There’s something conducive about musicians becoming actors. Perhaps it’s attributable to the performance-based nature of their work – going out on a stage, entertaining millions of folks, putting on a show… The number of musicians who have transitioned to acting and done so successfully is a surprisingly large pool. David Bowie, Justin Timberlake, Will Smith, Elvis Pressley, Frank Sinatra… The list goes on. Harry Connick Jr is not often mentioned alongside such flashier personalities, but the singer/songwriter has quietly built up a steady resume of eclectic performances be it as a serial killer in Copycat or as the romantic lead in Hope Floats.
In this week’s Dolphin Tale 2, Connick Jr reprises his role as Dr. Clay Haskett, the lead marine biologist of the Clearwater Marine Aquarium. Much of Connick Jr’s scenes are centered on the imbalance of at once running an aquarium while at the same time treating the animals in the most humane fashion possible. It’s one of many more adult storylines in the darker sequel. In the following round-table interview with Connick Jr, he discusses balancing his musical & theatrical career, working alongside Winter [the dolphin] and his newest job — judging on American Idol. For the full interview, hit the jump.
Harry Connick Jr: You know it didn’t matter what the fan response was in regards to doing it again. Even if it had been poorly received and people didn’t like it, I would have come back and done it again anyways. It was a great filming experience — working with Charles [Martin Smith] who’s really a brilliant guy and a pleasure to be around. Working with the rest of the cast, being at the aquarium — all of those things really contributed to this being the best filming experience I’ve ever had. It was just great. What’s interesting to me — as you go through your career in the entertainment business, new people are being born and growing up and becoming teenagers and young adults. A lot of the people who came to know me through Dolphin Tale, they have no idea I do anything else which isn’t a bad thing. It’s cool.
We are seeing you now distinctly as actor — is that something you are consciously aware of?
Harry Connick Jr.: Not really — I’m still making records and touring. It’s all about if you happen to cross someone’s path in a certain way. Dolphin Tale reached a lot of people but maybe those people don’t go see me on tour or buy my records or watch me on TV. I’m not doing any more acting than what I was doing twenty years ago but it kind of ebbs and flows with how people were introduced to you.
Are you working on a new album?
Harry Connick Jr.: I’m working on a new record. We haven’t even gone to the studio yet but we’re just putting the ideas together. Things kind of leapfrog. When I’m on a movie set, that’s a good time — there’s a lot of down time on a film set. You can get a lot of stuff done in the trailer and the hotel. I’ve written entire records on a movie set and when the movie’s done, we go to studio, record it and then when we finish that, it’s time to promote the movie and then it’s time to tour — so it all kind of works synergistically together.
Harry Connick Jr.: My trainer tells me all the time when I’m complaining I don’t want to do another set or whatever, he always says ‘No mind.’ Just do it. Just be quiet and do it. You’re going to get through it and you’re not going to die. Just no mind. Do it. There’s something about Winter [the dolphin] — she’s not a human being so she doesn’t think about things the way we do. There’s something inspirational about watching a creature that has no mind in the way we know it. These are the cards that are dealt to her and what else are you going to do. Life is really like that. There are certain things that are wonderful and certain things that are not so wonderful and what are you going to do about it. With grace and with dignity, we move through them. You’re reminded of that — especially when you see Winter. I call it DWI — Deal With It.
Is it easier to step into he shoes of a character you’ve already played?
Harry Connick Jr: I did a pretty considerable amount of research on the first film just because I really wanted to know who this guy was. The second one was obviously much easier because I had done one before. What was really strange was that it was the exact same circumstances as the first movie — the volunteers were the same, the same sets, the same city, the same cast — so it was very easy to remind myself of who [Clay] was. On the first one, I went up and interviewed marine biologists, marine veterinarians — anything I could to try and give myself a [leg up]. But the second time was a whole lot easier.
At the end of the film you see a lot of the events that are actually very accurately portrayed in the film. How much were you trying to remain accurate and where did you have room to embellish and make it your own?
Harry Connick Jr.: Well — this is really Charles Martin Smith’s area. That’s really about him. As a character, you’re working within the realm of what’s on the page. Was I able to manipulate things and do things? Sure. He’s a great actor’s director too. Many times — I didn’t know what happened in real life. [Charles] was always extremely knowledgeable about every detail because as an actor you need to understand everything. So I would say ‘Did this happen?’ And he would say ‘Oh yeah — blah, blah, blah.’ Sometimes you would be on set and you didn’t know who was hired as an extra or a cast member and who was actually on the scene when it went down. We would be standing out in the water with people in CMA costumes with gears — and many times they were the actual people who did the rescue work. It was a weird kind of alternate reality. But that’s Charlie. He did a great job with that. It’s really hard to do too. It’s easy to chalk [Dolphin Tale 2] up as a family film but it’s really complex to walk that line of what really happened and what didn’t.
Earlier this year, you joined American Idol. What was it like to work on a show like that?
Harry Connick Jr.: It was great. No matter what genre of music you play when you rack up a couple years of experience, you have your own point of view no matter who it is that is coming in front of you whether it’s a pop artist or a country artist. Whoever. It’s not difficult to critique and help shape the young performers because, let’s face it, I’ve been here for a while. I’ve done this for a while and I have a lot of experience. It was just a great opportunity. Basically the job is just sitting there listening to music and telling people what you think about it. What’s not to like?
Harry Connick Jr.: Yeah — that’s the tough part of that job because I had been a mentor a couple times. That’s what I really like to do because that was the environment I was brought up in — constantly being mentored, critiqued and shaped. When I mentored, I was with each of those kids for forty-five minutes to an hour really getting down into it. Lets talk about what you’re doing, what needs work on and what you’re doing well. But as a judge, you have thirty seconds to judge. Technically we’re not even probably supposed to give advice. Like when you watch the Olympics, you don’t see the judge from Switzerland stand up and say ‘That was a great triple axil but I think you need to work on…’ You have to be a judge. But it’s a TV show and there’s a few liberties you can’t take… These kids in the movie are incredible. They really are. I love them both very much and I know them both personally really well. Cozi [Zuehlsdorff] is a very serious musician and very talented. We go back and forth. We have a great relationship. She wants me to critique her and I do. It’s not about being hard on her. It’s about being honest. And she’ll ask ‘what do you think about this?’ And I’ll say ‘This is great and this is what I think needs work on.’ She’s like a sponge — so brilliant and so smart. I’ve told her before: ‘I’m not being tough on you. I just don’t want to waste your time. I want to tell you what the real deal is.’ She’s tough and she gets it and she works on it.
This is one of those rare cases where everyone came back for the sequel. Why do you think everybody was so keen to get back on board?
Harry Connick Jr.: It was just an incredible filmmaking experience. It really was. You can take the subject matter of the movie, you can break it down into scenes, you’re really looking forward to doing; but when you look at it as a package deal, you have to get on a plane, you have to come down, you have to block out a big chunk of your life — it’s a time commitment. It’s a great thing but it’s a lifestyle and a lot of boxes have to be checked before you say, “I want to be away from my family. I want to stay up to four in the morning.’ It’s a commitment. But it was such a great experience. It was just such a positive experience. That was why everybody came back. Everybody loves each other. It’s a beautiful part of the world. You’re talking about a subject matter that everybody can relate to.