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BETWEEN MOVIES & MOMMYHOOD

By TERRY TRUCCO
New York Daily News,
USA Weekend, 7/3/05



Jennifer Connelly's porcelain skin looks pale. No, she isn't channeling the spirit of the tormented apartment dweller, scared bloodless, she portrays in her new movie, "Dark Water," a psychological thriller opening next Friday. She is fighting off a bronchial bug and, from all appearances, seems to have lost the latest round. Seated in a discrete corner of a swanky New York hotel restaurant, Connelly breaks off the conversation, overcome by coughing. She apologizes for the interruption and gamely plunges on. "I got this from Stellan," she says, referring to her 23-month-old son.

It comes as no surprise that Connelly is feeling worn -- or has learned to play hurt. For eight years, since the birth of her first son, Kai, she has practiced the delicate art of juggling career and family, the ultimate high-wire act for a growing Hollywood contingent.

Her balancing turn has grown more complex with her marriage in 2002 to British actor Paul Bettany, Stellan's birth and her white-hot career, which kicked into high gear with her Oscar win for 2001's "A Beautiful Mind" (co-starring Bettany). Yet even with abundant resources and years of practice, Connelly has discovered how hard it is to keep everything in equilibrium -- and just stay healthy. "What it is is exhausting," she says, running a hand through her long black hair.

Not that she would have things any other way. At 34, Connelly -- a former child star who made her debut at 11 in "Once Upon a Time in America" -- has deliberately fashioned her work to accommodate the rhythms of family life, making just one movie a year and alternating projects with Bettany so a parent is always back home in Brooklyn for the boys.

"When I'm home, we ride bikes in the park, I take Stellan to his music class, I bring Kai to school or to his guitar lesson," she says, sipping hot tea. When she is working, her family travels to be with her, whether for weeks or long weekends, a practice she began after Kai was born and she was a single mother (his father is photographer David Dugan). "I felt the stability was coming from being with me, so he came with me everywhere," she recalls. "But it's as much for me as for them now. I'd go nuts not seeing them."

Part of "Dark Water's" allure for Connelly was its filming location in Toronto, less than two hours by air from New York. ("I'm not going to read a script if it's shooting in China," she says.) Connelly was still nursing Stellan, who is named for the Swedish actor Stellan Skarsgard, when she arrived on the set with Bettany.

"I had worked with an actress who was breast-feeding on another film, and it was not an easy experience, with everyone always waiting around," says director Walter Salles. "But Jennifer was constantly available. In fact, I think having just given birth helped her understand the complexities of the mother-and-child situation in the screenplay."

A decade ago it would have been unthinkable that Connelly -- the teen queen of cringe-inducing B-pictures -- would have a career where she called the shots. "I felt like a wildly different person in the films I made from the person I knew myself to be," Connelly says. "But sometimes you sense something is a little off before you actually do something about it."

What spurred her to remake her career was Kai's birth. "I had never loved that much," she says, her voice softening. "I became much more conscious of my own behavior and really started to grow up. And I thought, 'OK, I really don't want to make crap films.' "

Easier said than done. "I met a lot of resistance," she says. It took two months of auditions to win the role of an idealistic activist in 2000's "Waking the Dead," a modest independent movie. But it was a start. A searing turn as a drug addict in "Requiem for a Dream" that same year led to the intense, unsparing portrayals that have become her trademark in "Pollock," "House of Sand and Fog" and the clunker "Hulk," "an interesting idea that didn't entirely jell," she says.

Despite her success, Connelly is adamant that her sons not follow in her footsteps as a child actor: "I think it's right for kids to be kids, you know?"

So, does she plan more children? The actress, who does not have a nanny -- yet -- laughs. "Paul would have five more if he could. So in theory, yes. But we'll see."

 

WEEKEND WITH ... JENNIFER CONNELLY

A New York native, Connelly hits the town with husband Paul Bettany and sons Kai, 8 this month, and Stellan, 23 months. Fave family spot: Coney Island. A visit usually starts at the Cyclone, the 1920s roller coaster. "We always measure Kai -- he's still too short, so we're waiting to go on it," she says. Instead, they take him "on all the spinny rides."

But forget the Super Shot. "I'm not good at anything that goes up and down," Connelly says.

Stellan adores the Rio Grande Train, which chugs past the park's famed Ferris wheel, and Willie the Whale, whose tiny passengers sit in fish-shaped cars that come in four colors. "We go on all of them," Connelly says.

The actress and brood also are "big museum fans," she says. A recent visit to the newly refurbished Museum of Modern Art in midtown Manhattan was a big hit. "There's so much that's quite cool for kids," she says, like Josiah McElheny's two-way blown-glass mirrors ("a neat optical illusion") and the towering metal helicopter from 1945.

Before going home to Brooklyn, they head downtown for dinner, to Nobu, a chic Japanese restaurant in Tribeca. Japanese? "Kai loves sushi," Connelly says
. -- T.T.