Hulk – Jennifer Connelly Interview
Jennifer Connelly was once the hottest young actress in Hollywood. In the early nineties, appearances in films like THE HOT SPOT and THE ROCKETEER had made her the talk of the town. Unfortunately, neither of those two films was the big hit that she needed, and her career subsequently nosedived while she was enjoying a five-year relationship with her Rocketeer co-star Bill Campbell.
Then came films like INVENTING THE ABBOTTS and MULHOLLAND FALLS, but nothing which gave her a chance to show her talent.
Today, however, Connelly is back with a vengeance. Her latest film, THE HULK, is the kind of intriguing blockbuster that will again acquaint her with mainstream audiences. The last time we saw Jennifer Connelly, in A BEAUTIFUL MIND, she won the best supporting actress Oscar as the woman who falls in love with a schizophrenic Nobel laureate. Now, she’s starring in THE HULK as Betty Ross, the girlfriend of a molecular biologist who turns into a green beast whenever he gets angry. Despite her complicated love life onscreen, the 32-year-old beauty still manages to be one of the best actresses in the business.
Australian actor Eric Bana (BLACK HAWN DOWN) plays Bruce Banner aka The Hulk, while Connelly struggles to deal with his ordeal after Banner is subjected to gamma rays as part of a military experiment. Nick Nolte co-stars as Banner’s mad scientist father while Sam Elliot plays Connelly’s disapproving military officer father. But perhaps the most interesting aspect of THE HULK is the presence of auteur director Ang Lee (SENSE AND SENSIBILITY, CROUCHING TIGER, HIDDEN DRAGON) as the director. His presence alone dictates that THE HULK will be a far cut above the usual BATMAN or DAREDEVIL action flick.
In the meantime, Connelly has been seen most recently invarious art films like like WAKING THE DEAD, a psychological horror film from Keith Gordon, REQUIEM FOR A DREAM, the critically-acclaimed film from Pi director Darren Aronofsky, POLLOCK, for which she received a Golden Globe nomination, all films which are absolute proof of her gifts as an actress and her determination to have a serious career after previously appearing in films like THE HOT SPOT opposite Don Johnson and CAREER OPPORTUNITIES.
Connelly has also been busy raising her 5-year-old son from her failed relationship to photographer David Dugan. Recently married to British actor Paul Bettany (DOGVILLE, A KNIGHT’s TALE), whom she met while working with him on A BEAUTIFUL MIND, Connelly is expecting her second child due late this year. Connelly also admits that she’s looking forward to rebuilding a career that began in earnest when she starred in Sergio Leone’s 1984 epic, ONCE UPON A TIME IN AMERICA, and soon afterwards in John Hughes’s teen comedy, CAREER OPPORTUNITIES.
I spoke to Jennifer Connelly in New York recently where she prefers to live with her son rather than in the L.A. smog. One can pleasantly report that she’s even more attractive up close and in person that she is in her movies. Connelly, who attended Yale, is probably as intelligent and articulate an actress as there is in the business. In conversation, she radiates a mixture of complexity and openness that is altogether refreshing in the interview trade.
Q: Jennifer, what made you want to do a film like THE HULK as your first film after winning the Oscar for A BEAUTIFUL MIND? It’s not the type of role you seem to have been building up to.
CONNELLY: In a sense that’s true. It sounds like a real departure from what I’ve been doing recently. But it’s an Ang Lee movie. That automatically makes it interesting and isn’t that the whole point of an acting career, to work with interesting people like Ang Lee and to feel inspired? Well, I feel inspired a lot these days. I have enormous respect for Ang, and I also thought that the script was very good and that this wasn’t just some superhero action film. It’s much deeper than that, honestly! (Laughs)
Q: Why are audiences attracted to films like THE HULK which are taken from comic books?
CONNELLY: It’s the extreme transformations that the characters undergo. So any films are about ordinary people placed in extraordinary situations, and the comic book mythology has a very powerful hold on the imagination. Bruce Banner is also a kind of tragic figure in the same way that Batman is, so I think here’s a tremendous audience identification factor at work right from the start. But I think people will be amazed at what Ang Lee has done with this genre. I think he’s raised the bar much higher than anyone could expect.
Q: What are your scenes like with Eric Bana?
