Clearly, Jennifer Connelly has never been a card-carrying member of Oprah’s Book Club.
The afternoon chatshow phenomenon that catapulted Andre Dubus III’s novel, “House of Sand and Fog,” to bestsellerdom somehow bypassed Connelly, who first encountered the tale by way of director Vadim Perelman and co-writer Shawn Otto’s script adaptation.
“I was really sick, lying in my hotel-room bed,” she recalls, “which gave me a good chance to read some scripts. The test was whether it would hold on in my mind after my fever passed, and it did.”
What Connelly encountered was a character, Kathy Nicolo, who is linked to a large group of Americans that the movies typically bypass — people enduring failed, disappointing lives and futilely striving for what they view as a little bit of justice.
Kathy’s loss of her father’s home to Behrani (Ben Kingsley), an Iranian emigre and former colonel in quest of a real estate investment to prop up his family, has the effect of mocking her ability to do anything right.
“When I then read Andre’s novel, I was given this large chunk of narrative and character material to work with, since it alternates between Kathy’s and Behrani’s voices,” says Connelly. “And in both book and script, Kathy is a flawed, slightly self-destructive person. What was crucial to the film’s drama is that Vadim chose not to coddle her, and he urged me not to as well. These are people who are a bit threatening, and not supposed to be heroes at all.”
While some actors have followed an Oscar win with a chain of poorly chosen roles, Connelly’s supporting actress win for “A Beautiful Mind” now appears to be only the early phase of a career intent on serious and thoughtfully conceived characters.
“I don’t know if choosing difficult roles like Kathy is my strategy to improve myself, but I’m very critical about my own work,” says Connelly. “Once I view my performance onscreen, there’s always something I wish I had done differently.”
Coming attractions: “Dark Water”