Connelly: from B-movies to Oscar front-runner

— As Jennifer Connelly sips her tea and talks about the wonderful time she's having in the wake of "A Beautiful Mind," she credits "Waking the Dead" with shaking her career to life.

That 2000 movie "marks the beginning of this kind of chapter" in which she's snagging challenging roles in interesting movies.

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Actress Jennifer Connelly says she is having a wonderful time in the wake of success from the film "A Beautiful Mind," and she credits "Waking the Dead" with shaking her career to life. She has won a Golden Globe and a Bafta (a British Oscar), and she's the odds-on favorite to win the supporting-actress Oscar this year.

"I mourned the wrapping of that movie like the loss of some great relationship that you know can't go on but you know it's really sad that it has to end," says Connelly, who played an ex-radical who � dead or alive? you decide � haunts her lover (Billy Crudup).

Connelly went on to play the painter's mistress in "Pollock" and a junkie who debases herself for drugs in "Requiem for a Dream." (She squeezed the short-lived Fox series "The $treet" in between).

Then she convinced director Ron Howard during an audition with Russell Crowe that she could hold her own against the formidable actor in "A Beautiful Mind," the biopic about Nobel Prize-winning schizophrenic John Forbes Nash Jr. and his wife, Alicia.

"Russell is a very strong presence and I wanted someone who was going to be comfortable on the set and not in any way overwhelmed or intimidated by the process or anyone she was working with," Howard said in a telephone interview.

And while he wasn't interested in casting look-alikes, Howard says: "By the same token, you look at pictures of young Alicia Nash and she was sort of Elizabeth Taylor-like � a very, very beautiful raven-haired young woman."

Given that Connelly has Taylor's stop-a-meteor-dead-in-its-tracks beauty, and that the pH factor of her chemistry with Crowe couldn't be better, Howard decided the job was hers.

So after nearly two decades of mostly B(ad)-movies, the 31-year-old actress who made her film debut in Sergio Leone's 1984 gangster epic "Once Upon a Time in America" is culminating her run of fine performances by collecting an armful of awards.

She already has a Golden Globe, a Bafta (a British Oscar) and honors from the American Film Institute and Online Film Critics Society, and she's the odds-on favorite to win the supporting-actress Oscar come March 24.

Her forgettable films include "Labyrinth," "Career Opportunities" and "The Hot Spot." Her most memorable part might have been as the love interest opposite ex-beau Billy Campbell (of ABC's "Once and Again") in 1991's "The Rocketeer."

But now her work is bringing honors, which, she's happy to report, begets more work.

"Other than that, my personal situation is very much the same � taking my son to school in the morning, pack his sandwiches, live in the same place, have the same friends ... "

Although she and Kai's father, photographer David Dugan, have split up, they are sharing responsibility for raising him.

Connelly, who starts work this month on Ang Lee's "The Hulk," likes to bring her son to the set so she can spend time with him when she's not in front of the cameras.

"For me, vacation is just, no matter where I am, having time to not have to answer the phone or not have to fulfill any kind of obligation other than to be completely present with him," she says. "To me, that's rest, and recovery, and rejuvenating. And I love that time."

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