It’s never a bad day when you get to sit down with Harry Connick Jr., there is quite possibly not a more humble, sweet and charming actor to interview. We had the privilege of being able to pick Mr. Connick’s brain on his upcoming release Dolphin Tale and a number of other topics such as his up and coming role on Broadway and his greatest fears. Connick comes off like an open book, ready to talk about everything from the joy of working on a film with a happy ending to the hard times in his career when he was searching for answers in the never-ending struggle as an artist…
When did you fall in love with Winter?
Harry Connick Jr.: When I found out she was real. I read the script and I thought it was great. It looked like a project I really wanted to do and it was relatively far into the process that I realized it was a true story. At least her part was true. I just couldn’t get over that, I just couldn’t believe it. And then I came down here and I met her and I just found that so fascinating. I thought it was so cool because with human amputees, for the most part, if they are a certain age, they have – there’s some kind of interaction, I think it’s some kind of therapy – psychotherapy that they could go through to help deal, interaction with other people. With Winter this is what we’re going to do to you and if you live that’s great and if not, we really tried. The fact that she survived that and she was so young and to see how she interacts with people is really incredible to see.
Do you think she could more easily bond with humans at this point?
HCJ: I think so, in a way, only because she’s been so socialized with humans, but on the other hand I’m a loud person, I’m a physical person and we couldn’t do any of that around her. We had to ask permission before we went into the pool, we had to ask permission before we excited the pool. When we were around her we had to speak like this. In some ways she was very sensitive to us in a way that we had to change out behavior, but when you were in the pool with her you really got the sense that she was human-like in some ways. That sounds crazy, right? But it’s true, it really is true.
Sounds like she taught you a few things?
HCJ: Well she taught me how to be quite, which my wife was thrilled about.
You said you had to ask permission, how did you do that?
HCJ: Oh, we would go to the staff.
It sounded like you had to ask her.
HCJ: No, no. The staff. We would go out to the staff and say, “May I go into the pool?” And she would be exhibiting some behavior that was evident to them, that we were not privy to and we’d be – there was a platform like two or three feet down so the water would be say up to your waist and the scene would be over and I want to get out of the pool and I would turn to put my foot on the latter and Abby or Elena, one of the staffers, would tell me not yet.
Did you get to learn some of the cues that you needed to watch for?
HCJ: No. I didn’t learn any of that. They were there all the time. I got nervous when we had to apply the prosthetic to her, and given the guy that I was doing that in real life, I wanted to make it real and there’s a certain amount of force that you have to use, but on the other hand it’s hard to imagine how sensitive she is and her stump. There’s a little caution that you have – like a human amputee, they say put your hand on my knee and there’s no lower leg there, you’d be a little sensitive to that. It’s the same thing with her, we don’t really want to touch her, but they taught us how to manipulate the gel and to put the prosthetic on. It’s like being around a horse when you’re putting the saddle on him, you kind of have to trust what they tell you and trust that it’s going to be cool because she was a big animal.
Did working with the actual people change your performance?
HCJ: Oh yeah. These people don’t seem to get wound up about much, they don’t get really upset, the get profoundly upset about the condition that the animal is in, but they are very calm people. I saw the movie with my wife and there were a couple of scenes when I thought I could have been a bit more explosive and a bit more outwardly emotional, and I thought my performance was borderline boring a couple of times and she said, “No, that’s the way this type of people is.” When you’re around them they are very very calm. You would have to be. I think about these folks and every day, since I’ve been gone I’ve done another movie and I’ve done this and that, their still with that dolphin every single day. It’s incredible the calm that they have so there’s that. That definitely changed my approach. They get the job done without being too emotional about it.
The part when you play the saxophone, was that in the script or did you just do that?
HCJ: That came after, Charlie (Martin Smith), our director, said, what do you think about playing the saxophone? I said, “I don’t know how to play man.” He said there’s a song “Everything Happens To Me.” It’s a great song. “I can play a game of golf and you can bet your life it rains. I tried to throw a party and the guy upstairs complains. I guess I go through life just catching colds and missing trains. Everything happens to me.” It’s exactly what this guy is going through and Charlie asked me to play it on the tenor so fortunately I know a few good musicians, and I called my friend Brandford and said I needed a tenor and her got me hooked up with this tenor and I just practiced and practiced and practiced so I could play a little bit. I didn’t think they would use my playing, but they did. I was flattered, but when Brandford goes to see the movie I don’t think he’s going to be too happy about my performance.
You said you were worried whether you were boring or not. Are you still pretty self-critical of yourself?
HCJ: I’m critical about music. I hear myself on piano recordings and it’s like how many times do you have to go down that road before you realize not to do it anymore. You still make the same mistakes and you think, “Why did I do that?” I was watching some football game, what’s the Denver’s quarterback’s name? Kyle Orton. He put his hand back and the ball just fell out of his hand and you think, this is an NFL quarterback, that’s a mistake that I would make and I see myself on film and I hear myself singing and I think, you idiot. It’s like it never ends.
That’s a good thing, because I know – my friend Winton, we were talking about – this is too heavy for a press junket about Dolphin Tale and we probably don’t need to go into this, but I’ll just give you a quick little thing – I was depressed artistically I was at a place like in a plateau which most artists go, most humans go through that. I said, “Well what should I do?” he said, “You need to think of yourself as an older man and as an old man and how you want to be perceived,” and he mentioned two musical artists, the one who he doesn’t respect (I won’t mention his name), he said, “Look at Willy Nelson, he’s constantly trying to change and struggling with his artistic process. This other guy, he’s just repeating the same stuff. How do you want to be?” I wanted to be 80 and constantly be dissatisfied with my work, maybe occasionaly have something that you’re really proud of but constantly struggling. I feel it all the time.
