'Mind' co-star brings depth to Nash's loyal wife

OSCAR QUOTIENT

PROS: Built strong buzz for “Requiem ” and is receiving raves for “Mind.”

CONS: With Crowe’s nom a sure thing, can the film support two nods?

Jennifer Connelly considers the 1997 birth of her son to be the turning point in her career.

“It was a rebirth for me,” says the actress currently co-starring in “A Beautiful Mind.” “I find I am most comfortable with the work I have done since becoming a mother.”

A rebirth at 31? How many thesps get such a luxury? While many contemporaries her age are still searching for their big break, Connelly has already racked up more than 20 screen credits, attended both Yale and Stanford, and had a child, all before her 20s were over.

In 2001, not only did the seasoned actress — who got her big break in 1984’s “Once Upon a Time in America and then really made a name for herself last year in Darren Aronofsky’s “Requiem for a Dream” — get to cozy up to Russell Crowe on-screen, but her work is quickly gaining the attention of critics and film orgs.

To date, Connelly has nabbed supporting actress noms for her portrayal of Alicia Nash from the Hollywood Foreign Press Assn. (Golden Globe), the Broadcast Film Critics Assn. and the International Press Academy (Golden Satellite). She also won best featured actress at the recent inaugural American Film Institute Awards.

Looking ahead, Connelly has signed on to co-star in Ang Lee’s “The Hulk,” based upon the Bill Bixby television series.

“I was initially taken by her own academic background,” says “Mind” director Ron Howard. “She had an instinct about the arena of this movie and the intelligence to play the character.”

“What makes her exciting is this combination of talent, intelligence and strength, and her broad acting experience,” Howard continues. “These were the qualities required of both the character and the actor playing the part. Jennifer not only fit the bill, she more than lived up to her end of the bargain.”

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