LOS ANGELES (AP) - Displaying the same beauty and dignity that made her mother a screen goddess, Isabella Rossellini plays Thar, the High Priestess of Atuan, in the Sci Fi Channel's "Legend of Earthsea."
She "brings a very big persona to the screen," says Robert Lieberman, director of the four-hour miniseries. "She carries a great deal of beauty. We needed someone who had a feeling of authority to be this kind of mother superior type and at the same time not be totally dour and unattractive."
Adapted from the Ursula K. Le Guin's fantasy novels "A Wizard of Earthsea" and "The Tombs of Atuan," "Earthsea" airs 8 p.m. Monday and Tuesday, Dec. 13-14.
Danny Glover co-stars as the wise wizard Ogion, mentor to the naive young wizard Ged, played by Shawn Ashmore ("X-Men"). Kristen Kreuk ("Smallville") plays Tenar, a young priestess to whom Thar is mentor.
"Would you like to be a high priestess?" Rossellini says, gently altering her own intercontinental accent to mimic the speech pattern of Hungarian-born producer Robert Halmi Sr., who had called her to pop that question.
The 52-year-old actress - the daughter of Swedish actress Ingrid Bergman and Italian director Roberto Rossellini - has worked in other Halmi productions, including "The Odyssey" as the goddess Athena, so she said yes immediately, script unseen, because of her admiration for Halmi's skill with family entertainment. (He's been executive producer of such TV fare as "The Snow Queen," "Meet St. Nick," "Snow White" and "Prince Charming.")
"I don't think there are many producers today like those people of my mother's era like David Selznick, who have a body of work with a real signature," Rossellini says. "Bob Halmi has a real signature."
Rossellini was visiting Los Angeles from her home in New York, where this year she appeared on stage for the first time in a five-month off-Broadway run of Terrence McNally's "The Stendhal Syndrome."
In the duet of plays "about being moved by art so strongly that it touches your heart," she played a guide to tourists viewing Michelangelo's David and the wife of an orchestra conductor.
"It was a great experience for me, but I was very nervous at even the thought of doing it," she says. "So when I did, I felt like Marie Antoinette being brought to the guillotine, having to walk that dark theater alley before coming to the stage."
Rossellini had a long and successful career as a model, including for Lancome. But the cosmetics giant replaced her at 42 with a younger face and the actress is still rankled by the decision, which she regards as ageism.
"With time I look back and think I was right. It was prejudice," she says, stressing that the men who usually run cosmetic companies focus too narrowly on the seduction aspects of their product and lack understanding of what women really want.
Now she has her own perfume line, with three fragrances: Isabella, My Manifesto and Daring.
Her acting choices also continue to be daring.
Although she's often cast as a muse - she was Beethoven's in "Immortal Beloved" and Josephine in the miniseries "Napoleon" - she's also attracted to weirder roles.
Last season she guest- starred as the villainous Katya Derevko on the ABC spy series "Alias."
She'd like to be asked back, although she's not exactly a dab hand with weapons. "When I would shoot, the gun would make the noise and they would go, 'No, Isabella, you can't blink. You are nasty!' "
Laughing heartily, she relates how Ken Olin (of "thirtysomething" fame), directing her in "Alias," teasingly encouraged her action-star ambitions with a nod to Arnold Schwarzenegger. "He came to me and said 'You've got the accent, you become violent, you can become governor!' "
Rossellini's offbeat acting choices have not been limited to television.
In film, she's worked with such avant-garde directors as David Lynch in "Blue Velvet" and "Wild at Heart," and Guy Maddin in "Saddest Music in the World," in which she played a brewery baroness with crystal legs filled with beer.