had turned the offer down due to the controversial nature of the role. Shortly after meeting Rossellini for the first time, Lynch extended an offer for the same part.
Rossellini recalled: “We met at a dinner party [hosted by] a friend in New York and the first thing David said to me was, ‘You know you look like you could be Ingrid Bergman’s daughter’ which caused one of our friends to say ‘You idiot, she is Ingrid Bergman’s daughter!'”Blue Velvet is now regarded as one of Lynch’s finest films; it is a fascinating exploration of suburban existentialism which manages to penetrate the darkest psychosexual recesses of the human psyche.
While the character of Dorothy attracted criticism from film writers like Roger Ebert because of the “comic” treatment of her horrifying condition, others have maintained that Rossellini perfectly captured the nuances of psychological destabilisation. The role properly launched her career as an actress since she had mostly been known for her modelling work prior to that. For her powerful and complex performance, Rossellini even ended up winning the Independent Award for Best Female Lead.
During the production, Lynch and Rossellini predictably fell in love and started dating which led to the director’s divorce from his second wife – Mary Fisk. Despite forgiving Lynch later, Fisk admitted: “My heart was truly broken, and I was walking around like a lost person with blood dripping from every pore.” Rossellini had also gone through the ordeal of divorce after ending things with her second husband Jonathan Wiedemann which explains why they found comfort in each other’s company.
For the most part, their relationship was a long-distance one because Lynch was busy laying the groundwork for the television show that would change the medium forever; Twin Peaks. Rossellini, meanwhile, was preoccupied with her own life and career. The actress compared the presence of Lynch in her life to her marriage with Martin Scorsese due to their similarities: “Martin and David are alike…The men in my life are visionaries, a bit like my father. I feel extremely inspired by them, over-awed by their presence.”
Although they spent hours on the phone and were still passionate about each other, Lynch had his own frustrations about their relationship. One of those frustrations was truly bizarre and included the filmmaker’s reservations over the smell of Rossellini’s cooking. He even confessed to it in an interview: “The smell. The smell of cooking – When you have drawings or even writing – the smell would get all over my work.” They parted ways after the Cannes premiere of Wild at Heart (1990) which left the actress completely heartbroken.
Later in her life, Rossellini reflected: “David was the big love of my life. And I believed that he loved me the same way, but obviously I was mistaken. All my instincts told me we were a happy couple, but we weren’t.” After everything that happened, Lynch and Rossellini are still friends to this day which remains situated on a foundation of mutual respect and admiration.