Code for Living
catching up with Harry Connick Jr.
By Daria Sockey
Harry Connick Jr. talks about his faith, being a dad, and his recent role in Dolphin Tale 2
Before Pope Benedict XVI’s 2008 Mass at Yankee Stadium, Harry Connick Jr. performed at the pre-Mass concert. At one point he quipped, “Folks ask me if I’m a practicing Catholic. I tell them, ‘Yes, I am. Gonna keep practicing until I get it right.’”
The son of a two lawyers—Catholic dad, Jewish mom—Joseph Harry Fowler Connick Jr. was not baptized as an infant. His mother felt that he should choose his religion when he was older, although Connick says his parents both believed in God, his mother knew more about Catholicism than most Catholics, and they both set an example of Christian living by their everyday lives. Harry did eventually choose his religion, and he was baptized at the age of 14 while attending Jesuit High School in New Orleans. He is an accomplished pianist, singer, and actor, with eight platinum or multiplatinum albums, three Grammy awards, two Emmys, and Tony-nominated work on Broadway. He has appeared in 22 movies. He was a judge during the most recent season of American Idol.
Catholic Digest recently spoke with Harry, just in time for the September 12th opening of his latest film, Dolphin Tale 2. He reprises the role of Dr. Clay Haskett, a marine aquarium director with a headstrong teenage daughter. The film is based on a true story about rescued dolphins at the Clearwater Marine Aquarium in Florida.
Many of the cast members from the original Dolphin Tale returned to appear in the sequel, which speaks well for their experience in the original film. What do you think most attracted them?
It was a combination of things for me, and I shared that with the rest of the cast. To begin with, the whole experience of the original Dolphin Tale was amazing. First, Charles Martin Smith—who wrote and directed both films—is great to work with. He creates a wonderful environment for the actors. Then, the subject matter—everyone loves marine life and especially dolphins, and to be able to shoot these films there at the aquarium with the actual animals is such a rare opportunity that you don’t want to miss it. With the first film we all fell in love with the entire process. When it came time to decide about the sequel, my only concern was, “Is the story any good?” Well, given that Charles wrote it, I had no doubts. In fact, in some ways it’s even better than the first one, more complex. So it was an easy call to accept the offer.
How is the sequel more complex?
This time it’s not as completely centered on the dolphins. It also deals with the relationship between the aquarium director and his daughter. I play a single dad who’s trying to figure out both challenges in his professional life and how to be a good father to a teenager. Given the daughter’s drive and intelligence and the fact that she’s growing up so quickly, it’s a lot to deal with—my plate is full, watching her as any dad would and realizing that at a certain point in a child’s life you have to step back and distance yourself a little. It’s about how my character handles and processes this stage in his daughter’s life. (Editor’s note: Harry has three daughters, ages 18, 17, and 12, so this part of his role didn’t need much extra preparation.)
On another topic: Many of us Catholic parents were cheering for you last winter when, as a judge on American Idol, you counseled a young singer to choose songs with lyrics that were more age-appropriate. We are so grateful for what you said because your comments hopefully gave teen viewers something to think about regarding the music they choose to sing or listen to. Do you want to comment any further about that, and what do you say to your own girls about these kinds of choices?
Several contestants on Idol used the same song—the lyrics were all about having sex with some guy in a bar. For the 15-year-old in particular, I didn’t think it was appropriate—I mean, I wondered who would think that this was okay! Another contestant was over 18. I didn’t condemn her, but I wanted her to be aware of what she was singing. Sometimes people just sing words without being cognizant of what they’re about. As for my kids—all I can do is share my values and do the things I say I believe in. Hopefully, when they get old enough, they will be able to make good decisions.
Success in the entertainment world exposes a celebrity to temptations or situations that can threaten one’s marriage and ultimately destroy one’s family. What helps you stay grounded, and what part does your Catholic faith play in helping you to “walk the line?”
For me, my marriage always comes first. I believe what I believe. I think it’s important to have a code to live by. The Catholic Church has so many positive messages, and my faith has been a great source of strength. It’s the foundation—everything else comes after that. If you keep what’s important in your line of sight, it’s difficult to go astray. Being grounded in marriage and faith enables me to have the type of life I have. It works for me.
You work takes you away from home quite a bit. How do you manage the important role of being a father while you are away?
My kids know they are important to me; they know they have my undivided attention when they need it. Some days I leave in the morning and come home at night like everyone else; other times I’m gone for weeks. Through FaceTime, phone, and texting, we are all very present in each other’s lives. It’s rare for any family to be together all the time, and there are lessons to be learned from the experience of being away. That’s just my life, and we are all okay with it. When I’m home, we love to just relax and do normal things together—go shopping, go out to eat, go to the gym to work out together, or hang around at home watching movies. We just take the day as it comes.
It’s nearly nine years since Hurricane Katrina, an event that impacted you deeply. At the time some commentators famously questioned, “Where was God during Katrina and its aftermath?”—with the implication being that there was no God if such a thing could happen. How would you answer that question?
I don’t have an answer for it…. Everyone has to find their own way on that. I can only say that my faith did not waver, just as my faith does not change or waver because something especially good happens. I don’t think a catastrophe on earth is the result of something God did directly. Everyone believes what he or she chooses, but my faith did not waver.
You really put that faith into action by putting your time, talent, and treasure into New Orleans relief and rebuilding projects. Is there any specific result of your efforts in which you take particular satisfaction?
As a result of what we tried to do, the Musician’s Village came into existence, although so many people were a bigger part of that than I was. But it was an idea we didn’t let go of, and I’m pretty proud of that. (Editor’s note: the jazz musicians who play in local venues throughout New Orleans were particularly impacted by Katrina, because many of them work irregularly and have a hard time proving the financial stability needed to finance a home. Harry and jazz icon Branford Marsalis teamed with Habitat for Humanity to build a flood-safe neighborhood for younger families as well as the retired. Anyone who meets Habitat’s criteria may apply to live there, but musicians are especially encouraged, in order that the “heart and soul” of New Orleans—its music—will live on for future generations.)
Harry’s faith in song
What vocalist hasn’t put out a Christmas album—or two or three? Harry Connick Jr. has several, each a mix of secular songs and sacred carols. Notable are several of his original compositions, which express Harry’s faith in Christ lyrically. Listen to samples of “I Pray on Christmas” and “The Blessed Dawn of Christmas Day” from the album When My Heart Finds Christmas. Add them to your playlist and save for December.