“I’m an Irish-Catholic-Jew riddled with guilt,” the 35-year-old Brooklynite joked with reporters in Manhattan last week.
Despite her Irish-sounding last name, the “Dark Water” and “A Beautiful Mind” star revealed her ancestors hail from several different regions around the world, not just Ireland.
“I’ve heard rumors, though it’s not confirmed, (that my Irish relatives came) from Cork,” noted the stunning mother-of-two. “In Ireland. My grandfather was born here, so it was my great grandparents that were there. But I’m sort of a mixture. I’m a bit of a motley mixture.”
Connelly said her paternal grandmother was Norwegian and she has Polish and Russian relatives on her mother’s side.
“Like my mother’s mother, there were 13 siblings. Some of them were born in Poland,” she recounted. “All Irish, all the time, no.”
Connelly can be seen in “Dark Water,” cinema’s latest fright-fest, starting this Friday. Based on a spine-tingling novella by “The Ring” author Koji Suzuki and directed by “The Motorcycle Diaries” auteur Walter Salles, the flick is about a young mother who moves to a rundown building on New York City’s Roosevelt Island to start a new life with her six-year-old daughter (Ariel Gade) after the devastating breakup of her marriage.
Damaged by her own abusive parents, crippled by migraines and depressed by the loss of the man she once loved (played by Dougray Scott,) Connelly’s character Dahlia is further troubled by a persistent leak in her apartment ceiling, which she suspects is somehow linked to the disappearance of a little girl who lived upstairs as well as the arrival of her daughter’s terrifying new imaginary friend.
“Rob Roy” villain Tim Roth plays Dahlia’s lawyer, a mysterious man who helps her determine whether she is hallucinating, being set up by her ex-husband to think she is losing her mind, or actually the victim of menacing ghosts.
“Gangs of New York” star John C. Reilly provides comic relief as the fast-talking slumlord that rents her the possibly haunted apartment, then dodges her calls for help until it is too late.
Although Connelly has acted in more than two dozens films since making her big-screen debut in Sergio Leone’s 1984 gangster epic, “Once Upon a Time in America,” “Dark Water” marks the first time in years that Connelly has been called upon to carry a big movie.
“I wasn’t looking for that,” she insisted, pointing out she was as surprised as anyone to learn she was in almost every scene of the movie. “It’s funny. I don’t look for that. I really didn’t even think about it until I looked at the shooting schedule and I went: ‘God. I only have two days off. Oh, God!’ But while I was doing it, it just so happened that it worked out great for me because I’ve already mentioned how much I loved Walter and that meant that I had him cornered because a lot of days I’d come in and I was the only actor there and he had no choice. I completely monopolized his time. So, I was really happy with that situation. And I was really happy not to sit down for four months. I felt like I didn’t sit down and I felt like I really learned a lot from that relationship.”
In talking about the film, the actress described it as a ghost story, a suspense drama and a tale of urban isolation, but bristled when reporters referred to it as a “horror movie.”
“I’m reluctant to call it a ‘horror’ film,” Connelly admonished. “It’s more of a psychological thriller-a ghost story. To me, I associate ‘horror’ film with more gore-slasher films. There’s no blood here. You get through lots of the film and no one’s died.”
The former model, who lives with her British actor/husband Paul Bettany and her two sons, Kai and Stellan, in Brooklyn’s Park Slope, said she thinks it is her character’s relationship with her daughter and her willingness to do anything to save the child that gives the film a depth audiences don’t often see in today’s scary movies.
“I think it’s really poignant and I think that’s what’s special about it,” she remarked. “It’s really moving. I think it is a really sophisticated story. … The only place she has found safety in the world is in her small family and she feels betrayed and let down again.”
Connelly said she expects moviegoers of all ages and backgrounds to enjoy “Dark Water,” but predicted the film will pack an extra wallop for people who have children.
“I think it will have a real resonance with parents because I think it is something that a lot of parents go through,” said the actress who watched dozens of scary movies like “The Shining” and “Rosemary’s Baby” to prepare for the part.
“People have asked me, ‘Do you think this character is really crazy?’ I really don’t. I think this character is really broken. I think this character is amazingly resilient and strong given where she has come from and I think that she is someone who has never been mothered and she is set up to mother so that she can look after herself.
“And I think parents the world over struggle with sort of the ghosts from their own childhood and how that, despite their best intentions, sometimes, affects how they are with their children in turn,” she added. “I think it’s a film that can be appreciated by parents and non-parents alike. I think parents will find that quite chilling.”
Asked what scares her in real life, Connelly replied: “I think that I’m sort of your average bear, except when it comes to the first 10 minutes of an airplane ride. About that, I’m downright neurotic.”
The actress said she doesn’t, however, allow her anxiety about flying prevent her from doing what she needs or wants to do.
“I just try to grin and bear it,” she insisted. “I kiss the plane and then I wait for the explosion. And then when it doesn’t come 10 minutes later, I’m fine and I enjoy the flight.”
Confessing she likes playing troubled women because she can briefly assume someone else’s baggage, then leave it behind, the “Requiem for a Dream,” “Mulholland Falls” and “Waking the Dead” star confided that her home life with her handsome husband and adorable sons goes a long way towards keeping her grounded in reality.
“I was one of those kids who wanted to be a mom from when I was little,” she recalled. “I used to go to the playground and I’d ask the moms if I could watch after their kids when I was a kid. So, I was looking for something. Motherhood has been amazing for me. I think I became more passionate about everything.”
“Dark Water” opens nationwide July 8. Connelly can next be seen in “Little Children,” which is based on a book by Tom Perrotta, who also wrote “Election,” and will be helmed by “In the Bedroom” director Todd Field.