Birth: December 12, 1970 in New York, United States
Awards: Academy Award for best supporting female actor, Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, for A Beautiful Mind, 2002; Golden Globe Award for best supporting female actor, Hollywood Foreign Press Association, for A Beautiful Mind, 2002; BAFTA for best supporting actress, British Academy of Film and Television Arts, for A Beautiful Mind, 2002; AFI for best supporting actress, American Film Institute, for A Beautiful Mind, 2002.
In the 1990s, Jennifer Connelly graduated as an actor known mostly for her ingénue roles to a thespian capable of portraying femme fatales whose physical attractiveness leads to the tragic downfalls of otherwise intelligent and morally conflicted men in The Hot Spot and Mulholland Falls, as well as critically lauded roles as a heroin addict in Requiem for a Dream, the mistress of Jackson Pollock in Pollock, and the wife of schizophrenic Nobel laureate John Nash in A Beautiful Mind. The critical accolades for her performance as Alicia Nash in A Beautiful Mind include Newsweek film critics David Ansen and Jeff Giles, who wrote: "Some critics have, rightfully, taken issue with Beautiful Mind's oversimplifications, but Connelly's performance is subtle and real. It's only because you believe in Alicia that you believe in safe landings."
Connelly was born in Round Top, a town in upstate New York that is close to the famous art community of Woodstock. Her father, Gerard, worked in the garment business in New York City, but relocated to the country to escape the urban pollution that aggravated his asthma. Her mother, Eileen, dealt in antiques. Connelly explained the family's circumstances to Interview'sIngrid Sischy: "They needed some green space and quiet. I think it was more that that originally drew them to Woodstock than the spiritual sort of things that the town represented. Back then he got out of the garment business and bought a building, renovated it and turned it into a kind of arts center." Her father eventually sold the building and moved back to New York City to resume working in the garment business. "My mom stopped working because I started modeling, doing catalogs and that kind of thing, shortly thereafter," she told Sischy.
Connelly began a successful modeling and television-commercial acting career when she was ten years old. "I don't really know why, because I was shy," she told Newsweek'sAnsen and Giles. "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?" When she was 11, she landed her first film acting role in the Sergio Leone-directed gangster epic Once upon a Time in America, which also starred Robert DeNiro, James Woods, and Elizabeth McGovern. Connelly portrayed Elizabeth McGovern's character as a young girl. She won subsequent film roles more for her beguiling physical attractiveness than out of respect for her abilities as an actor. She described her film career of the 1980s to Ansen and Giles: "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 just thought, 'I'm not cut out for this. I don't want to be watched. I just want to disappear.'"
Connelly graduated from St. Ann's High School in Brooklyn. A high school acquaintance described Connelly to People's Karen S. Schneider as someone who wore "Ralph Lauren Polo all the time and [would] sometimes go home and change at lunchtime." She took a break from acting in 1988 to focus on her college education. She studied English for two years at Yale University. She described her Yale experience to Interview's Sischy, "I went a little overboard. I really had no balance. I pulled a lot of all-nighters in the library right off the bat and I didn't have a really strong social life." She would take a semester off to shoot such films as The Hot Spot, before returning to school. "I'd do a semester, leave, work, come back, that kind of thing. It was a strange time," she told Sischy.
After the teen comedy Career Opportunities was released in 1991, Connelly described the experience as difficult. In the film's most-remembered scene, Connelly's character—who is trapped overnight in a department store that is being robbed—provocatively rides a rocking horse. She told Sischy, "I remember when Career Opportunities came out there were these mechanical posters of me—literally, moveable cutouts of me on a rocking horse—that were around. I was mortified. I felt that I was representing a version of myself that I didn't feel connected to. Maybe that's why I went so overboard at college; because it was my place and I fought so hard to make it my own." Her college experience, however, was less than a happy time for her, as she explained to Sischy, "As someone who had always wanted to make everyone happy and to not disappoint anyone, I really needed to go through a kind of emancipation and rebellion. It didn't happen for a few more years. I overdid school. I burned out. I got to a point where I felt very vulnerable and kind of raw, a little bit overexposed and unprotected." She then joined her parents, who were living in Los Angeles. She studied drama for a year at Stanford University, but never graduated. Instead she resumed a full-time acting career, and landed roles in The Rocketeer, where she co-starred with Billy Campbell, to whom she was engaged until 1996.
In the 1994 film Of Love and Shadows, Connelly co-starred with Antonio Banderas in an adaptation of Chilean author Isabel Allende's novel of the same name. Connelly and Banderas portray a couple who become passionately engaged in romance while working together to overthrow Chile's military dictatorship. Entertainment Weekly critic Melissa Pierson wrote in a 1997 video review that "folks whose primary interests are encounters of the flesh—and who probably don't care that Jennifer Connelly . . . projects all the emotional depth of a toothbrush, because she's a babe—are going to lose patience with so much narrative froufrou. Those who are drawn to deep examinations of social problems will resent using them as a pretext to get beautiful but not necessarily talented actors into bed." In 1996's Mulholland Falls, Connelly portrayed the female object of desire of the adulterous Nick Nolte character. The role, while introducing her to a wider audience, did not require her to act as much as look physically desirable.
