Harry Connick Jr. Interview – P.S. I LOVE YOU

     December 18, 2007

Opening on Friday is “P.S. I Love You,” the new dramedy starring Hilary Swank and Gerard Butler. Here’s the synopsis:

Holly Kennedy (Hilary Swank) is beautiful, smart, and married to the love of her life—a passionate, funny and impetuous Irishman named Gerry (Gerard Butler). So when Gerry’s life is taken by an illness, it takes the life out of Holly.But before he died, Gerry wrote Holly a series of letters that will guide her, not only through her grief but in rediscovering herself. The first message arrives on Holly’s 30th birthday in the form of a cake and, to her utter shock, a tape recording from Gerry, who proceeds to order her to get out and “celebrate herself.” In the weeks and months that follow, more letters from Gerry are delivered in surprising ways, each sending her on a new adventure and each signing off in the same way: P.S. I Love You.

With Gerry’s words as her guide, Holly embarks on a touching, exciting and often hilarious journey of rediscovery in a story about marriage, friendship and how a love so strong can turn the finality of death into new beginning for life.

So to help promote the movie, I was able to participate in roundtable interviews witha lot of the cast and the one below is with Harry Connick Jr.

In the film Harry plays someone who develops feeling for Hilary Swank’s character after Gerry dies and they have to figure out where they stand. But unlike a lot of movies where his character could be a cardboard cutout, in the film he has Asperger Syndrome – which makes his social skills a bit awkward.

During our roundtable interview Harry spoke about a variety of subjects – from what’s up in New Orleans to “The Iron Giant.” If you’re a fan of this singer/songwriter/actor I think you’ll like the interview.

As always, you can either read the transcript below or download the audio as an MP3 by clicking here. And if you missed the movie clips I previously posted, you can watch them here.

“P.S. I Love You” opens this Friday at theaters everywhere.

Question: Was there every any thought of you singing?

Harry Connick: I don’t think so. The character was kind of written and done. It was nice that I kind of didn’t have to do it. it is a different head trip, singing. Then you have to think can this guy really sing or is he kind of a garage band kind of singing how he feels with no technique. I din’t have to worry about any of that.

Q: It is jaw dropping some of the things that come out of his mouth.

HC: I know a couple of people like that. I am sure I am one of at times. It is fascinating the whole Asperger Syndrome is really something I didn’t know a lot about it. I got to know about it a little better when I found out I was doing this role. It is interesting. Sometimes I find myself doing things like my wife will say things to me and I will say things completely unrelated to what she just said. She says ‘Are you even listening to what I said.” That is the constant with the character I played. He doesn’t think about the consequences of what he is saying. When it is funny, it is funny. When it is not, it can be pretty offensive. I enjoy playing that. It is different than anything I had done before.

Q: Do you consider yourself a romantic person?

HC: In my personal life?

Q: Yes.

HC: Yeah. I do.

Q: In notes, or gifts or just the way you …?

HC: I know how nice it is to be told “I Love You” and not hear it as a response all the time makes me feel really good. I love my wife. She would be the first and only recipient of any romanticism I might have. She seems to like that. It is really rare to find someone you really, really love and that you want to spend your life with and all that stuff that goes along with being married. I am one of those lucky people. And I think she feels that way too. So the romantic stuff is easy because you want them to be happy.

Q: Because you follow parallel careers, what draws you to a movie?

HC: What I liked about this movie is that I kept waiting for it to end with me and Hilary together. And it didn’t happen. So I said OK, I’m in. Had I ended up with Hilary, I still would have done it anyway. I wanted to work with her. But the fact that it didn’t up like that was fantastic to me. There was a little bit of talk … I heard some rumors … that after we shot it, they were considering reshooting the ending. I said “Oh man, I hope they don’t do that.” I would definitely have an opinion about that. I thought it was an atypical ending, interesting character and things like that.

Q: What would draw you to something like “Copycat” which caused a lot of comment at the time?

