When Jessica Biel’s new film, The Truth About Emanuel, hit theaters this weekend, audiences got to see a multilayered and psychologically nuanced story about two women. It was the first solo feature from writer/director Francesca Gregorini, the lesbian filmmaker who co-directed Tanner Hall with Tatiana Von Furstenberg two years ago. To mark the occasion, Gregorini — the daughter of former Bondgirl, actress Barbara Bach, and stepdaughter of Beatle Ringo Starr — spoke to The Advocate magazine about the film, lesbians on screen, and, for the first time ever, her famous breakup with Portia de Rossi.
Gregorini, whose film incorporates themes of heartbreak and loss, knows those emotions well; she experienced them in front of a national stage. She was engaged to and living with Arrested Development star Portia de Rossi for three years, when the actress left her for Ellen DeGeneres. The tabloids had a field day, with headlines like “Ringo Star’s Little Girl Dumped By America’s Most Famous Lesbian.”
At the time Gregorini decided not to talk to the press. A decade later she’s ready to open up. Editor at large Diane Anderson-Minshall, who interviewed Gregorini in Los Angeles before the film came out, shares some of their relationship talk that didn’t make it into the magazine.
“I think it was pretty harrowing,” Gregorini said of her breakup with de Rossi. “I’ve never really talked about it, and, I want to be respectful to all the players, and, to be honest, I’ve definitely made my peace—Portia and I are friends, I’m friends with Ellen.”
In fact, Ellen and Portia live near Gregorini’s parents; her mom and Portia ride horses together. It’s the typical, everyone-stays-friends lesbian experience. “Everything turned out as it was meant to, but it definitely, at the time, it was a very harrowing experience, because heartbreak is harrowing. Any breakup is just awful, but then to be dragged through the press, while it’s happening, in real time, it’s definitely not a picnic. It did make me stronger. I definitely went down for the count, for a couple months there, but, it definitely gave me a resolve to pick myself up, and make something of myself, and my life.”
After the breakup, Gregorini made the lesbian-adjacent film Tanner Hall with her pal von Furstenberg, and focused on getting on with her life.
“I mean, I thought this was my life, I thought this was my wife, but apparently it’s somebody else’s wife, and you move on, you know? I love her deeply and, I always will but it just wasn’t our fate to be together, forever and ever. We were meant to be together for that point in time, and, and then not, and I think she’s found a great partner for her. I think they’re really well matched.”
She sees her time with de Rossi not as a failed relationship, but a successful short one. “I think that it was in many ways, I think we both grew up a lot. I think it was for both of us like our test-run commitment relationship, because we bought a house together… we did all the adult sort of things, I think we had high hopes, obviously…. You have to have faith, sometimes, in your darkest hour that, its like, this thing that seems, like the end of your life, is maybe the beginning… I wouldn’t give back any of the experiences or the people I’ve been with since we broke up, because it’s been, really, an incredible and magical ride.”