Close Encounters of the Celebrity Kind...
I'm Just Wild About Harry - The KATM Interview with Harry Connick, Jr.
Expanded Edition of 2-4-09 Windy City Times Interview
by Richard Knight, Jr.
Connick at a recent film opening, with New In Town co-star Renee Zellweger, with the author following this interview
From the moment Harry Connick, Jr.’s singing was heard on the soundtrack to 1989’s When Harry Met Sally audiences fell in love with
the sultry vocalist. From his dreamboat good looks to the sensuous singing voice with his native New Orleans drawl, to his
tremendous piano playing and writing skills, Connick has come to epitomize the modern day jazz musician. It didn’t take long for
movie producers and directors (including Jodie Foster in her directing debut Little Man Tate) to take advantage of Connick’s talents
and cast him in a series of film roles (beginning with Memphis Belle in 1990). Connick has since conquered the concert stage,
Broadway, and television, where he memorably appeared for four years on “Will & Grace” as Debra Messing’s boyfriend then
husband, cementing his gay heartthrob status in the process.
Married to former Victoria’s Secret model Jill Goodacre and the father of three daughters, Connick was in Chicago to promote the
affable romantic comedy New In Town. The film stars Renee Zellweger as a city girl transplanted to the harsh winter snows of small
town Minnesota (complete with outsized Fargo accents doncha know). Connick, naturally, plays the requisite dreamboat. And
dressed in a blue shirt and tie under a dark brown sweater, sipping a diet Coke, the easy going Connick personified that term.
Excerpts from his interview with Windy City Times:
WINDY CITY TIMES (WCT): You’ve had some extraordinary leading ladies so where does Renee Zwellweger fall on the leading lady
HARRY CONNICK, JR. (HCJ): I have. I was talking with my wife about that not long ago. They’re all extraordinary and Renee is no
exception. She’s very unique. I haven’t met anybody like her before. I mean, she’s incredibly smart. She approaches acting from
a different place. Life isn’t about acting for her. It’s really about art in general and acting is the way she’s found her success. She’s
one of those people who would probably be great at anything she did – whether it was a songwriter or even a singer or stage
performer. She’d probably be great at any of those things. She just happens to have found tremendous success in front of the
WCT: Well she has had success as a singer on film. She had that huge hit with Chicago.
HCJ: She was amazing.
WCT: Debbie Reynolds, when I interviewed, singled her out in that film. She said, “Now that little girl worked hard in that.” You
haven’t done a film musical since South Pacific which you did for TV but with musicals back on the big screen – any thoughts that you
might do one? You and Renee would be great in Pajama Game, for example.
HCJ: That would be fun. I’d like to do it but there’s a lot of factors and we are working on stuff. But to get a movie musical made
is very, very, very difficult. It is something I’d like to do; it’s something I hope I’ll be able to get to do but there’s just a lot involved
in making a musical. Hopefully I’ll get a chance to do that because I mean, that’s what I do. You know, as an actor/performer you
think it’s just a matter of picking up the phone and saying, “Let’s make it happen” but it’s really pretty complicated.
WCT: A lot of money involved.
HCJ: Yes, money and assembling the right team and getting the right property, getting a script together, I mean those things take
years to develop.
WCT: Work aside, films, TV, all your music projects, you’re the father of three girls, one about the same age as your daughter in
the film, just about 13.
WCT: So have you had that scene with a prospective young suitor like the one in the film?
HCJ: No. My daughter would kill me. She would absolutely kill me. I don’t think I’m going to be in that type of situation. What
appealed to me about playing this guy, not to undermine the importance of the work that I put into it but it is a romantic comedy
and it’s supposed to be a sort of light, fluffy movie but you do some work thinking about who the person you playing. I worked hard
on that and many of the things this guy did I would never do. Partially because I’m in a relationship, this guy’s not, his wife died. It
would be extremely difficult to deal with a lot of the situations that I’m dealing with as a dad without my wife to sort of balance the
WCT: You have done so many different kinds of roles, the cocky pilot in Independence Day, that crazy serial killer in Copycat…that’s
got to be one of your favorites.
HCJ: Oh yeah, absolutely, that was a blast.
WCT: And lots and lots of heartthrobs. Is there a role on film that you haven’t done? A certain kind of character?
HCJ: Well I’d like to do a musical. I think that would be a lot of fun but I don’t really think about the type of role. It doesn’t
matter. If it’s a bad guy, good guy, superhero, nerd, love interest in a romantic comedy, whatever. What I do like is the variety of
it; the surprise of it. I don’t know everyday what scripts are going to come across my desk. When this came along my agent said,
“Renee is doing this romantic comedy” and immediately I wanted to read it because I love Renee and wanted to work with her.