Speaking of Willy Nelson, what was it like working with Kris Kristofferson?
HCJ: You know what’s really weird? Kris Kristofferson played my dad in this movie and two months later I did this movie and Kris Kristofferson played my dad again. What the hell is going on here? It was really weird. I started to think he was my dad. Kris is just incredible. It’s very humbling being around him. He’s a helicopter pilot, he’s a road scholar, he’s a boxer, he’s a songwriter, he’s an actor. He’s incredible to be around. That’s cool, when you see a guy who’s really, really rich and he drives around a crappy car, that’s what Kris is like intellectually. You talk to the guy and he makes you feel so at ease but he’s so brilliant and he has so much experience it’s really cool being around him. Those were great days.
What was the second movie?
HCJ: It’s called When Angels Sing. It’s a Christmas movie, I don’t think it’s coming out this Christmas, maybe next Christmas. That was really weird though. They tell me, “Guess who’s playing your dad?” “Who?” “It’s Kris Kristofferson.” “What? He just played my dad.”
And what point in your film career, did you feel like this is something you could spend a lot of time with, it’s not just going to be an occasional thing, I can actually devote a lot of time and still continue the music career?
HCJ: I did my first movie when I was like 20, and it took three months and I loved it. I thought it was similar to the artistic decisions I was making on the bandstand. I thought it was the same type of artistic challenge. I thought I could do both. Why not? Do a sitcom or Broadway show? I’m an entertainer. I think of it like that.
It works the same muscles?
HCJ: I think so. Maybe that’s prevented me from making better decisions sometimes but it’s just feels very natural to do these things. I don’t feel like a musician when I’m on set. Like when I was doing Dolphin Tale, I didn’t think about that at all. I really love the process. When I go to bed at night, I feel the same fulfillment and exhaustion after any other type of en-devour.
How do you get any sense of satisfaction? When you walk offstage, are you happy then?
HCJ: I think hindsight is what gives you the prospective of being not satisfied. In the moment, I’ve never said, that wasn’t a full-on effort. I’ve tried 100% every single time. Sometimes that effort is more subtle than other times. When I’m onstage it’s a physical emotion. If I’m shooting a scene with Winter and I have to put on a prosthetic, it’s a different kind of intensity, but I never finish the day saying, I didn’t try. When you go back and you look at the project, you think, if I had that chance now I would do that differently. The day I wake up when I say, that was a brilliant record, that record I did five years ago, it’s not going to get better than that. That’s when I think I’ll panic because I want to, got to keep growing.
Is it nice to do a movie that is about kind humans and has a happy ending?
HCJ: It’s really great. I was so honored so be around people at the Clearwater Marine Aquarium. I really was. They make you examine your own existence. And you think, what am I doing, and I don’t want to come across like I hate myself. I’m a really happy guy. I’m really proud. And by the way, coming off stage like at the Hollywood Bowl, and I say this as objectively as I can, I think, okay you try it. To anybody, you come and follow that. I change you to come follow that. There’s huge amounts of ego and confidence that go into it. I think it’s balanced out by the desire to get better. I got to pat myself on the back a little bit. It’s great when you think about these folks and how dedicated they are. It makes you examine, in my eyes, am I that dedicated to what I do, can I possibly have an effect on people that would be positive like that? It was a great project to be a part of.
What’s coming up next for you? You mentioned the Kris thing.
HCJ: I have a Broadway show that I’m doing. I start next month. It’s called “On A Clear Day You Can See Forever”. I’m really excited about that. A little tense getting ready for it only because it’s a lot of work. That’s a whole different animal, Broadway.
Who’s your leading lady?
HCJ: Oh man, I’m so excited about this lady. Her name is Jesse Muller. Never heard of her before. She came from Chicago. She’s 27. She’s never done anything in New York and we auditioned a bunch of people. They were all extraordinary but she came in and we were ford by her.
She sings a great part.
It’s a great part. Our show’s very different. It’s very different than the original so the girl that Barbra Streisand played in the movie, that the doctor hypnotizes in the movie , is now a gay guy and he channels – it’s taken a very different approach. I think there were a lot of problems in the original script and I think they’ve been resolved here. They did a good job.
What about dancing? If it’s a musical, you have to dance.
HCJ: I would do what they told me to do. I love to sing and I’m singing all the time. Dancing is something that I need to be taught to be. I don’t dance in the way that its usually presented in musicals. I’m very physical and I dance a certain way onstage, but that’s street thing. Like for this play, “On a Clear Day”, it’s choreographed.
Do you think this role will get casting directors to hire you for a future movie musical?
HCJ: Not really. Only because I did it before and nothing happened. That’s okay. I’m okay with that. I was talking to Harvey Weinstein and I said, “Dude I’m a singer and an actor, why don’t you ever call me to be in a musical?” And it’s tongue-in-cheek, he’s a friend and I don’t really mean it because I’m okay with my life, I’ve been really lucky and I’m very satisfied, but he’s said, You have to stay on Broadway, you have to let these people come and see that’s what you do.” I’m like, I’m not going to do a show for five years, there’s just too much other stuff I want to do. So if a casting director happens to come in that six months window, man that’d be great, but if not, I’m all good to go. And I’m actually very content. [laughs]
Check out Dolphin Tale in theaters September 23rd!