HC: Well, I was surprised I got that role, to be honest with you. I didn’t audition for it and I had very little experience going into it. I did two movies before that and they were both very small parts. I met with the director, Jon Amiel, before we did it. And he said ‘What do you think about serial killers?” Now he is from England and I think my accent sounded different than some of the other people he had talked to. He wanted a guy with a real strong Southern accent. He said “what do you thing about serial killers.” And I said “wow.” I told him my dad was a D.A. in New Orleans and we used to hear stories. I just had a conversation with the guy and the next thing you know he said I would like you to play this role. I was thinking what did I possibly do to convince this guy that I could play this part. I knew I could do it. I had some interesting ideas about it. But I just knew I wasn’t going to get it.I just look at things that look interesting to me.

Q: Are you still doing a lot of work in New Orleans?

HC: Yeah, a lot. I have worked with Habitat for Humanity for awhile. And we have a project called Musician’s Village down there which is really kind of turned into this great, thriving community. here is at least 40 families living there now. Eventually there will probably be 80. There is also a big center for music we are building called the Ellis Marsalis Center for Music which is very exciting because traditional music, along with other types, was on the brink of disappearing anyway. When the hurricane came along it literally chased everybody out of town. So this is a formal place … I use to go to Bourbon Street when I was a kid and there would be club after club after club of people who were around when the music started. I mean these are legendary, maybe no so well know, but legendary musicians. All of us could just go bounce from one club to the next and play with these people from the time we were 5 years old. Well it is all gone now. So the musicians are still there, many of whom are living in the Musicians Village. But now there is a place, when they go to this center, they are going to be able to teach there and show these young kids…. You kind of have to have a formal sort of meeting place to do that now. It is exciting. I am very happy with it.

Q: Have you shown “Iron Giant” to your children?

HC: Yeah, they have seen. I haven’t shown it to them but they have seen it. They have watched it. I think we have the DVD. I wasn’t there with them when they saw it. But they have seen it.

Q: It is a film that means a lot to a lot of people. What was the experience like?

HC: It was great. I saw Brad Bird in a restaurant in London. I was over there doing some press and I didn’t kind of recognize him. It was a little bit dark. He passed me by and said ‘Hey Harry.’ Since then he has done “The Incredibles” and “Ratatouille.” And I am thinking this guy is an American treasure. What a brilliant, brilliant man he is. If I ever had the chance to work with him again I would crawl and do whatever it took just because … and would love to do something with him in a musical context at some point. “The Iron Giant” is just a great movie. I was just talking about it in the other room. I hear about it a couple of times a week. People talk to me about that movie.

Q: Could you talk more about the syndrome?

HC: I have heard a little bit about it. I was watching one of these shows on TV and Angie Dickinson was talking that her daughter apparently committed suicide and had this syndrome. I can’t tell you scientifically much about it. And I am certainly not the one to ask about the proper definition of it. But just from the experiences I read about it, it must be debilitating because … have you seen this book “Look Me In The Eye?” It is .. what’s the guy’s name. There is a little boy on the cover like from the ‘50s. And he is looking right into the camera. It is his story of having this syndrome.

Q: Not the “Curious Affair of the Dog in the Night?” That’s a big best seller.

HC: No. I think it is called “Look Me in the Eye.” Basically, it is about this kid who was not able to look his parents in the eye. He would be playing in a sandbox in kindergarten and a little girl would say ‘I have a red doll.’ And he would say ‘I like chocolate chip ice cream.’ He doesn’t realize how to communicate. They just don’t pick up on social cues and how things should normally go. It is a fascinating syndrome. I have read more about it since I finished the movie than while I was doing it.

Q: “The Pajama Game” experience and how man months did you do it?

HC: I did it for probably six months in total. It was unbelievable. It was great. This is coming from somebody who tried to get out of it two weeks before rehearsals started. I saw the movie and I said “I can’t do this.” I can’t play this square guy eight times a week. It is the exact opposite of what I want to do. I don’t want to say the same lines every night. I don’t want to sing the same songs every night. I called my manager and said you have to get me out of this. I can’t do it. It goes against everything I am as a jazz musician which is completely spontaneous. Shows change every night. When I actually started rehearsing, I asked a good buddy of mine, Glenn Close, I said how do you do that eight times a week. She said “You’ll see.” She goes within the confines of and the restrictions of the stage you will find there is a lot of room to move around. And it was unbelievable. There wasn’t one show where I said “man I got to do this again.” I loved it. And I can’t wait to do it again.

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Q: Any other musical on your wish list?

