Jennifer Connelly was born December 12th 1970, at Catskill Mountains, New York. The daughter of Gerard, a clothing retailer, and Eileen Connelly, an antiques dealer, she spent four years in Woodstock, New York, but grew up in Brooklyn Heights, just across the Brooklyn Bridge from Manhattan. She attended the prestigious Saint Ann’s school from kindergarten through high school.
Her education widened quickly. An advertising executive friend of the family suggested that 10-year-old Jennifer, being extraordinarily good-looking, might make a great child-model. So, they went looking for representation, and found it in the prestigious Ford Agency and, after school, Eileen would take little Jennifer into the city to auditions. She was very successful, appearing in many newspaper and magazine ads (such as in Seventeen magazine), and in TV commercials. These days, Jennifer claims she can remember very little about this, in fact recalling only one ad – for Scott’s toilet paper. Jennifer has said that modeling was “really alien” to her and she happily left it behind for film acting when she could: “I was so shy and really didn’t like getting my picture taken”.
Jennifer’s work took her all over, particularly to Europe and Japan. While in England, she made her onscreen debut as a member of an underground child
cult in the video for Duran Duran’s Union Of The Snake. Jennifer’s first movie experience came when a casting director introduced her to legendary filmmaker Sergio Leone, who was seeking an actress who could fill the role of a young girl to dance in his dramatic epic, “Once Upon a Time in America” (1984). The supposed determining factor in her casting was that her nose matched Elizabeth McGovern‘s, who played Deborah as an adult. Jennifer has described the audition for the film as the easiest of her career: “the whole thing took three days, I went and auditioned, went back the next day and met the director, and then went back and met with the director and Robert DeNiro”.
During her original interview with Leone she was asked to dance . “Not being a dancer, I had no idea what to do and I can only imagine how silly it must have looked, whatever it was I did”. Jennifer spent her twelfth birthday on the set, and has described working on the film as “pretty darn fun”. The role of Young Deborah also, notably, became very nearly the archetype for the type of role Jennifer has been most often asked to play throughout her career: the female object of male infatuation and longing. Although having little screen time, the few minutes she was on-screen were enough to reveal her talent. After Leone’s movie,
horror master Dario Argento signed her to play her first starring role in his horror thriller “Phenomena” (1985), in which Jennifer plays a girl who can communicate with insects. The film made a lot of money in Europe, but unfortunately was heavily cut for American distribution as “Creepers”. Argento was a colleague of Sergio Leone’s, and no doubt had been impressed with the young woman’s beauty, poise, and maturity in her first film role.
Jennifer next appeared in the low budget “Seven Minutes In Heaven” (1985) for Zoetrope Studios, where Jennifer played a Grade-A student who lets a troubled male friend stay at her house, much to her boyfriend’s chagrin. Unfortunately, the film was not supported by its studio and received limited distribution. The late eighties saw her appearing in a smash hit and three lesser seen films. Amongst the latter was her roles in “Etoile” (1988), as a ballerina, and in “Some Girls” (1988), where she played a self absorbed college freshman. Directed by Michael Hoffman (“Restoration“, “One Fine Day“), this was a black comedy where student Patrick Dempsey goes to Quebec to spend Christmas with his girlfriend, Gaby D’Arc, played by Jennifer. On his arrival, she tells him she doesn’t love him any more, but he sticks around to receive lessons in life and love from her sexy sisters, her father, who spends most of his time naked, and her grandma (who thinks he’s her dead husband).
The smash hit was “Labyrinth” (1986) in which Jennifer plays a young girl who, frustrated by having to baby-sit her brother, calls the goblins to take him away
– which they duly do. She has to discover the key to the Goblin King’s labyrinth and rescue her little brother, and while doing so meets all manner of fantastical beasts. Jennifer got the job after a nation-wide talent search for the lead in this fantasy directed by Jim Henson and produced by George Lucas. Henson was quoted as saying he knew he’d found his lead the minute she walked in the door for the audition. Her co-star was rock star David Bowie, who played the evil
Goblin King. Bowie has said that she reminded him of the young Elizabeth Taylor. He also remarked that “she’s. . .a damn good actress and a joy to work with.” For her part, Jennifer remembers that she was “impressed by Bowie, but (she) wasn’t into that teenager-rock star kind of thing at all”. She enjoyed the shoot immensely, particularly the scene where she wore a silver ballgown and danced with David Bowie to a track he wrote especially for the film. Much of Jennifer’s original fan following are those who first encountered her in this film.