Connelly's acting abilities caught critics's attention in the 1997 film Inventing the Abbotts, a film in which she played the more sexually uninhibited of three sisters in the 1950s. Co-produced by Ron Howard, who would later direct her in A Beautiful Mind, the film also starred Billy Crudup as a young, economically challenged man who exacts revenge on his father's enemy—a man who cheated him out of a financially successful business deal and is also suspected of having engaged in an adulterous affair with his wife—by sleeping with the enemy's daughters in the sexually repressed Midwest of the 1950s. Of the three sisters, Connelly's intimate scenes with Crudup generated the most heat with critics and viewers. Howard told People'sAnna David, "There are a lot of people who would play the bad-girl role as someone who's sexy and fun, but at the end of the day just basically the bad girl. Jennifer managed to escape that. She really made your heart go out to her."
Following the birth of her son, Kai, in 1997, fathered by photographer David Dugan, Connelly dedicated herself to finding more serious acting roles. She accepted a role in the short-lived television series The $treet, which lasted less than a year in 2000, the same year she firmly established herself as a serious actor in director Darren Aronofsky's film adaptation of the Hubert Selby Jr., novel, Requiem for a Dream. Connelly explained to Sischy: "There came a time where I thought, I want to work, but is there a way where I don't have to be this figure that I seem to have become? I don't want to be it anymore. I wasn't making the right choices. I wasn't approaching things consciously. I was doing a movie because I wanted to be in Italy, or because so-and-so was in it and it sounded impressive. I felt like there was a disparity between the kinds of movies that I was doing and the films that I like to see."
A harrowing account of the effects of drug addiction on four characters, Requiem for a Dream pulled no punches. In the film, Ellen Burstyn portrayed a lonely, widowed woman who becomes addicted to amphetamines in order to lose weight. Jared Leto portrayed Burstyn's son, Harry, who becomes addicted to heroin with his best friend, Tyrone, played by Marlon Wayons, and his girlfriend, Marion, portrayed by Connelly. Entertainment Weekly critic Owen Gleiberman praised Connelly's performance: "Marion, played by Jennifer Connelly, whose flash-eyed voluptuous beauty, for the first time, is matched by her radiant command as an actress. Marion, a pampered girl who wants to design clothes, gets hooked on smack as well, and the gradual transformation she undergoes, from caressing lover to selfish, clawing dope fiend to dead-hearted prostitute willing to do anything, is a slow descent into pure degraded madness." Connelly explained her role to Sischy: "I had people in all corners saying, 'Why would you want to take this on?' And even, 'Don't do it.' But I had no hesitation. What it was talking about really resonated with me. I felt like it was talking about a lack of love from mother to child, and through that an inherited voracious hunger, a lack of self-respect, and a lack of trust in oneself and therefore in anyone else." Connelly continued, "It was talking about people being incapable of intimacy and living with so much fear that they wind up turning to some quantifiable, external substance to make themselves feel whole and sedated. I think you see this everywhere, and on all sorts of levels: food, TV, drugs, alcohol, cigarettes, whatever. It seems like so many people are seeking peace in a self-destructive manner." In 2000, Connelly also appeared as a supporting actor in the film biopic of American Expressionist painter Jackson Pollock, which starred Ed Harris; she portrayed Pollock's young mistress.
The critical accolades earned by Connelly in Requiem for a Dream and her experience acting in Introducing the Abbotts, which Howard co-produced, helped her land the role of Alicia Nash in A Beautiful Mind. She auditioned for the role with the film's leading actor, Academy Award-winner Russell Crowe. The depth of the material forced Connelly to draw forth a wider range of emotions than she had portrayed in the past. She explained to People'sSchneider, "I was a mess," and added, "By the end Russell was offering to pick up my snotty tissues off the floor." Newsweek critics Ansen and Giles described the film's plot: "In a way, the movie's a rescue story like Apollo 13, which [director Ron] Howard and his partner, Brian Grazer, made years ago. John Nash is like the capsule perilously adrift, and Alicia is like mission control, though, come to think of it, her task is even harder than mission control's because her husband is in denial: he keeps radioing Houston and insisting he doesn't have a problem." In an interview with Ansen and Giles, Howard explained the reaction of some individuals in the film industry after he cast Connelly as Alicia Nash: "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?"
Much of the trepidation surrounding Connelly's selection to play Alicia revolved around Crowe's reputation; he is generally considered a difficult and demanding individual with whom to work. "Russell has a very charismatic, strong personality which can be overbearing," Connelly told Ansen and Giles. "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." The Newsweek critics obviously felt that she was successful, and described her performance as "moving, open-faced, utterly lacking in artifice, and an essential complement to Crowe's showy turn." The portrayal won her both a Golden Globe and Academy Award for best supporting female actor.
There is increasing respect for Connelly's acting abilities among film critics, her acting peers, and the public. The accolades she received for her performances in films such as A Beautiful Mind and Requiem for a Dream, have led her to be one of Hollywood's most-sought-after actors. Her first film role following A Beautiful Mind was the female lead in director Ang Lee's screen adaptation of the Marvel Comics superhero The Hulk, which began filming in 2002.
Connelly married her A Beautiful Mind co-star, Paul Bettany, on January 1, 2003. The duo exchanged vows at the Gilmerton House estate near Edinburgh in Scotland. Dressed in matching black, they appeared before 14 friends and family members in the candlelit music room of the Scottish manor. The couple had met on A Beautiful Mind's set in 2001 but didn't begin their romance until several months later, following Connelly's split from actor Josh Charles.
Source: "Jennifer Connelly." Newsmakers. Issue 4. Gale Group, 2002.