HC: There musicals out there. But putting all that stuff together is a nightmare. You can’t imagine. We all have our favorite musicals and you say I would like to do this particular musical. Then you have to go and put it together, get the rights. It is really a complex process. There is nothing specifically on my list but I am definitely going to do it again.

Q: Is there any musical you think should be made into a film?

HC: I think there is a lot of them. But you have to understand, I don’t think I am necessarily the first person they are going to come to to do it. I know I would like to have that experience. But obviously Tim Burton thought Johnny Depp would be the guy to play that. And it is great. Rob Marshall wanted Richard Gere to play the guy in “Chicago.” I applaud those guys and I think it is great. Gerry Butler is a singer and does all that stuff too. So there is a lot of people out there and a lot of people have ideas about what they want. And I don’t know if they want me per se. But it is something I would like to do. I think it is going to depend on me kind of getting the project started myself as opposed to waiting for it.

Q: Even though you didn’t perform for this movie, there is a lot of musical talent on this set. Do you relate to actor/musicians in a different way?

HC: Not really. We didn’t really talk about it much. There was a piano on the set one day. I just felt like playing. I hadn’t played in awhile. I went and played. And everyone gathered around. It was one of those kind of corny moments. I was kind of playing myself, then you look up and there are people standing around. That was fun. I have known Nelly for awhile. We didn’t talk much about it. And I have even talked with Gerry about it too much. We were joking about it in an interview before. But, not really.

Q: Have you been asked to contribute a large amount of your music to soundtracks?

HC: Not really. I have done songs here and there. But I have never scored a film. That is something I would like to do at some points.

Q: When “Harry Met Sally?”

HC: I sang a couple of songs in the movie. To make a long story short, there were 15 different artists who were used in the movie who could be, for whatever reason, a part of the soundtrack album. So I ended up with the whole CD. So that is what kind of launched my career. Because I probably would have had two or three of those songs. But Ella and Frank and Ray Charles didn’t want to be on the record for some kind of contractual reasons. So they said “Harry do you want to sing this song? Do you want to sing this song?” Before I knew it I had the whole …

Q: I am surprised they didn’t have you sing a lone song on this soundtrack. Was it ever discussed?

HC: I never heard about it. Never did.

Q: Has the writer strike affected you?

HC: It really hasn’t affected me. I am doing amovie in January called “Chilled in Miami” with Renee Zellwegger. That will take us through the end of March.

Q: Can you talk a little about the character you play?

HC: Yeah (laughs), I play, it is kind of like “Pajama Game” in reverse. I play the union head at a dairy factor in Minnesota. And some high, powerful woman – that’s Rene — comes from this big agency who is trying to mechanize the factory. Shut it down and get rid of all the people there. Arguments ensue and then we fall in love.

Q: So it is a romantic comedy?

HC: Yeah. It better be.

Q: Are you going to tour again?

HC: We just came back from Europe about a week ago. And then right after I do that movie with Renee we will be in Asia. We will be all over Asia.

Q: Do you still think of yourself as a singer who acts?

HC: I really don’t think of it like that. People ask me that all the time. What comes first? To answer your question, I guess that is what I am. But I don’t think about it that way. When I am on a set doing a movie, I am not thinking about music. And when I am on stage I am not thinking about acting. But I just like to do them both.
I started with music. That is sort of what brought me to the table.

Q: Someone who doesn’t know much about the great music of New Orleans. Who should I go listen to?

HC: Just go down there. There is a paper called Gambit. It is kind of a weekly paper. It is unbelievable the types of music you will hear down there. They have traditional jazz and r&b and people like the Nevilles and the Meters. Young and old there is a tremendous amount of music down there. And the city needs that more anything else.

Q: What percentage is New Orleans back?

HC: You mean population? It is slow. They have about two-thirds of the people who have not come back to live there. The infastructure is really suffering because there is no tax base there now. If you went downtown. If you stayed at the Windsor Court Hotel in New Orleans and you kind of hung around that area you would say “What’s the problem?” Because that area is fine. It is the other 80% of the city where people live that was sitting underwater for six weeks. So it has a long, long way to go.

Q: What became of that club that it is off Bourbon?

HC: Preservation Hall. It is still there. It is one of the great ones. I know I am getting old because members of my band played at Preservation Hall. I need to be like Menudo and cut everyone loose when they are 20.

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