After graduating from St. Ann’s in 1988 Jennifer found herself re-evaluating her acting career: “. . .in a few years it began to change. I said, ‘Do I really want to do this? or am I just doing it because it came along?’ So I took it all apart and put it back together and said, ‘Yes, I want to be an actor.’ In 1990s she enrolled at Yale, where she majored in drama and English Literature. After her sophomore year there, she transferred to Stanford University, where she remained for another year, but she never finished her degree. She had hopes of attending college with anonymity, but to no avail. “I wasn’t going to tell anyone at all, but I had a roommate who’d seen me in Labyrinth and so it was out”. She found that the mere fact that she had worked in Hollywood made her a cause celebre among her classmates: “you’re more famous than you actually are”. At Stanford Jennifer trained in classical theater and improvisation, studying with the late drama coach Roy London and with Howard Fine and Harold Guskin.
Her career entered into a terribly calm phase until Dennis Hopper, who was impressed after having seen her in “Some Girls“, cast Jennifer as an ingénue small-town girl in “The Hot Spot” (1990), based on the fifties crime novel Hell Hath No Fury. It received mixed critical reviews, but it was not a box office success. The
relatively high profile role in “The Hot Spot” got her noticed by the press for more than her acting. Stephen Schaefer in a USA Today article wrote: “Anyone looking for proof that little girls do grow up fast in the movies should take a gander at curvaceous Jennifer Connelly opposite Don Johnson in The Hot Spot. Not yet 20, Connelly has neatly managed the transition from child actress to ingenue.” Not all that surprisingly, Jennifer was called upon by Hopper to do her first nude scene: “The nudity was hard for me and something I thought about. . .but it’s not in a sleazy context.” The quote reflects the sensible manner with which she had approached a number of other such scenes in her career. The nudity wasn’t the only thing she was a bit trepidatious about–she balked a bit at
going into the freezing cold water during one of the beach scenes. Johnson solved the problem quickly–he just picked her up and threw her in!
Jennifer showed off her glamour and good looks as Josie McLellan in “Career Opportunities” (1991), a John Hughes produced comedy which was largely overlooked at the box office. Although it was derided by some critics as light-weight and silly, it has over the years developed somewhat of a cult following among Jennifer Connelly fans, and also fans of John Hughes’ work. In subsequent interviews, Jennifer mentioned that she was embarassed
by her role as Josie because of the way that the film overly emphasized her sexuality. She was keen to move into more serious adult roles, and not be relegated to an ‘object of desire’. “The Rocketeer” (1991), an ambitious Touchstone super-production, came to the rescue. The film was an old-fashioned adventure flick about a young pilot who discovers a jet-pack and uses it to save his girlfriend and foil gangsters and Nazis in 1930’s Hollywood. Critics saw in Rocketeer a top-quality movie, a homage to those old films of the 1930s in which the likes of Errol Flynn starred. In real life, Jennifer and co-star Bill Campbell became an item,
and saw each other on and off for five years, at one point even getting engaged.
After a year long break from acting, Jennifer appeared in “The Heart of Justice” (1993), a made-for-television drama which teamed her up with a strong ensemble cast including Dennis Hopper, Eric Stoltz and her Career Opportunities co-star, Dermot Mulroney. With dark themes of ambition, incest, murder and jealousy, this film marked Jennifer’s progression into the adult roles that she had been seeking. “Of Love and Shadows” (1994) provided Jennifer with an opportunity to show off her credentials in her first role following drama classes at Stanford. Unfortunately the film was widely criticized for being poorly scripted, poorly directed and (apart from Jennifer and her co-star Antonio Banderas) poorly acted.
Jennifer’s next major role was in “Mulholland Falls” (1996), a 1950s crime movie with a film-noir edge and a solid cast including Nick Nolte, Melanie Griffith, Chazz Palminteri, Michael Madsen and John Malkovich. Jennife’s role as Allison Pond, the wounded beauty at the heart of the story, was praised by film critic Roger Ebert, who described her performance as “sexy in the way Marilyn Monroe was sexy – as if she doesn’t quite believe it, and can’t quite help it – and she finds the right note, halfway between innocence and heedless abandon.” Jennifer followed Mulholland Falls with another 1950’s drama, “Inventing the Abbots” (1997) about a rich family whose parties and wealth dominate a small Midwestern town and a local working-class boy who has made the family his addiction. Jennifer is the official “bad girl” who gets sent away to stewardess school for her exploits.
