By Ed Symkus
More Content Now

New Orleans native Harry Connick Jr. was already well into his acting career when it got a boost with his role as genial aquarium honcho Dr. David Haskett in the mostly based-on-fact 2011 film Dolphin Tale. Among Connicks earlier credits were voicing the hipster Dean in The Iron Giant, playing Leo Markus on Will & Grace, and the bartender Daniel in P.S. I Love You. But it was the dolphin movie that gained him many new young viewers, most of whom had no idea that Connick had already reached veteran status in his pop-jazz singing career. At a recent interview session for Dolphin Tale 2, the always-gracious Connick, still carrying that Louisiana accent, spoke about working in both of those worlds.

Q. Is it easier to step back into the shoes of a character youve already played?

A. I did a pretty considerable amount of research the first time around because I really wanted to know who this guy was. The second one was obviously much easier because I had done it before. What was really strange is that it was the exact same set of circumstances as the first one: same city, same set, same cast, so it was very easy to kind of remind myself who he was. But the first time I went and interviewed marine biologists and marine veterinarians, and I paid attention to how they looked. I remember my wife saying, Do you really want to wear those clothes and wear your hair like that? And I said, Yeah, I do, because thats who these people are. Theyre scientists, and theyre not really interested in anything but learning about these marine creatures.

Q. How much were you trying to remain accurate and how much room did you have to embellish and make the role your own?

A. That was really [director] Charles Martin Smiths area. Every single nuance of what happened in real life was thoroughly considered with regard to how it would be dramatized in the film. So that part was all about him. As a character, youre working within the realm of whats on the page. Was I able to sort of manipulate things and do things? Sure. As an actor you need to understand everything, so I would say to Charles, Did this happen? And he might say, Yeah, that happened, and thats a person who actually did what youre doing. Sometimes youd be on the set and you wouldnt know who was hired as an extra or a cast member, and who was actually on the scene when the real story went down. It was a weird kind of altered reality.

Q. Have you found your acting work and your singing work crossing over much?

A. Whats interesting to me is as you go through your career in the entertainment business, new people are being born and growing up, and becoming teenagers and young adults, and a lot of the people that came to know me through Dolphin Tale have no idea that I do anything else. Now, thats not a BAD thing. Its cool! Im still making records and touring and stuff. And Im not doing any more acting than I was doing 20 years ago. It all kind of ebbs and flows.

Q. What exactly is the status of your singing right now?

A. Im working on a new record. But we havent even gone in the studio yet. Were just kind of putting the ideas together. As you know, theres a lot of downtime on a film set, and you can get a lot of stuff done in the trailer and the hotel. Ive written entire records on a movie set, and then when the movies done you go in the studio and record it. Then when you finish that its time to promote the movie and then its time to tour. So it all kind of works together.

Q. You also landed a nice spot as a judge on American Idol. Was that a good time for you?

A. That was great! I think no matter what genre of music you play, when you rack up a couple of years of experience, and you have your own point of view, no matter who comes in front of you, whether its a pop artist or a country artist, its not difficult to critique and help shape the young performers. I mean, lets face it, Ive been here for a while, Ive done it for a while, and I have a lot of experience. Ive always been a big fan of the show, and it was a great opportunity. Basically the job is sitting there, listening to music and telling people what you think about it. Whats not to like? I loved it.

Dolphin Tale 2 opens on Sept. 12.

Ed Symkus covers movies for More Content Now.