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Jennifer Connelly, Learning to Follow Her Instincts

Movies* The Golden Globe winner for "A Beautiful Mind' says she's taking more care in choosing roles.

January 22, 2002|GENE SEYMOUR | NEWSDAY

Whatever demons were chasing "The Catcher in the Rye's" Holden Caulfield all over Manhattan, one feels certain that if he could only have caught a warm, sympathetic gaze from Jennifer Connelly, they would have all melted away quicker than a morning frost.

Connelly, 31, whose dark, crystalline beauty has been compared with the young Elizabeth Taylor's, has been garnering the best reviews of her career--and a Golden Globe award for best supporting actress--for her performance in Ron Howard's "A Beautiful Mind."

She brings depth and dimension to the notion of "long-suffering wife" as Alicia Nash, devoted spouse of schizophrenic genius John Nash, played by Russell Crowe. Coming off her revelatory, harrowing performance as a drug addict in 2000's "Requiem for a Dream," Connelly's work in "Mind" has propelled her to the front rank of Hollywood's most promising actresses.

She began modeling at age 10 and acted in her first film, Sergio Leone's "Once Upon a Time in America" (1984), as a teenager. While building a resume of credits, including roles in "Labyrinth" (1986), "The Hot Spot" (1990) and "The Rocketeer" (1991), Connelly attended the prestigious St. Ann's School in Brooklyn Heights, then Yale and Stanford universities.

She's still a few credits short of her degree. And it probably will get tougher to clear away time for her to graduate from Stanford. For one thing, she's been cast in the role of Betty Ross, Bruce Banner's--yes, long-suffering--inamorata in Ang Lee's adaptation of "The Hulk," now slated for 2003.

Connelly recently talked about "A Beautiful Mind," life as a single mom to her 4-year-old son, Kai) and why she still loves New York.

Question: That scene in "A Beautiful Mind" when your character breaks down and cries in the bathroom looked as if it was painful to do in more ways than one. What was it like that day?

Answer: We went through a lot of conversations about it. It went through different versions--where it was staged, what kind of fight [between John and Alicia] would set it up--and it sort of came together at the last minute. And it was important that it be completely raw and unexpected. So in that way, it became difficult to choreograph, because it had to be just a complete explosion. We did maybe three takes of it.... My son came to the set that day with my dad. He had no idea what was going on.

Q: Was he OK with it?

A: Yeah, eventually. I mean, he's only 4, and that kind of outburst is unusual for him to see from me. It was hard to explain at first, but he was fine with it.

Q: How does he feel, in general, about your job?

A: Somebody asked him the other day, "What does your mom do?" He says, "She acts in movies." Very matter-of-fact. He's not confused or in awe of it. And he's a very dramatic person himself, a theatrical, exuberant personality.

Q: An actor in the making, huh?

A: Actually, he likes to direct.... I can see him as a director more than an actor. We've already done plays together. Very short plays. He dictates them to me. Sometimes he casts me, sometimes he doesn't. And when I'm in the play, he'll sometimes say to me, "No, mom, you didn't say that right."

Q: You've been acting since childhood. Did the bug bite you when you were Kai's age?

A: No. You know, I was never a kid who had designs to be an actor. I never got out of wanting to be a veterinarian. I was really fond of Evel Knievel and animals. [Laughs] That was where my head was at. I was just into climbing trees. So all this other stuff kind of happened. And even after I started acting, I took it all for granted after I'd been doing it for a while.

Q: Was there ever a time when acting wasn't fun or didn't seem like the right thing for you?

A: It was harder for me when I was making choices that weren't necessarily as compatible as they could be for me. Whenever I followed choices that weren't in line with my instincts, those were the hardest roles for me, when I was being pushed in a direction I didn't agree with and I didn't know how to make it better. That to me is torture. I like it when the work is like an archeological-emotional dig. It may be uncomfortable, and it may be surprising. I really love that opportunity to learn more about myself and what I can do.

Q: You live in New York. Are you ever tempted to move to L.A.?

A: Well, it's winter now, which is always enough temptation. I think I'm not quite as impervious to the cold as I was when I was younger. But my family's still here. And it's still a fantastic city. There's a kind of poetry here that you don't find in any other, and I think it's a remarkable place to live and work and raise a child.

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