Ask Jennifer Connelly which film people tend to recognise her from and you’d expect her to say 2001’s A Beautiful Mind, for which she won an Oscar playing opposite Russell Crowe. But no, as much to her surprise as much as anyone’s, it turns out to be the one that first made her a star, Jim Henson fantasy Labyrinth.
“It happens far more than I ever would have imagined,” she laughs. “I mean, how on earth, that was 22 years ago!”
Though now a cult, at the time it was a relative box office failure and for a time it seemed the New York born actress’s career might well have peaked at the age of 16. However, after a series of misfires that included The Rocketeer, Mulholland Falls and Higher Learning, the dawn of a new century brought a dramatic shift of fortunes with her acclaimed work in both Waking The Dead and Requiem For A Dream.
There may have been a couple of blips with Ang Lee’s unjustly dismissed Hulk and last year’s barely released Reservation Road, but since then, with the likes of Little Children, Blood Diamond and, obviously, her Academy triumph, she’s been on quite a roll.
The momentum is guaranteed to gather more force with the arrival of her latest, The Day The Earth Stood Still. Coincidentally opening on December 12, her 38th birthday, it’s a remake of Robert Wise’s 1951 sci-fi classic. Back then, its story of an alien arrived on Earth to warn mankind to change its warmongering ways or perish was a Cold War fable.
Today is a different zeitgeist and, accompanied by some resonating Biblical allusions, the message is environmental.
“That’s not the only reason I did it, but I really liked that aspect,” says Connelly who plays Helen Benson, a widowed single stepmother astrobiologist who befriends alien Klaatu and seeks to convince him that humanity is capable of change. “I don’t think it feels like an issue movie or that you’re being preached at, but it is very much about human nature and how the way we treat each other and the planet is not sustainable.”
Carbon footprint monitors will be pleased to hear that Connelly walks the walk as well as talking the talk. No gas guzzlers, thank you.
“We drive a Prius and we recycle, and we use energy saving light bulbs and we switch off the lights when we’re not using them.” She pauses, then laughingly adds. “Actually, I have to confess Paul’s better at that than me. He’s always berating me if I leave the light on in the kitchen.”
That will, of course, be Paul Bettany whom the dark haired, green-eyed and decidedly slender Connelly met while making A Beautiful Mind.
An Oscar and a husband, then. Not bad going. Even if (she grimaces at the thought) he does eat Marmite.
They’ve also just finished their first film together, as a couple actually playing man and wife. Being married was, she says, useful in not having to
spend weeks finding a way to be emotionally intimate on screen. Having done a movie about the possible end of the human race, it also seems somehow fitting that this one will concern the start of it.
Partly filmed in Cornwall (“I don’t care how beautiful it is, I couldn’t believe the wind!”), Creation tells the story of Charles Darwin and his devout wife and cousin Emma and the marital conflict engendered by On The Origin Of Species, a book conceived to prove the non-existence of God.
“It’s interesting that Darwin married a woman who was so religious, and it’s a really a great story,” she enthuses. “It’s taken from Randal Keynes’ book Annie’s Box and looks at Darwin’s relationship with Annie, their daughter, and Emma, and what his discoveries meant to her religious fervour. They lost Annie, and Emma viscerally felt that if he published his papers then they’d be separated for all eternity.”
Having confessed that she scandalously spent the previous night turning in at eight o’clock and reading a book in bed with a cup of tea “like some old granny”, it doesn’t strike you that, while she may be the new face of Revlon, Connelly lives the glittery Hollywood life.
Ask her what’s on the cards next and, rather than reel off a list of forthcoming projects, she talks about going home and spending Christmas at their house in Vermont with Paul and sons Stellan (5) and Kai (11). Not forgetting dog Pip and rabbit Neuf.
At the end of the day, while the job may be more glamorous, it seems that Connelly’s just a working mother who wants to spend more time with her children.
“There’s been a lot of moving around recently and it’s been a weird time,” she sighs. “But Stellan was here while Paul and I were filming Creation and Kai came over a couple of times, so I’m not complaining. We have a completely improvised schedule that’s different every month and I spend a lot of time keeping track of the calendar. It’s a peculiar, unorthodox way to live and raise kids, but then things come up like them getting to spend four months travelling around Africa with us. I’m aware that I’m really privileged to be in the position where I can take the kids to work and it’s a large part of what makes it fun.”