CONNELLY: I think there’s a very touching rapport between my character and Eric’s Bruce Banner. He’s a man who’s been placed in a tragic situation where his temper causes him to be transformed physically, and it’s an ongoing psychological battle for him. So there’s a lot of resonance in our scenes together.
Q: You’ve already won an Oscar. Do you feel like you deserve another for your big emotional scenes with a giant green monster that was never actually there?
CONNELLY: It was difficult, of course, because as much as Ang (Lee) would tell me, “This is what will happen–this is what it’s gonna look like,” it was hard to picture. I wasn’t sure that what I was picturing would actually wind up in the movie. On top of that, it’s stuff no one has ever seen. I mean, none of us has ever actually seen a big, 15-foot green guy involved in these kind of fights. So, it was hard to fathom.
Q: The action scenes were probably easier, then.
CONNELLY: I didn’t have too many stunts. There’s one where I get lifted up on the car and then kind of shoved in. But I have this thing sort of left over from when I was a tomboy as a kid, a kind of excitement about doing that sort of thing. I quite like it, I have to say, being thrown around on wires and that stuff.
Q: Is it true that just shooting dialogue on an Ang Lee film can be exhausting, since he likes to do dozens and dozens of takes.
CONNELLY: I had one scene with Nick Nolte that had something like 19 setups, and it was just a conversation between the two of us. There was much more coverage than I’ve ever done on anything. He uses it, and it really works, but it’s a very different experience making a movie like that.
Q: It looks like things are going well in your personal life. You married A Beautiful Mind costar Paul Bettany in January, there’s a baby coming later this summer and your son, Kai, is almost six.
CONNELLY: Kai’s very precocious, and he’s hysterically funny. So, he’s just great to spend time with, and he’s been such a great addition to my life. And now I have a great husband and another kid on the way. It’s really nice having that. It’s such an unstable business, so much traveling, and it’s erratic in terms of schedules and all of that, so it’s nice having something constant to come home to.
Q: One can’t help wondering, were there ever times–previous relationships in your life–that you could relate to the whole Betty Ross-Hulk Boy torment?
CONNELLY: Oh, God, no! No, I couldn’t. I’ve never had a relationship like that, I have to say. I’ve dealt with some strange ones but never anything like that.
Q: You’ve commented in the past how you were always fighting some kind of battle with yourself to be more open and available emotionally. You’ve recently been married, so obviously something is going on?
CONNELLY: (Laughs) Yes, I hope so. I’ve always been an incredible perfectionist and I had very little social life when I was in university and then when I came to Los Angeles to make a career in film. I always made things much harder for myself with all these rigid demands I was placing on myself.
Q: You’re a rarity amongst Hollywood actors in the sense that you had a very serious academic background.
CONNELLY: I was a drill sergeant to myself when it came to studying. I was modelling in my teens and at the same time I worked hard to get top grades. But even during Freshman Dinner at Yale, I was in the library already studying. I was also making movies during university, so that meant I was running myself ragged. The biggest problem was always in my own mind. I just didn’t allow myself to have much fun. But I think I’ve changed a lot, especially in the last few years. So I’m working on having a much happier life.
Q: Do you think your career has been hampered by all the attention paid to your sex symbol status?
CONNELLY: I don’t know. I wouldn’t want to use that as an excuse. I know that after THE HOT SPOT there was a lot of sex symbol shit being printed about me and that made me realize I should try to stay away from those roles because it wouldn’t help me play intelligent parts. There’s always this terrible macho typecasting going on in Hollywood. There are very few roles for intelligent women. If you’re attractive, the studios want you to play the sexy girlfriend who takes her clothes off and sticks her tits out at the camera. I’ve never wanted to make a living playing a man’s sex toy. (Laughs)
Q: When you look back at your beginnings as a teenage movie star, does it seem a little unreal to you?
CONNELLY: It does. It’s like talking to a former boyfriend and realizing that even though you were once intimate, he now seems like a stranger. It’s a very odd feeling. I started modelling when I was 10, and I made about ten films between the ages of 14 and 20 so I always felt different from other girls my age. I also felt that I was constantly being watched that it made me become rather shy and introverted in ways that I didn’t like about myself.
Q: Can you explain that?
