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With movies like Requiem For A Dream, House Of Sand And Fog, and Little Children featured prominently on her curriculum vitae, actress Jennifer Connelly has established herself in the acting world as a heavy dramatic actor. It’s not too uncommon for her movies to sincerely bum you out. Let’s just hope that her next movie doesn’t do that, however – after all, it is a Vince Vaughn-Kevin James comedy.
Starting on Monday this week, I’ve been posting interviews and reports from this past summer when I went to visit the set of The Dilemma. Directed by Ron Howard, the film represents the second time that Connelly has worked with the director, and the first time since their last film, A Beautiful Mind, took home Best Picture at the Oscars. Sitting down with the actress on set, we discussed what it was like playing Vaughn’s girlfriend, the differences in Howard’s approach when it comes to comedy and how hard it is to learn the game of ping-pong.
Can you talk about your character in this movie?
I play a woman named Beth who is kind of just a really nice girl. She's a chef. She has her own restaurant. She does pretty well in her chosen vocation. She's just sort of like an uncomplicated, not neurotic, very easy going, supportive, nice person who lives with Ronnie who Vince [Vaughn] plays. He's my boyfriend and she's just one of those people that you go, “God. I wish I reacted like that in that situation.” She's just kind of nice. Easy.
How much of you is in her?
I don't know. It's probably like some fantasy version of me. They're always characters and she's in a very different situation than I'm in. But she's nice and it's been nice being here.
Is it nice being Vince Vaughn's girlfriend?
It's been good. I think he's really good in this movie which is interesting because obviously it's funny and he's very funny in it, I think, and he and Kevin are really funny together. But also there are scenes that are moving and a little more dramatic and it was nice for me to see him doing that, too. You don't get to see much of that side of him.
How funny do you get to be?
Well, she's not really, Beth is not really…I think she's a nice character but she's not a particularly hysterical character. She's not dour or anything. She's not a stick in the mud. I think she has a sense of fun but she's not a real comedienne. She's more of the nice straight guy, I'll say, who likes to have fun.
Does she have secrets like everyone else or does she get caught up in everyone else's?
Yeah, sort of. She has one thing that she doesn't necessarily talk about it but it's kind of like a thing that you might not need to bring up anyway. So technically yes but I wouldn't say that it's a real secret.
This is your second movie with Ron Howard. How has it been different from working with him on A Beautiful Mind?
Really different subject matter, but I love Ron. Ron is great to work with. And it was similar, a really similar process. He likes to have a good amount of time for prep. So we had that. He likes to talk through the script and work through all of that stuff before you start shooting and we did that on this, too. He loves to cover scenes. Did that here, too. Get it all in the bag. So it's a very familiar style on the set. He's like the sweetest guy in Hollywood. He's so nice to work with. So it was a nice reunion.
Any differences because of the material? Have you seen him take a different tact?
No. Things have been pretty easy on this. I feel like things have been pretty easy on this show. There might've been a little, just because of the subject matter, a slightly more intense set when we worked on A Beautiful Mind. So it feels like things perhaps have been a bit smoother, a bit shorter days. The whole French hours thing. It feels pretty light and comfortable on set and not that we had a bad set on A Beautiful Mind. It was also really nice but just a little less complicated maybe with what we're doing here.
In A Beautiful Mind your characters knows much more of what's going on as compared to this where your character isn't sure what Vince's character is doing. Ron said it was a different approach for you to play. Can you elaborate on that?
They're such different people and such different movies and such different circumstances I don't know how you'd even link them or why it would even behoove one to try and make a comparison other than it's the same director. There's nothing contextually in common. There's nothing in terms of period in common. There's nothing in terms of personality in common. You may as well compare this to a Requiem For A Dream. This is a whole different thing.
Were you attracted to doing a comedy since you have a lot of heavier drams in your background?
Yeah. I thought it was fun. I liked the idea of playing someone where I thought, “God. She's just normal. She's just nice.” I thought that sounded great. I mean, I've just recently done a couple of movies that have more comedy in them. Straight before doing this I did a movie called Salvation Boulevard and that's sort of hopefully funny. Then before that I did What's Wrong With Virginia which is sort of dramatic and I think sort of funny. It's been nice recently working on things that have more comedic elements in them. I did also like the fact that she was this kind of person, something about her that I really liked. I like that she's just someone who wants to be happy. She is a woman who is happy and fights for happiness and tries really hard to make other people happy and to make the day go by nicely and make you feel good. That's kind of what she wants. I like that it was sort of that simple with her in a way. She wanted it to be simple.
But that being said, was it a challenge to play a character that was nice?
It's always a struggle to try and do things, to be decent at it. I don't ever think it's easy. With every movie I do I think, “God. I've gotten myself into another one. Can I do it? Is it going to be okay?” I always work really hard and try hard and try and learn what I've done, what I've just done. I won't say that just because she's easy going that I have a laissez fair attitude about my work because she's an easy going character.
So what is the challenge of that then, playing a character who wants to be happy?
I guess it's the same as any movie. You try and make things make sense. You try to believe in what you're doing and make it all seem believable and real.
Were you excited by the improvisational element of this film and with what the guys do with that, jumping in there and seeing what you could bring to the film in that way?
Yeah. It seems like we always do a sort of clean take, a clean pass at everything and then they'll do where it's more off the cuff. It's nice and it's really a different way of working. Sometimes it's wildly different and really long. You think, “This is a whole different direction.” It's fun, really fun to do that. Again, there are places where it's appropriate where I think, “Beth would be a part of it,” and then there are places where it's clearly just Ronnie doing his thing. You just sort of watch that thing which is really amazing.
Were you hoping to have a comedy project under your belt before going into American Pastoral?
No. That movie is just like IMDB relic. That was a movie that Paul [Bettany] and I discussed doing like so many years ago, ten years ago. I think that's something that someone posted. You can't believe anything you read on the internet, mostly.
Do you know what you're doing after this?
I don't. I'm going to have a vacation because I've been working and I want a vacation.
Now that you're wrapping up on this shoot can you recall a challenging or memorable scene that you guys got through?
Definitely the ping-pong. I was so nervous. I had to play ping-pong in this movie. The first day that I showed up and I said, “Ron. I'm really going to give this my all but you might want to have a ping-pong double.” Right now, my moniker at home is Snake Hands Connelly. I'm just not down with the paddle and the whole hand eye coordination thing. It's not a thing that I grew up doing a lot of. No skills in the back pocket with the ping-pong. I worked on that. I worked on that really hard, I have to say. I spent a lot of time playing ping-pong on this movie.
Was it a scene with Vince?
In the movie I play with Vince.
How was it learning with him then?
Well, we didn't practice together. I practiced with a coach actually. Yep. I had a ping-pong coach. We got a ping-pong table in the hotel and anyone I could wrangle to come play ping-pong with me I'd get up there playing ping-pong.
Did you master it?
I don't think I mastered anything. I think that'd be giving myself too much credit but I did do okay. You can tell me what you think. I was so nervous because I had a break and I was in New York and I went to this ping-pong club. I wanted to keep practicing. I don't have a ping-pong table at home. So I went to this ping-pong club and I played there and there were all these people watching there and suddenly I literally couldn't hit the ball. I got really terrified that when we got out to the set that I would all fall apart but I did okay.
How many hours did it take to shoot that scene?
It actually went really quickly.