WCT: Now did you meet her before you start? To see how the chemistry is? That sort of thing?
HCJ: Yes. It’s different levels. I’ve done movies where they actually do a screen test to see if there’s any chemistry for whatever
that’s worth. With this particular time we met with the director in a restaurant in New York and immediately I felt like I knew her for
20 years within five minutes. Anybody would. She’s just that kind of personality. She’s a very, very fun, quirky, intelligent lady. I
think if we hadn’t of gotten along the movie probably would still have happened but it wouldn’t have been a very different prospect.
WCT: Now am I right, Jonas Elmer is a Swedish director?
WCT: Thank you. I don’t know his films.
HCJ: I don’t think he’s done any American films.
WCT: Was that difficult? Because you’ve worked with some tremendous directors.
HCJ: Yeah, I’ve been real lucky with that. He was great too, though. There was a slight language barrier and when you deal with
comedy sometimes he would have to ask, “Is that funny?” because we would say improvise something and he would seriously want
to know, “Is that a funny line in America?” and we would say, “Yes.”
WCT: (laughs) “Hold on, let me check with the crew – is that funny or not?”
HCJ: (laughing) It was kind of like that. But he did have a very clear idea of what he wanted to do and as first time as he was, he
was really a great director to work with. A really smart guy.
WCT: At the end of the movie, I was waiting for the Harry Connick, Jr. crooning on (snaps fingers and sings) “New in town, there’s a
new girl in town.” Where was that?
HCJ: Actually, it’s nice to keep them separate. Nobody ever asks me to do it. They didn’t ask me to sing in the film.
WCT: (incredulous) You’re kidding!?
HCJ: That’s fine. It just wasn’t the right thing for that.
WCT: (not buying this) Sinatra singing “The Tender Trap,” Harry Connick, Jr. singing “New In Town?!”
HCJ: Yeah but he sang in those, those were musicals that he did. You know what I’m saying? If it were a musical I think it would
WCT: I guess the movies also don’t do that so much anymore. They always used to tie in a song with every movie, no matter the
genre – I’m thinking Mancini with Moon River and Days of Wine and Roses.
HCJ: Right, right.
WCT: Now writing for a GLBT audience you know I have to ask you to talk a little bit about “Will & Grace,” one of your great
successes. That’s where you solidified your big gay heartthrob following. You must be pretty used to that by now, right?
HCJ: I grew up in New Orleans where everyone’s pretty much cool with everyone else and it’s just not something I think about, you
know what I’m saying? I’ve never really been a guy that really thinks “gay,” “straight” or even “black” or “white.” I grew up in such
a multicultural environment that being gay was a part of our lives as much as being straight or being Catholic was. I mean you’re
talking about a city where the biggest celebration we have, Mardi Gras, is based on the church and up until midnight on Mardi Gras
night it’s the most…I mean you can’t party any harder than that. So things co-exist and it’s been interesting to me as I’ve moved
around the world to see where things like homosexuality have been an issue for people. Like, it never computed to me. That just
never made any sense why that even comes up in conversation. You know what I’m saying?
WCT: I do know what you’re saying. You’re preaching to the choir Harry Connick, Jr. – go ahead!
HCJ: Obviously when it comes to rights it needs to be brought up but I’m talking about why it would affect someone’s outlook. It
just never made any sense to me.
WCT: And you were the first one to integrate Mardi Gras.
HCJ: That’s another thing. The guy who’s the captain of our parade is gay and I’ve known him since I was in high school. He’s one
of my dearest friends and it’s just not something I think or talk about. I like his boyfriend very much and we talk about that the
same way we talk about straight sort of boyfriends. I mean you’re talking about a city that has all types of people but no parade
represents all those people. There’s one black parade. There’s one female parade. And the rest of them are all white men. That
didn’t seem right to me. So I don’t care if there’s an all gay parade or all Jew or all Hispanic or black. That’s fine but something
that socially significant should represent everybody – at least in one part of it and I think ours does. There’s everybody in our
parade. I’m a Catholic and I don’t recall anything in the New Testament saying that gay is bad and I’ve really looked for it, you
know what I’m saying?
WCT: (laughs) Keep goin’ preach, this is a good sermon!
HCJ: Yeah! It’s just kinda silly to me; it’s ridiculous.
WCT: It’s great to hear that articulated so passionately. Thank you on behalf of My People and congratulations on your stellar
HCJ: Thank you man. My pleasure.