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I recently had the opportunity of meeting Harry Connick Jr. a great musician, 3 time Grammy Award winner, two time Emmy award winner, Broadway star and noted actor who appeared in 26 film related productions including Independence Day opposite Will Smith. He stars as Dr. Clay Haskett a marine biologist in the upcoming movie Dolphin Tale, which opens this weekend.Why did you pick a movie where you know you are going to be upstaged by an animal?
You know I have never worried about being upstaged I get it every night from my band. When you surround yourself with unbelievable artists you assume there is going to be upstaging so I have never had a problem with it. Especially with the cast in this movie it’s really not about me I just happen to be a part of it because it’s a great story and it’s fulfilling for me to do. I enjoyed my character and the trials that my character endured as he was going through the process of saving Winter the injured Dolphin. When you are up there with Morgan Freeman and people like that and Winter, you have to take a back seat.
How was it like being wet all the time you were filming?
The good thing about it is that we were here (in Florida) and it wasn’t uncomfortable. There were a couple of times when the water was a little bit cold but the wardrobe was basically T-shirts and you could roll out of bed and you were ready to go. It wasn’t like other films where the weather could really be a drag. It was great man and just to be around Winter. I’ve done a few things with Dolphins you know like I’ve taken my kinds to swim with the Dolphins and things but this was a whole different way of interacting and we really got to learn a lot. It was an amazing education.
Did you have to have special training to work with the Dolphins?
No. I did my own personal research just to try to know as much as I could before I came, but it was all about getting as much info from the people that worked with her (Winter). I went to Woods Hole in Massachusetts and met a couple of marine biologists and one of them was incredibly forthcoming and presentation centric. He had apple cinnamon displays and his office was very modern and organized and he was very accessible, I left his office feeling that I knew more than I did when I went in.
Then I went down the hall and this other scientist’s office was a wreck. He had like a lot of the t-sheets I wore in the movie, they had sea life on them. He had a giant squid, he couldn’t have been more of a science nerd and I walked out of there feeling like I had intruded on his time and guilty for even knocking on the door. I felt like an idiot essentially. What I learned is that for both of these men that it’s there entire world.
If you go the Clearwater Marina Aquarium where the movie was made and you see these people working with these animals its like nothing else exists but these animals that are presented to them and they have to help. It’s incredible; there’s a single mindedness about it. They are completely focused on what they do. I have never seen human beings act like this, so dedicated to what they do. It was great training”.
What did you learn about your experience with the Dolphin?
The cool stuff like echolocation, and how they breathe and eat. Their food has to be treated differently than some of the other animals. They have to have a very clean and specific preparation for their diet. We always use the word intelligence when we are talking about Dolphins, but they are not intelligent like we are, its like a parallel sort of intelligence where you may cross paths with them occasionally and feel like there’s a connection, but almost like they have an equal but separate type of intelligence. It’s really hard to explain but everyone once in a while you really get the sense that they know what’s going, but that it’s coming from a kind of condescending perspective.
Were there any dangers spending so much time with the Dolphins?
No. I mean occasionally. You know it’s a big animal and when you apply the prosthetic to Winter you are talking about a 200 pound muscular creature that if you startled her she could possibly hurt you with a swipe of the plastic being put on her tail. But, no problem with myself. It was the most laid back cool set I have ever been on.
What was it like filming in the Tampa, Florida area?
I loved it man. I mean aside from your football team (Tampa Bay Buccaneers) I pretty much like everything about it. I really love Tampa, I love the weather its really like a secret in the sense that people try to go all over the world to find these great beach destinations. I live in the New York area and you just get on a plane and it’s one of the greatest beaches I’ve ever seen. The people are great, great restaurants, I really like it here. The filming experience was just so relaxed and in terms of crew it was unbelievable, perfect. It was really one of the great film making experiences I’ve had. The crew was professional they were on time they were hard working. It was seamless and the people here are fantastic.
What was it like working with Morgan Freeman?
I am a fan as most people are of Morgan and I was curious to see what his personality would be like and what his process would be like. I was really thrilled to find out that he’s a gregarious incredible intelligent funny guy who loves music, so we had a lot in common. We talked a lot about songs and songwriters. He has a massive knowledge of the great American songbook, which I am really thrilled to know about. It was just great to see how he took lines and interpreted them and what he was like in between takes. It is fascinating for someone like me who is very much in the learning process to be around someone who’s clearly mastered his art.
Do you feel like you are still into learning?
Oh yeah. There are things I’ve done and maybe there are things I’m starting to find that are unique to my talent and myself but oh man there’s a ton to learn. I just got back from New Orleans and spent some time with my old teacher Ellis Marsalis and he’s in his mid 70’s and he’s just practicing all the time. There are always things to learn. I grew up with that kind of attitude. We don’t take people seriously if they think they know everything.