CONNELLY: You’re forced to grow up very fast. You learn how to behave with people much older than you are and you affect a certain level of sophistication which you really don’t have. It’s an elaborate pretence that you erect in order to be accepted as an adult. But it means that you’re learning how to present a false self and it takes a while before you can unlearn those kinds o f games that you play with people. I think it’s only been in the last few years that I’ve begun to experience a sense of maturity and independence as a woman. The birth of my son Kai made me take a lot more responsibility for my life and things feel good now.
Q: And how is married life these days?
CONNELLY: Oh, it’s great. I feel great! I’m so much in love with my husband Paul (Bettany) whom I met while I was working on A BEAUTIFUL MIND with him. We’ve found out that we can be very supporting and caring and happy together, and that’s what we’re working on every day we spend together.
Q: What do you think went wrong with your life in the past?
CONNELLY: For a lot of reasons I was very depressed with my life several years ago. I felt frustrated about my work, I wasn’t happy with a lot of the things that were going on around me – it just wasn’t a great time. I think I had also been suffering from the knowledge that a relationship (to Rocketeer star Bill Campbell) I thought was going to work out suddenly fell apart. But then I took several months off to recharge my batteries and it did wonders for me. Then I had another relationship which fell apart, but by then I was strong enough not to let it depress me. (Laughs)
Q: Having experienced the ups and downs of being a movie star, how do you reflect on the changes it’s brought to your life?
CONNELLY: It’s made me more serious and disciplined. I’m not an easy or simple person. It’s taken me time before I’ve started asserting myself more and become surer of what I want out of life. My life is still a mess in some ways, but it’s a controlled mess now! (Laughs)
Q: What do you think of your early years as a teenage girl working in the movies?
CONNELLY: Hollywood tends to mismanage teenage girls. Certainly there are exceptions, but generally there are not a lot of inspiring roles for young actresses. They are used merrily as set dressing in movies, but the roles do get more interesting as you get older, and I’m finding that I’m much more engaged in my work now. For the first time, I feel serious about my career.
Q: Why do you think your career went off track in your mid-twenties?
CONNELLY: It got to the point that I started waiting longer between roles because I couldn’t find the parts that reflected my needs, tastes, and interests. There seemed to be a serious gap between what I wanted to do and the preception that the industry had of me based on the movies I had made. I don’t know whether it was a coincidence, but my choices and career satisfafction changed dramatically after the birth of my son.” I have been happy with every role since Kai was born. I feel like I’ve found my niche. I am not sure why that’s true. It could be that I feel so passionately about him and feel so good about being a full-time mom that I’m willing to wait for the great parts. But I’m also feeling everything more deeply now, and I think that has translated to my work. I think my relationship with Kai and now with paul has been a great catalyst for self-exploration, and I feel more connected to other people. And I think that has made me a better actress.
Q: How would you describe your own personality?
CONNELLY: I tend to keep a lot of things hidden very deep, keeping them very private. There’s something inside me that acts like a hidden control mechanism, keeping me from indulging in any wild impulses. That’s a side of me that I’ve changed in the last few years, and I’m less careful and less self-controlled now. Life is more fun for me these days.
Q: You’ve been involved in several long-term relationships rather than playing the Hollywood dating game. What are your views about commitment and sharing a life with someone now?
CONNELLY: I think I’ve tried to protect myself from having serious relationships at times because of how badly I’ve been hurt and how awful and miserable I feel after a break-up. I’ve put myself on the line romantically before and been rejected, and it’s one the of most incredibly painful moments that anyone can experience. That kind of emotional trauma is equivalent to experiencing something that is way beyond your control. You feel like you’ve been crushed and suddenly the world looks very bleak and hopeless. I’ve been there. But those kinds of experiences make you stronger in the long run and like any damaged person, you know that you can handle disappointment and that enables you to take more chances.
Q: Do you think that you’ve learned to deal with all the attention focussed on your looks?
CONNELLY: You never get completely comfortable with people staring at you or paying you complements. Being considered attractive presents you with lots of advantages in life, but you always have the nagging sense of “yeah, but so what.” You want to believe that you’re more than a nice pair of breasts and legs and eyebrows. But I can let myself believe in nice things people say to me more today than I ever did before. It’s like you don’t feel that you deserve a lot of the attention because inside you’re worried that you haven’t accomplished anything to be complemented about. I think now I’m ready for people to tell me how they enjoy my work, because maybe for the first time in my life, I’ve proud of my acting and the way my career is evolving. I hope it’s just the beginning!