Married since 2003, Paul Bettany and Jennifer Connelly are one of Hollywood’s great romances. But their marriage, spanning nearly two decades, was born from an impulsive moment, and before the actors had even started dating.

Having developed a crush on her watching Labyrinth in his teens, Bettany first met Connelly on the set of Oscar-winning 2001 drama A Beautiful Mind, when both of them were in relationships with other people. Before even a single date, months later Bettany, shaken by the events of 9/11, confessed his love and proposed to Connelly in a telephone call – and she said yes.

Born in Cairo, New York in 1970, Jennifer Connelly is the daughter of an antiques dealer and a clothes manufacturer. Noted for her beauty, Connelly was in the spotlight from a young age, first becoming a successful child model before moving into acting. She made her screen debut in the Duran Duran music video Union of the Snake, before taking her first acting role in 1984’s Once Upon a Time in America.

Connelly’s acting career progressed with roles in Dario Argento’s 1985 horror movie Phenomena (aka Creepers), Jim Henson’s 1986 fantasy Labyrinth, and 1991 comic book movie The Rocketeer. She also continued to pursue her education, however, going on to study English Literature at Yale University and later Drama at Stanford before committing fully to the movie industry.

By the late 90s, Connelly had successfully moved from former child star to serious actress, appearing in such acclaimed films as independent drama Inventing the Abbots, fantasy thriller Dark City and director Darren Aronofsky’s hard-hitting breakthrough film Requiem for a Dream.

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Among Connelly’s early fans was Paul Bettany, an English teenager one year her junior who – like many of his age – developed a crush on her after seeing Labyrinth. Born into a stage family, both of Bettany’s parents worked in show business, and for a time he lived on the grounds of an all-girls boarding school where his father taught drama.

Unfortunately, the Bettany family was struck by tragedy when Paul’s eight-year-old brother Matthew died in a tragic fall on the school grounds. Then aged 16, Bettany dropped out of education and left home. He rented a flat in London and busked with his guitar to make ends meet.

In 1990, Bettany began studying acting at the Drama Centre London and found stage roles with the Royal Shakespeare Company. After occasional TV roles in Oliver Twist, Killer Net and Coming Home, he made his Hollywood debut in A Knight’s Tale (2001).

Bettany’s chance to meet his childhood crush came along soon afterwards. In Ron Howard’s 2001 biopic A Beautiful Mind, Bettany would play Charles Herman, the free-spirited best friend of Nobel Prize-winning mathematician John Nash (played by Russell Crowe).

In the same movie, Connelly was cast as Alicia Nash, wife of John. Director Ron Howard noted, “You look at pictures of young Alicia Nash and she was sort of Elizabeth Taylor-like; a very, very beautiful raven-haired young woman.” Most would agree that Connelly fit that description, not least Bettany.

When they met in person, Bettany was enamoured with Connelly instantly. “I’ve never been this close to someone that beautiful before,” he said of that day. “I remember thinking, ‘I bet every man you ever met has tried to flirt with you.'” He later admitted to People Magazine, “I knew from the first moment I saw her we were meant for each other.”

Luckily for Bettany, Connelly had similar feelings. “I remember meeting him at the first read-through,” she has recalled. “I thought, hmm, he’s really good, that guy.” The pair did not co-star in many scenes, but as the cast socialised, Connelly fell in love with Bettany’s musical ability: “He started playing guitar and it was all over.”

At the time, however, Connelly (who had previously been engaged to her Rocketeer co-star Billy Campbell) was in a relationship with photographer David Dugan, with whom she had one son, Kai, born in 1997. Bettany, likewise, was in a relationship with his co-star from A Knight’s Tale, Laura Fraser.

As a result, Bettany and Connelly were only ever friends while they made A Beautiful Mind. “We talked only in a guarded way and went back to our separate lives,” Connelly summarized. The film did wonders for them both professionally, however; especially Connelly, who was awarded the Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her performance.

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Within six months, both Connelly and Bettany had split from their partners, with Dugan moving out of Connelly’s home. The pair then reconnected at an awards dinner in London, and found they still shared a spark. Astonishingly, the duo hadn’t even gone on a date together when Bettany decided to propose to Connelly.

The earth-shattering terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 prompted Bettany to tell Connelly that he had fallen in love with her. “What happened… was September the 11th,” Bettany confessed in a 2015 interview. “Like so many people’s lives, in that moment, mine was changed forever. I spent two days trying to call this woman that I sort of barely knew.”

Bettany noted that their wedding was somewhat “Victorian” as the couple had never co-habited, and their four-month engagement and whirlwind romance seemed almost unreal. “I was like a stalker really,” he joked. “We got married really quickly because I thought she had a three to six month window before she sees through the accent. She went to Yale and I left school at 16 so I knew she’d work out that I hadn’t read Proust.”

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On New Year’s Day in 2003, Bettany and Connelly tied the knot in a “small, private ceremony” in Scotland, surrounded by just family members. They bought a townhouse in New York City’s Park Slope for $3.7 million that same year, but later traded it for other properties in Brooklyn Heights and Tribeca.

Their first son together, Stellan, was born later in 2003, without public announcement. Together with Connelly’s older son Kai, the family also welcomed baby girl Agnes in 2011.

The couple have also continued to collaborate professionally: Connelly cameoed as Bettany’s wife in 2008’s Inkheart, and they co-starred as Charles Darwin and his wife Emma in 2009 biographical drama Creation.

In 2014, Bettany made his debut as writer-director with Shelter, a drama inspired by a homeless couple he and Connelly knew in New York. Connelly played the lead role and enjoyed being directed by her husband (the actress said at the time, “I would absolutely do it again”), but their children did not appreciate this consumption of their parents’ time, with Bettany noting, “My son said don’t direct again.”

Bettany and Connelly also have a sweet connection in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Where Bettany started out as Tony Stark’s disembodied AI assistant JARVIS before being given physical form as Vision, Connelly also voiced the AI in Spider-Man’s suit, Karen.

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Through it all, Bettany and Connelly remain a relatively private couple. The glow of marrying his childhood crush has never left Bettany, who joked in 2007: “I’m kind of like the eye candy. You know, as we walk down the red carpet, I know everybody’s kind of looking at us thinking, ‘How did she snag him?’ So it boosts my confidence.”

“Marriage and children changed my life,” Connelly told People Magazine in 2021.“It really altered who I was and what I saw as my goals.” She added that her favourite moments are “when I catch myself and realize the five of us are laughing together. And there is nobody on earth with whom I could be having a better time.”