“Jesus, I think I need a comedy,” exclaimed super-serious Oscar-winning actress Jennifer Connelly.
The star of new movie drama “House of Sand and Fog,” which opens nationwide Friday after playing in a few cities last week, has vaulted onto Hollywood’s A-list of leading ladies in recent years for a series of films exploring dark themes.
Connelly, 33, has played the colleague of a doomed scientist (“Hulk”), wife of a schizophrenic math genius (“Beautiful Mind”), mistress to a tortured painter (“Pollock”), drug addicted girlfriend of a junkie (“Requiem for a Dream”) and doomed lover of a politician (“Waking the Dead”).
Things don’t get much brighter in “Sand and Fog” with her role as Kathy Nicolo, a recovering alcoholic whose home is repossessed by the county for back taxes.
Connelly said she has had enough of tragic heroines, but comedic roles just do not come her way. “It’s not like, you know, the hot new comedy comes around and they think of Jennifer Connelly,” she joked.
While “Sand and Fog” won’t help Connelly build a reputation for leaving audiences laughing, the buzz in Hollywood is that it just might deliver her a second Oscar.
She won her first Academy Award for supporting actress playing Alicia Nash, wife of Nobel laureate John Nash, in 2001’s “Beautiful Mind,”
“It’s a bit early, but it’s a nice sign people are considering this movie that way. Clearly, you do a film and you hope people like it,” she said. “It’s a worthwhile film. It’s well-executed, and it’s really about something.”
American dream gone awryThe movie, based on a best-selling novel by Andres Dubus, revolves around two people struggling against each other to realize one of the great American dreams -- owning a home.
But the seaside bungalow in northern California is more than just a house. For Connelly’s Nicolo, it represents safety and security as she deals with depression and alcoholism.
The house, which her father left her, offers her a shred of dignity, and when the local government auctions it off because she failed to pay a tax bill, she fights to get it back.
Ben Kingsley portrays Massoud Amir Behrani, an Iranian and former colonel in that country’s air force who fled to the United States when his government was overthrown.
To maintain an appearance of wealth and influence in his community of Iranian expatriates, he works two low-paying jobs to afford a high-rise apartment and proper education and lifestyle for his wife and kids.
Behrani has saved money diligently and when Nicolo’s house goes up for sale, he buys it fast and determines he will fix it up then sell it at a profit to restore his own dignity.
Behrani’s purchase and Nicolo’s inability to reverse it legally sets in motion a chain of events that lead both on a downward spiral of manipulation and deception as they try to outwit each other and the government.
Bold choices, shy personalityConnelly calls the movie, “largely about intolerance,” and not just ethnic prejudice. Nicolo also encounters resistance to her pleas for help, given her state as penniless and homeless.
Connelly said “Sand and Fog” and other recent films, such as “Requiem for a Dream,” are movies “that just kind of grab you and shake you up a bit.”
The actress, who has two sons and is married to “Master and Commander” star Paul Bettany, took a break from films in the late 1990s. She returned for “Waking the Dead” and “Requiem” --both low-budget, art-house films that rekindled her career.
“Requiem,” in particular, was considered a bold choice due to its subject, and Connelly said she likes the risk involved in projects considered too dangerous for major studios.
“Otherwise, (acting) would just be very boring,” she said.
While her recent characters have been very “emotionally demonstrative,” in her life Connelly said she can be shy.
The day she won her Oscar, Bettany said she had forgotten about the awards altogether until he called to ask if she had prepared her speech. At that point, she didn’t have one.
“I’ve never seen anyone so unconcerned about it,” he said.
Connelly disagreed, saying that when she’s stressed she tends to appear calm even though she is a bundle of nerves.
On Oscar night, “I had a bit of the deer in the headlights syndrome,” she said. “It is an overwhelming moment, a big, big moment.”
If “Sand and Fog” scores as well with Oscar voters as it has with early audiences, she may be able to have another big moment.