An acclaimed and versatile actor, Jennifer Connelly has had a rich career now in its fourth decade. With a filmography notable for an apparent dedication to the more independent side of Hollywood, the 46 year-old has nevertheless worked with some of the most revered filmmakers in modern cinema.
From an early start as a child model, she appeared in a small role in Sergio Leone’s Once Upon a Time in America, progressing immediately in 1985 to the lead in legendary giallo pioneer Dario Argento’s Phenomena. Despite being upstaged by a razor-wielding chimp, an undeterred Connelly took on an even more daunting role, in a film that has proven to be one of her most beloved among fans. Labyrinth sees the young actress hold her own against some of Jim Henson’s most grotesque creations, and David Bowie’s frankly obscene trousers.
As she grew in stature as a screen presence she appeared over the course of the next decade in the likes of Dennis Hopper’s The Hot Spot, the unfairly neglected Art Deco superhero flop The Rocketeer, John Singleton’s Higher Learning, and as part of an eye-catching ensemble of character actors in the neo-noir Mulholland Falls. Rounding off a steady decade with cult sci-fi Dark City, there was as of yet little indication of the garlands that were to come her way.
Pollock earned an Oscar nomination for director and star Ed Harris, but it was Darren Aronofsky’s gruelling masterpiece Requiem for a Dream that saw Connelly realise her potential in a committed and indelible performance as a heroin addict that turns to sex work. While recognised for her sterling work in indie circles, Connelly finally achieved real mainstream recognition with an Oscar for best supporting actress in Ron Howard’s A Beautiful Mind in which she plays Alicia, the wife of mathematician John Forbes Nash.
Connelly once again portrayed the devoted partner of a troubled man in Ang Lee’s existential tale on Hulk in 2003, and once again battled with narcotic demons in the highly regarded House of Sand and Fog opposite an Oscar-nominated role for Ben Kingsley. The same year she married Paul Bettany, whom she had met while filming A Beautiful Mind.
Now firmly established as a leading player, Connelly took on further interesting roles in the likes of Walter Salles’ Dark Water, easily one of the best of the J-Horror adaptations, brilliant relationship drama Little Children, Blood Diamond and The Day the Earth Stood Still.
As the noughties drew to a close, Connelly continued to work steadily, albeit in more low-key offerings like He’s Just Not That Into You and Inkheart, and Salvation Boulevard and Stuck in Love in the new decade. Despite tripping up with with critical stinker Winter’s Tale in 2014, the same year saw her reunite with Darren Aronofsky and Russell Crowe in the ambitious biblical lunacy of Noah, where she played Naameh, the wife of the titular patriarch. It was a return to high-profile roles, but yet again Connelly plays the wife of an insane protagonist. 2014 also saw her directed by Bettany in the unremittingly bleak Shelter. It’s a worthy tale of drug addiction (quelle surprise), but infamous for one particularly graphic scene of ejaculation.
Connelly appeared in Ewan McGregor’s literary folly American Pastoral last year and had a voice role in Spider Man: Homecoming. Next up is a true-life tale of true-blue American heroism, Only the Brave, depicting the 2013 Yarnell Hill Fire. It’s always good to see her on screen, but it looks like once more she’s relegated to a wifely role. Hopefully we’ll see her back in more challenging fare soon.
Only the Brave is in UK cinemas on general release from tomorrow. What is your favourite Jennifer Connelly performance?