Break on through to the Oscar Side: Two Hot Talents Reach Critical Mass: Jennifer Connelly, of 'A Beautiful Mind', and Todd Field, Who Brought Us 'In the Bedroom'

By Giles, Jeff; Ansen, David | Newsweek, January 21, 2002 | Go to article overview

Break on through to the Oscar Side: Two Hot Talents Reach Critical Mass: Jennifer Connelly, of 'A Beautiful Mind', and Todd Field, Who Brought Us 'In the Bedroom'


Giles, Jeff, Ansen, David, Newsweek


Byline: Jeff Giles and David Ansen

There are two questions Jennifer Connelly gets asked with a punishing regularity, neither of which has anything to do with Jennifer Connelly. She's asked what it was like to work with Russell Crowe, and she's asked what it was like to meet the real Alicia Nash, whom she plays in "A Beautiful Mind" and who, it turns out, asked her what it was like to work with Russell Crowe. Before interviewing Connelly, you decide not to ask her about Crowe at all, to simply ignore the Australian elephant in the room. Still, half an hour into lunch in Manhattan, the actress answers the question you never asked. In "A Beautiful Mind," Crowe plays John Nash, a brilliant mathematician who doesn't ruffle people's feathers as much as yank them out and who--don't try this at home--beats his schizophrenia into submission with the power of his will and the constancy of Alicia's love. Connelly talks about how exhilarating Crowe was to act with, how she refused to be intimidated by any of his reputations. "Russell has a very charismatic, strong personality which can be overbearing," says the actress, 31. "I've seen a lot of people falter when trying to talk to him. I felt strongly about not letting that happen. Very few people knew how to manage Nash's eccentric behavior, and Alicia really did, so I felt that I really needed to embody that. [Russell] was kind of perfect training for me."

Connelly clearly assumes the world's more interested in Crowe than in her, and she may be right. For now. Despite the heavy, low-lying fog that still covers much of the Oscar race, "A Beautiful Mind" is plainly marching toward a best-picture nomination, and Connelly's performance--moving, open-faced, utterly lacking in artifice, and an essential complement to Crowe's showy turn--has already earned her a Golden Globe nomination for best supporting actress, as well as an award from the American Film Institute. Connelly's acting, as well as her retro,'40s-ish looks, has always had its enthusiasts. Esquire recently cited her eyebrows as one of "162 Reasons It's Good to Be an American Man." But "Beautiful Mind" jump-started her reputation from the moment she was cast. "There was a little surprise that she'd gotten the part," says director Ron Howard. "There was a lot of, 'Yeah, she's beautiful and she's always been solid, and, yeah, she was really interesting in 'Requiem for a Dream,' but, wow, you went with Jennifer Connelly?' "

In person, Connelly seems warm, contemplative and ordinary in the best sense of the word, a Manhattan single mom who's exponentially less comfortable talking about awards buzz ("It's just speculating on conjecture, you know what I mean?") than she is discussing her 4-year-old son, Kai, and his intense need for a German shepherd ("I already have grief over the dwarf hamster his father bought him. I hear him chewing on the cage to get out. Actually it's a she--her name's Herbert"). Connelly grew up in Brooklyn Heights and, briefly, Woodstock, N.Y. She was modeling and doing commercials by 10. "I don't really know why, because I was shy," she says. "But I did department-store catalogs, and Danskin tights, you know? The kid on the package modeling the leotard and pretending I'm a ballerina?" At 11, Connelly was cast in "Once Upon a Time in America," and embarked on an acting career that, for many years, was like a moving sidewalk: she had no idea how she'd gotten on and no idea if she should get off. "I was an overly polite teenager, and it didn't serve me particularly well. I wanted to be good and be nice and be a peacemaker. I think it made me precocious on one level and stunted on another. I had my moments of frustration where I felt uncomfortable being looked at. I thought, 'I'm just not cut out for this. I don't want to be watched. I just want to disappear'."

Connelly gave both Yale and Stanford a try but never graduated. She drifted through cheesy movies, all of which are passionately defended on the Web by guys who had their eyes on something other than the plot: "Labyrinth," "The Rocketeer," the cutesy, John Hughesy "Career Opportunities" and the hormonal noir "The Hot Spot," among them. …

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