Jennifer Connelly/House of Sand and Fog Interview by Paul Fischer in Los Angeles.
In the midst of our interview in a Los Angeles hotel room, beautiful Oscar winner Jennifer Connelly excuses herself in order to feed her three-month old baby. Priorities for the actress, now married to British actor Paul Bettany, have shifted since giving birth to her second son, Stellan. Between the two children, Connelly's career has of course changed, and so are the ways she is dealing with motherhood. "With [first child] Kai, it felt like it changed everything. You start thinking about how you spend your time and become all that much more careful about things that take you away from your home life, because it just feels so precious. I also think I was just blindsided by the amount of love I then felt for him. I had never experienced anything like it at that point." The beautiful actress, who looks stunning three months after giving birth to her second child, says that her love for Kai informed her work as an actress, but that changed with the arrival of Stellan. "This time, I was thinking: It's a bit scary. I love Kai so much, is it going to be the same with a second one? And all of a sudden, where there's nothing before - you meet them the first day and you think: How could I have ever doubted that I would love this thing just as much? The difference between the first and second child is that the second one is really a bit of a juggling act, and I find there's a lot of guilt involved, because I'm working a lot more now than when Kai was born." The other major difference between the first and second child, is that now she is no longer a single mother. "We try to spend time together, travelling around together, keeping everyone happy and doing things like this is a bit more guilt-making," Connelly confesses, referring to the added burden of publicising her film, while husband Paul is also out and about trying to promote Master and Commander. Connelly also gives her husband full marks for being step dad to Kai. "Hes fantastic, I have to say I mean he's a funny guy, funny and great with kids, who does this sort of mock stern dad thing and Kai just roars with laughter." Being married has certainly enhanced motherhood and life in general for the glowing actress. "It's wonderful. They're both extraordinary kids and so sacred. I love my husband and it's great going through it with him." Adding that Paul helps in baby stuff like diaper changing. "He's very hands on, into the whole thing and gets so excited. He goes, "Yay! Good boy!" He's a goof. He sings stupid songs and makes funny faces. It's funny, we joke about the fact that now, if I get upset, he starts going [in baby voice] "It's okay. It's okay. Wanna suck my finger?"
On the personal side, ii is clear that Connelly is blissfully happy, and her career is as exciting as ever. Her Oscar win for A Beautiful Mind, finally legitimised her standing as one of Hollywood's most talented actors. She admits if nominated again for her latest film, House of Sand and Fog, she may approach the whole Oscar thing differently. "I think that I might be able to be a bit more on the ground about the whole thing. The whole Oscar campaign was a sort of deer in the headlights kind of experience for me. It's so overwhelming and I found myself going in so many directions in my head. When I get stressed, I tend to get very quiet and I think people misinterpreted my device for dealing with stress as sort of apathy, which it wasn't. I get really shy. I might be a bit more relaxed about it next time around. I don't really know, but it's a bit early to talk about that," she says smilingly.
Critics are already enthusing about her deeply emotional portrait of another seriously tragic and sad figure in House of Sand and Fog, based on the best-selling novel by Andre Dubus III. Connelly plays Kathy Nicolo who, after the break-up of her marriage, goes into a downward spiral of drugs and alcohol. At the same time, her house is sold at auction to Colonel Massoud Amir Behrani [Ben Kingsley], an Iranian émigré who hopes the house will begin the revival of his family's fortunes. Desperate to regain ownership of her beloved house, Kathy enlists the help of her new lover, Deputy Lester Burdon, a seemingly-stable man who soon goes wildly out of control. The battle of wills between Kathy and Colonel Behrani takes a tragic turn, as the deed to the house becomes the centrepiece in a deadly game of tug-of-war Connelly has no idea why she seems constantly drawn to such deeply troubled women and does laughingly admit that perhaps it's about time she did a comedy. "It's not that this is the sort of movie I want to do. It's just that there aren't that many great scripts each year or that many great movies, so these have been the ones I've been moved by and that I've wanted to do. At this point I might have a bit of trouble trying to get myself cast in a comedy, but I'd love to do one. I haven't really done one as a grown-up person." Connelly says that her attraction to THIS particular character was that "she was a character who's' really desperate at the beginning of the movie, and really has nothing to anchor it. She has no one to go to, in order to help her rein it in, so her desperation just starts spiralling which becomes the vortex that just sucks her down."
Connelly smiles when asked if it was tough not to bring such an emotionally draining character home with her at the end of the day. "It wasn't an option for me to bring it home because I had Kai, who was then 5, almost 6. So I had my son, and I'd come home at the end of the day and he'd say: Oh mom, help me use my Lagos." She also had a new "husband who would make fun of me for taking myself too seriously. He was in my trailer a day when I was about to shoot one particularly harrowing scene, with his guitar as he is wont to do. I had been listening to really depressing music from Radiohead, to get me in the mood, and he was there with his guitar going: Ooh my name's Jennifer and I'm a very serious actress and take myself seriously and that sort of thing.' "
Connelly says that is learning to laugh a lot more than she used to. With two children and a husband who never takes himself seriously, the actress, who has been working since age 12, is more confident and open. Asked if she would allow her children to act, she would, but with one exception. "I wouldn't want them to start working as kids, because I think it's a lot of pressure. Certainly, I'll let them do whatever they want to do, as long as it's not too self-destructive." Much like her recent characters perhaps?THE HOUSE OF SAND AND FOG opens early next year.