This was followed by another brief hiatus for the birth of her son, Kai (with then-boyfriend David Dugan, a photographer) in 1997. In 1998 Jennifer was invited by director Alex Proyas to make “Dark City” (1998), a strange, visually stunning science fiction extravaganza. In this movie, Jennifer played the main character’s wife, and she delivered an acclaimed performance. The film itself didn’t break any box-office record but received positive reviews. This led Jennifer to a contract with Fox for the short-lived TV series “The $treet” (2000), a main part in the memorable and dramatic love-story “Waking the Dead” (2000), and more important, a breakthrough part in the polemic and applauded independent “Requiem for a Dream” (2000), a tale about the haunting lives of drug addicts and the subsequent process of decadence and destruction.
In Requiem, Jennifer had her career’s most courageous, difficult part, a performance that earned her a Spirit Award Nomination and brought her the best critical notice of her career to date.
She followed this role with “Pollock” (2000), in which she played Jackson Pollock’s mistress, Ruth Klingman, who comes between him and his wife, played by Marcia Gay Harden, near the end of the artist’s life.
Jennifer’s fortunes improved immensely in 2001, with a truly revelatory performance in “A Beautiful Mind” (2001), Ron Howard‘s acclaimed biopic of John Forbes Nash Jr., a brilliant mathematician, Nobel Prize winner in Economics, and schizophrenic. As the devoted wife of this complex man (played by Russell Crowe), Jennifer earned a wealth of critical accolades, including Golden Globe and American Film Institute Awards and a an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress.
After 20-odd films, Jennifer had landed squarely on the A-list after “A Beautiful Mind”, a status that has been cemented by her roles in Ang Lee’s action movie “Hulk” (2003), her role opposite Ben Kingsley in the drama “House of Sand and Fog” (2003), based on the book by Andre Dubus III, and her leading role in “Dark Water” (2005), a remake of the hit supernatural Japanese film, directed by Walter Salles.
In “Little Children” (2006), a black comedy / satire directed by Todd Field, Jennifer plays a small role as Kathy, a cold and manipulative wife in a perfect looking but shallow marriage. “Blood Diamond” (2006), directed by Edward Zwick and staring Leonardo DiCaprio, marked Jennifer’s first appearance in a a genuine ‘block buster’ film. Jennifer played Maddy Bowen, an American journalist who meets and befriends both Danny (DiCaprio) and Solomon (Djimon Hounsou), and challenges Danny to dispense with his nihilism and do his part to fight for good instead of being part of evil. In “Reservation Road” (2007), Jennifer teamed up with Joaquin Phoenix, her former co-star in Inventing the Abbotts, playing the mourning parents of a son killed in a hit and run car accident. Despite generally poor reviews, critics nevertheless continued to acknowledge Jennifer’s ability to excel in emotional and painful roles. She has most recently been seen in the remake of “The Day the Earth Stood Still” opposite Keanu Reeves and co-starring in “He’s Just Not That Into You” alongside Jennifer Anniston, Drew Barrymore and Ben Affleck that marked her return to comedy after a 17 year hiatus. The Baltimore-set movie of interconnecting story arcs dealt with the challenges of reading or misreading human behavior. In 2008, she was named the face of Balenciaga’s ads, as well as the new face for Revlon cosmetics.
Jennifer’s next role was in the animated film “9” (2009) voicing rag doll 7, along with Elijah wood, John C. Reilly and Martin Landau. The adventure-fantasy is set in a post-apocalytic future. In “Creation“, a drama- biography based in the life of English naturalist Charles Darwin, Jennifer appears as Emma Darwin, co-starring alongside her husband in real life Paul Bettany. The story is focused on Darwin’s struggle to find the balance between his revolutionary theories on evolution and the relationship with his religious wife, whose faith contradicts his work.
Virginia, schedule for release date in 2010, is a heartfelt drama, Jennifer Connelly is Virginia, a delicate and trouble woman, who despite hints of mental illness, survives in a turist conservative town, while her affair with the local married mormon sheriff has dragged for years with no resolution, but willing still to indulge in his secret taste for fetish sex, she holds a secret, when her son begins a romantic relationship with the sheriff’s daughter, and he announces plans to run for the state senate, their affair runs the risk of becoming a political liability.
Her upcoming projects are the comedy/drama “The dilemma” (2011) and “Salvation Boulevard” (2011), a comedy-thriller set in the world of mega-churches, co-starring Pierce Brosnan, Marisa Tomei and Ed Harris.