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December 11, 2006

The Actor's Actor: Jennifer Connelly

With Blood Diamond, the latest in a long line of harrowing movies, Jennifer Connelly proves she isn't afraid of the dark.

jennifer connelly holding husbands leather jacket

She was originally going to be in a white shirt, but her husband arrived on the set wearing this jacket... an 'of the moment' kind of thing.

Photo Credit: Ruven Afanador

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"Are you listening to this? The world's falling apart, and all we hear about is Blowjobgate." That's Jennifer Connelly, not the beautiful and seemingly demure woman sipping tea with skim milk across from me, but as Maddy Bowen, a journalist in this month's Blood Diamond, about the illegal gem trade. She delivers that zinger with admirable verve the very first time she encounters Leonardo DiCaprio as a smooth-talking smuggler in war-ravaged Sierra Leone.

Connelly didn't think twice about taking the part. "Maddy is a great character," she says. "She's about as fiery and feisty as they come. She has a passion for life, drinks her minibar, flirts a lot. But she's striving to do some thing good — she's sort of frustrated by herself and her limitations. She wants to be a toughie, but she's not."

At first glance Connelly, elegant but dressed down in tight jeans and a sweater, seems to have little in common with tousled, tell-it-like-it-is, in-your-face Maddy. Here she is, once again gracing the screen with messy hair, no makeup, and zero wardrobe, and still looking like a total babe.

Despite her almost prim style off-screen, Connelly clearly likes getting down and dirty in her film roles. Think of the dissipated junkie who performs raunchy sex acts for a fix in Requiem for a Dream, the homeless loser in House of Sand and Fog, or the despairing divorcee in Dark Water — in which, frequently drenched, she competes for screen time with torrents of murky water. (At least the recent Little Children, in which she plays a workaholic filmmaker with a straying, stay-at-home husband, takes some advantage of her ravishing looks). OK, so Connelly's not going the Monster route à la Charlize Theron, but what is this penchant for grit when she could be glamming it up?

Blood Diamond director Ed Zwick says he never considered anyone else for the part. "Jennifer has a fierce intelligence, and she also has great lightness and buoyancy, not all of which I'd seen in some of her other parts," he says. "The camera can always tell whether someone knows what they are saying in its deepest meanings, and she inhabits the lines. In addition to which, I wanted someone who could give Leo a run for his money, who was confident and would not be overawed and would help him raise the level of his game. There are any number of actors who are perfectly talented who wouldn't have had that effect on him. He sensed that from the beginning, and I saw him sit up straighter in his chair."

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