It's not as though Jennifer Connelly was an unknown before collecting her Best Supporting Actress Oscar for A Beautiful Mind
. She has been plying her trade since 1984, playing a young girl in Once upon a Time in America
. In 1991 she soared in The Rocketeer
and more recently won critical praise for her roles in Requiem for a Dream
. But now, at 31, she has suddenly broken through to the big time. "Jennifer," says Beautiful Mind
director Ron Howard, "is definitely one of the gorgeous women of her generation—she's got this intelligence combined with pure physical beauty that's pretty dazzling." The secret of her newfound success? According to Connelly, it's her nearly 5-year-old son, Kai, whose dad is her former partner, New York City-based photographer David Dugan. "I've been happy with every role I've had since Kai was born," she told the Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel in January. "It could be that I feel so good about being a full-time mom that I'm willing to wait for the great parts." Though she lives in Manhattan, Connelly, who split with actor Josh Charles in March, is now in L.A. filming The Hulk
. Tending to Kai and her rejuvenated career doesn't leave the 5'8" actress much time for her favorite exercise, yoga. And yet "she's always serene and in control," says designer pal Narciso Rodriguez. "I'm always surprised by her calmness."