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​Jennifer Connelly on "Shelter"

Jennifer Connelly won an Oscar for her performance opposite Russell Crowe in the 2001 film "A Beautiful Mind" -- quite a different role from the one she plays in her latest film. Tracy Smith has our Sunday Profile:

In the new movie "Shelter," Academy Award-winning actress Jennifer Connelly is a homeless heroin addict on the streets of New York City: dirty, emaciated, desperate, and almost too believable.

"How detailed do you get when you're getting into a character?' Smith asked. "Like, how much do you need to know?"

"I get really detailed," said Connelly. "For a character like Hannah who has this habit, her world is reduced to getting her daily fix. And it's very much revolved around her kit -- you know, her drugs and her gear. And so I was very specific about the bag, and what kind of bag, and what kind of needles.

"This is really more information than you want."

Jennifer Connelly in "Shelter." Screen Media Films

"In this case it was so authentic that when you were out on the street panhandling with your cup, people actually were giving you money -- real New Yorkers were stopping and giving you money?"

"Yeah. I had that happen. It was really uncomfortable. I felt terrible."

The movie is a love story about two of the city's estimated 60,000 homeless.

And when Jennifer Connelly takes on a role, there's no off-switch.

"It's hard for me to stop thinking about what's coming up when I'm working," she said.

"Does it keep you up at night?"

"Sometimes, yeah."

"Are you a little obsessive about it?"

"Maybe just a bit!"

Her dedication made things a lot easier for the crew. It was the first time that Paul Bettany had ever directed a film -- or, for that matter, his wife.

"She has to go to some really dark places in the film," he told Smith. "But I'm pretty convinced she trusted me because she knew she could just beat the hell out of me for the next 25 years if I got it wrong!"

No worries there: Connelly has spent a lifetime making directors look good.

She's at her best as the troubled beauty, whether she's a woman defending her home ("House of Sand and Fog") or the loyal wife keeping it together while the world crashes down around her ("Noah").

Smith asked, "You don't do a lot of comedies. Why not?"

"No, I've done a few. God, I don't know. I don't get cast in them very often."

"Are you funny?"

"Probably not!"

"You don't think so?"

"Probably not. I don't know. But I tend to get cast more in dramas. I think it's my eyebrows. I look very serious. I look stern even when I'm not stern. If I'm not feeling cross, I look a little bit cross. I can't help it. It's just my face."

And that face has opened a few doors.

Jennifer Connelly was born in upstate New York, and spent part of her childhood climbing trees in the little town of Woodstock. "I was kind of a tomboy," she said.

Jennifer Connelly with correspondent Tracy Smith in Woodstock, N.Y. CBS News

Tomboy or not, she did clean up pretty well. Connelly started modeling in grade school, and that led to her being cast -- at age 11 -- in Sergio Leone's 1984 epic, "Once Upon a Time in America."

Smith asked, "Did you have any idea how incredible that was at the time?"

"I had no clue what I was doing," Connelly said. "Not that I do now, but I really had no clue what I was doing!

"There were so many first things. It was my first time on a movie set. And it was my first time out of America -- we filmed in Italy. And it was my first kiss. I had to kiss this boy in the scene. And it's the most chaste thing you've ever seen, but I was just mortified that it was in a movie. The whole thing was larger than life, and magical, really magical."

Not all of her roles after that were quite as magical, but her turn as a desperate drug addict in "Requiem for a Dream" established her as a serious actress.

And "A Beautiful Mind" would make her a household name. Starring opposite Russell Crowe, she played the wife of the brilliant but tortured mathematician John Nash.

"How emotionally draining was that movie?" Smith asked.

"It was very demanding in that way. But also I was just so grateful to have the opportunity.

"I remember reading the script and thinking, 'God, if they'd give me this job, I won't ask for another good job again, I promise.' I shouldn't have made that promise! But I felt very strongly about it. I felt very grateful to be there all the time."

For her performance Connelly came away with an Oscar -- and, it turns out, a whole lot more.

Paul Bettany was also in the movie, and though they never shared a scene, they caught each other's eye.

Director Ron Howard knew something was up: "On the very last day of shooting 'Beautiful Mind,' Paul was kinda playing his guitar, and he's a pretty good musician. And I felt like she was not just listening to the song. I thought she was really connecting. And my director's eye was telling me there's a little electricity there!"

Smith asked Bettany about the guitar: "Oh, I'm here to tell you, if you're gonna marry up, guitars work, okay? That's for all the boys out there if you're intending on marrying up. They fall for the guitar thing, yep."

There was a "moment," but neither acted on it, until September 11, 2001, when Bettany was in Italy and saw that New York City -- Connelly's city -- was under attack. "Like so many people in that moment, my life changed," he said. "I went home to this house and spent two days trying to ring this woman in New York City that I sort of really barely knew.

"I couldn't get through; nobody could get through to New York. 'But why am I ringing this woman up that I barely know for the last 48 hours? Ohhhhh.' I sorta realized I was in love. And I finally got through to her. And I said, 'I'm coming over, and let's get together.' And she said, 'Yes.'

"Which was surprising."

They were married New Year's Day 2003, and have two children together.

"Shelter" is their most recent baby.

She may have that stern look on her face, but Jennifer Connelly says behind it all is a grateful heart.

"I'm really blessed," she said. "I love my job. Love going to work. I just love it. I love getting it, I love preparing for it. I love the whole process. I love the whole ritual. I'm really very lucky. Lucky girl."

To watch a trailer for "Shelter" click on the video player below.

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