I won’t deny that Jennifer Connelly has, for a long time, embodied female perfection to me. It’s been really gratifying to see her, in the last decade, move into more serious roles and get the recognition she deserves for them – what a happy day when the girl from The Rocketeer won an Oscar!
She’s taken a few years off to spend time with her kids, but now she’s back in theaters this summer with Dark Water, an Asian horror remake with a fantastic pedigree. The studio is so excited about the movie that they’ve moved it up a few weeks to give it a prime summer berth (opposite The Fantastic Four– it was nice knowing you, Tim Story!) and they’ve been amping up the marketing. So that’s how I ended up on the phone with Jennifer Connelly two nights ago.
How I ended up with Jennifer Connelly on my voice mail is another story. There was a mix-up with the schedule for the phoner, so when she called me I was on the subway. Many Oscar-winners (including a few that I have met) would have thrown a fit and just forgotten about me. She, however, was really nice about the whole thing and still worked me in to her schedule. If I had to appear like an unprofessional buffoon at least I was able to find out that Jennifer Connelly is one of the nicest and most level-headed and down to Earth people in Hollywood. Or Brooklyn, really. But that comes later!
Q: Dark Water seems, on the surface, like a strange project for you to be taking on after a lot of Oscar-heavy films. What is it that drew you to the project in the first place?
Connelly: It was a really interesting combination – a genre film, a really scary film, being directed by Walter Salles, who I think is a great director. I had seen Central Station and thought it was beautiful and now after working with him I’m his biggest fan. I thought that was really interesting. When I started doing research and started really thinking about doing it and watched the original Dark Water, I was surprised to find it scary and really moving simultaneously. I thought, “God that’s really exciting and interesting.”
But I looked back and saw that there have been some examples of films like Rosemary’s Baby and Don’t Look Now, but they’re sort of rare, and this felt like it could have been one of those kinds of films. It was a good script, I was interested in the story, I was interested in the characters. I liked the relationship between the mother and the daughter. I liked all of that.
Q: This film has a hell of a cast. Can you talk about working with John C Reilly, Pete Postlewaithe and Tim Roth?
Connelly: It was so fantastic, I have to say. I was so excited as the cast started coming together. John C Reilly – I’ve really admired his work for a while, so it was a joy for me to work with him. I love what he did with this. His character’s really funny and it was just so much fun listening to him improvise these long takes. Even Walter was, you’d hear him on the other side of the room giggling during the take. He was fantastic and I think brought so much to the film.
Tim Roth was great to work with, a really lovely, lovely guy. He did a great sort of fast-talking New York lawyer. Pete Postlewaithe plays a kind of dodgy superintendent – you don’t quite know where he’s from or where he’s going to, he’s kind of ominous.
It was really fun.
Q: There’s been a real trend of Asian horror films being remade in the US. What is it that sets Dark Water apart from The Ring or The Grudge or other films yet to come?
Connelly: I feel like it’s less a kind of just visceral, more kind of unsettling, more emotionally provocative. That’s my feeling about it. I think it’s subtler, but still scary. It has a kind of moral, get under your skin scary. More thought-provoking. That’s really because of the script and Walter and his – I think he felt like with supernatural scenes he wanted to anchor the film in reality. You see in a film like The Shining – the classic scary films, to me, all have that in common. Like in The Shining, the beginning of The Shining where you buy these characters and these relationships and you really go with the film. You really get sucked into the reality of that film. I think Walter invested in that in creating the reality.
Q: You’ve mentioned The Shining and Rosemary’s Baby – you’re setting the bar very, very high.
Connelly: I know! I’m not trying to say this is that film, I’m saying these are films that I admire and Dark Water has qualities in common.
Q: Well, Disney’s very excited about the movie and they have faith in it – they moved the release date up to a better weekend.
Connelly: I think it’s really good. I really do. I really like it. I’ll go out and say it! You’ll notice that I am quite careful, I don’t say I like something if I don’t. I try to be more sneaky. I really like the film, so I hope people go see it.
Q: Do you think that you could have played this role if you weren’t a parent?
Connelly: I’m of two minds about that. On the one hand I say, it’s all make believe. You don’t have to be a killer to play a killer. You use your imagination and intelligence and observation. My job isn’t to talk about my own life, to act out my own personal history, it’s to act out what’s on paper.
That said, I don’t know if without having been a parent I would have been able to know what it was actually like. I don’t know that I would have gotten there and been able to fathom the sort of profundity of that love. How wild it is, how uncliched it else, and to especially be able to imagine what it’s like to have your child’s life threatened.
Q: Is Dark Water going to have a scene with you standing on a pier? Is this going to be your fourth film with that?
Connelly: [laughs] No it won’t! It’s funny, I said to Vadim [Perelman, director of House of Sand and Fog] “Wait, how many times have I done this now?” No, it was three times. Two in a red dress. I had one pier in a red dress in Dark City and then a pier in a red dress in Requiem for a Dream. I said to Darren, “You know, I have to tell you that I did a scene in a red dress on a pier in another film, can I change the dress? Should we mix it up a bit?” So we did talk about it. And then of course House of Sand and Fog. It’s quite unusual.
Q: You’re Brooklyn raised and you’re a Brooklyn resident. What is it about Brooklyn that you like?
Connelly: It’s still New York, which I think is great, because I think New York is a fantastic city. And it’s just a little bit quieter. It’s just a bit more kid friendly, and I’m at that point where I don’t really spend my time window shopping or going out to lunch. I spend my time when I’m not working with my kids, or going out to the park. It’s good for kids. I like that it’s just a little bit less fashionable, and a little bit more cozy.
Q: Well, the less fashionable bit is really changing.
Connelly: Yeah, I know, it’s getting there. But it’s just a little bit les stimulus.
Q: I have seen online that you’re going to be doing a film called The Berkley Connection, with Robert Duvall and Dustin Hoffman, but I can’t find any info about the movie itself. Can you spill any beans?
Connelly: Actually what I’m doing next is a film called Little Children, which is being directed by Todd Fields, and it stars Kate Winslet.
Q: What are you playing in that?
Connelly: I am playing a woman named Cathy – it’s a book by a guy named Tom Perrotta, who also wrote Election. Among other things. I play a sort of documentary filmmaking working mom, wife to a husband who is fooling around with the Kate Winslet character.
Q: So is Berkley Connection in your future?
Connelly: As far as I know that’s not something that’s imminent.
Q: To backtrack a little bit on your career, I’m curious as to what your take is on the mixed reactions to the Hulk.
Connelly: I don’t know… I guess to address that concretely I would have to know what specifically you’re asking.
Q: The film did well enough, but some people loved it and many people hated it. It seemed that it wasn’t what people expected it to be.
Connelly: I think that’s sort of what the best thing was going into it. It seemed to me that with Ang Lee directing this sort of film it wasn’t going to be your run of the mill kind of movie or interpretation of one of these kinds of films. I think that was par for the course, and I think that was one of the things that was exciting about it – that people would either think that it was fantastic and love it, or they wouldn’t get it. But it was trying to do something. I think it was deeply respectful of the medium, but at the same time really innovative.