Harry Connick Jr. Tells His Tale
Harry Connick Jr. is more than a consummate performer: he’s a pianist, singer, bandleader, film star, theater composer, and Broadway leading man. In his new film Dolphin Tale, Connick plays Dr. Clay Haskett, a veterinarian treating Winter, a dolphin who becomes an inspiration to people with special needs throughout the world. TheaterMania recently spoke to Connick about working with an aquatic actor and an Oscar winner in the same film, dealing with his short attention span, and returning to Broadway this season in the revival of On a Clear Day You Can See Forever.
THEATERMANIA: Dolphins are supposed to be very smart and very much like us. Do you think that’s true?
HARRY CONNICK JR: We use the word intelligent when we talk about these animals but they’re not intelligent like we are. It’s a parallel intelligence. You think it’s a moment of brilliance because they understand something on a human level, but that’s coming from a condescending perspective. So I think they’re as intelligent as we are; but it’s an equal but separate type of intelligence.
TM: You have a lot of great co-stars in Dolphin Tale, including Morgan Freeman, Ashley Judd, and Kris Kristofferson — not to mention, Winter the dolphin, who plays herself in the movie. Was there any concern about being upstaged by her?
HC: I’ve never worried about being upstaged, but when you’re up there with Morgan Freeman and a dolphin, you know you have to take a back seat.
TM: What was it like working with Morgan Freeman for the first time?
HC. I was really thrilled to find out that he’s a gregarious, incredibly intelligent, really funny guy who loves music and has a massive knowledge of the great American songbook. It’s fascinating for someone like me who is very much in the learning process as an actor to be around someone who’s clearly mastered it and made it his own. And he taught me to read on The Electric Company!
TM: What made you want to commit to doing On A Clear Day You Can See Forever, in which you play a psychiatrist, on Broadway this fall?
HC: I love being on Broadway and it was a matter of finding the right thing. I had just done Pajama Game, which was classic and great, but I don’t know that I wanted to do that kind of show again. And this came along and it was very different. They’ve taken a completely different approach to the material and our director Michael Mayer has some great ideas. Plus they’re great songs and I get to play a great character.
TM: Do you purposely mix it up career-wise, doing a film, then theater, then a recording?
HC: I have a very short attention span. I don’t think I could do four or five movies in a row. I don’t think I could go on the road for a year. I just couldn’t do it. And when next June comes, I’ll have had seven or eight months on Broadway and I’ll need to do something else.
TM: No matter what, though, you’re always working. Where did you get your work ethic?
HC: My old teacher Ellis Marsalis is my inspiration. He’s in his mid-70s and he practices all the time. There’s always something to learn. And back then, those Marsalis guys told me on a daily basis, “You consider something outside of music because you’re not good enough.” I was telling that story a couple of weeks ago and my friend Branford Marsalis started to laugh and said, “You know we were told to do that! Our father told us to emotionally destroy you so you would practice more!” I never knew that, and now I’m still recuperating — because that was a lot of abuse! It helped though, if for no other reason than it made me spend an extra four hours a day practicing!