”I don’t want to scare readers away,” says Ron Howard, ”but the mind is almost a character in this movie.” The noggin in question is the brilliant, tormented one belonging to schizophrenic Nobel Prize-winning mathematician John Forbes Nash Jr., a role Tom Cruise flirted with before it ultimately went to Russell Crowe. Jennifer Connelly (”Requiem for a Dream”) costars as Nash’s steadfast wife, Alicia, while Ed Harris appears as a CIA operative looking to exploit Nash’s genius for code-breaking purposes.
”I read his work,” says Connelly, a former student at both Stanford and Yale, of deciphering Nash’s writings on game theory. ”Or tried to.” But nothing prepared her for the intensity of the three-month shoot in New York and New Jersey. ”There was one incredibly emotional scene that we ended up shooting for about three days,” she says. ”So it was that level of complete panic and fear and rage and anger and sadness over three days. Then I’d come home and get on the floor and do Play-Doh [with my 4-year-old son] for hours. It was my counterbalance.”
Crowe, who went home to Australia when shooting ended, is still feeling the aftereffects. ”He and I have been e-mailing,” says Ron Howard. ”The other day I said, ‘I hope you’re getting some rest.’ He e-mailed back and said, ‘Yeah, it’s beautiful here. And my bad dreams have stopped.”’ Still, on the set the Oscar-winning actor did his best to lighten the atmosphere, particularly when filming his Nobel acceptance scene. ”Here he is in his prosthetic makeup looking 65 years old, making this very emotional speech, but in between takes he’s telling these off-color Australian jokes,” says Howard. ”Finally at about two in the morning when we really needed the crowd to react, he pulled out his Oscar from a paper bag. And it worked!”