Does she feel fulfilled, I wonder? “Yes,” she nods. “I like very much what I do.” She softens hugely when speaking of her studies. Ask why domesticated animals are characterised by their patchy coloured fur, for example, or whether animals are capable of altruism, and her manner changes completely. She is an engaging, funny storyteller — she even does the actions, too.
“Often people say, which animal do you study? I try to study them all; I’m trying to argue in Link Link that if we recognise, as Darwin showed us, that the bones that form the hand are the same bones that form the wings, or the fins of the whale, we must recognise there is a continuity among us. So the core of Link Link is to ask if there is then a mental, a cognitive continuity.”
Do animals understand friendship? “The idea of co-operation is interesting because we always talk about the survival of the fittest ... But in the case of the wolf, for example, it was the survival of the friendliest that allowed him to become ... the dog. We always talk about survival of the fittest and use it when somebody’s aggressive or [to explain] capitalism as being the natural way, but it isn’t really.”
As the daughter of two of the most powerful creative talents of the 20th century, Rossellini has been a beneficiary of a highly rarefied natural selection. Did she feel that entertainment was written in her DNA? “I don’t know what it is. I am genetically the daughter of two artists and so maybe it was there already. And, yes, I am the daughter of Ingrid Bergman and Roberto Rossellini. But they didn’t work for success. They worked for things they found interesting and they hoped that what they were interested in they could share. Sometimes it works; sometimes it doesn’t.”
Rossellini believes in the power of shared instincts. The reason she worked so well with David Lynch, for example, was because she was so attuned to his style. “I understood David; still today, there is a simpatico,” she says. “Sometimes you play the same scene with one actor and what you might call ‘the chemistry’ works incredibly, and with the other one it works OK but it’s not the same connection. I think we have it also when we meet people in life.”
The “mystery of relationships and chemistry and communication” remain a source of fascination for Rossellini, whether she’s making movies, modelling or mucking out the hen house. “Scientists say you cannot quantify that simpatico and so we discard it. But I always say, as an actress, if we discard that we discard the essence of the connection.”
In a career of many profiles, could it be that Rossellini’s animal instincts reveal her most human side of all?
‘Link Link’ is at the Queen Elizabeth Hall, Southbank Centre, London, on October 23 and 24.