News

Winter’s Tale

TFK chats with Harry Connick Jr. about working with the famous dolphin in a movie inspired by her life

September 23, 2011
COURTESY WARNER BROS.

Winter stars as herself in the new movie Dolphin Tale, in theaters September 23.

Winter is ready for a close-up! The dolphin, known for her artificial tail, is making waves in Hollywood in the new movie Dolphin Tale, in theaters September 23.

The film is based on the amazing story of Winter’s life. In 2005, when Winter was just a calf, her real tail was injured in an accident. She was rescued and brought to the Clearwater Marine Aquarium to be rehabilitated. But the injury was so bad that Winter’s tail could not be saved. Now, the bottlenose dolphin swims with a prosthetic tail—and gives hope to people across the country who also have disabilities.

Winter’s human costar Harry Connick Jr. says that she’s a natural actor. TFK spoke to Connick about working with the famous dolphin, and about his volunteer work in post-Katrina New Orleans.

TFK:

What was it that made you take the role?

HARRY CONNICK JR.:

I just thought it was a great story. It was well written, and I liked my character. I was a fan of my cast mates. Then I found out that this was a true story; that it really happened. All of these things combined led me to doing the film, and I’m really glad I did because I’m very proud of it.

TFK:

In the film, you play Dr. Clay Haskett, the director of the Clearwater Marine Aquarium. How would you describe him?

CONNICK:

He’s got a lot of perseverance, and he’s very determined. It’s hard to knock him off his game. When he believes in something, he tries to go after it. Sometimes he may put himself at risk, but he always has the big picture in mind. In the case of Winter, it pays off. Not only does Clay help Winter to live, but he helps to make great advancements in the world of human prosthetics as well.

Harry Connick Jr. stars as Dr. Clay Haskett, the director of the Clearwater Marine Aquarium.
JON FARMER
Harry Connick Jr. stars as Dr. Clay Haskett, the director of the Clearwater Marine Hospital.

TFK:

Clay is a bit of a jazz musician too, like you are in real life. Was that your idea or the filmmakers?

CONNICK:

That was something that was added later by Charlie Smith, the director. Clay plays the saxophone in one scene, and he plays the song, “Everything Happens to Me.” It’s an older song, and it has great lyrics about things going wrong. I think it’s very symbolic of what Clay is going through at that point of the movie, when it seems like [he can’t save Winter] and his world is crashing down around him.

TFK:

What was it like being in the tank with Winter?

CONNICK:

We spent a lot of time with her in the water. It was really neat. You have to treat her a little differently than the other dolphins. You have to move really slowly, and wait for permission to go into the tank and to go out of the tank. But it was really cool. She wasn’t afraid of us, and she let us hold her.

TFK:

How do you think she did in her feature film debut?

CONNICK:

She was amazing. They taught her all kinds of weird tricks. She learned to roll on her side and close her eye, to blow bubbles out of her blowhole, and to sink to the bottom of the tank. It wasn’t a typical work-with-animals kind of movie, either, where you usually have to wait all day for them to do something. She’s a very bright animal.

TFK:

Did it help to film at the actual Clearwater Marine Aquarium in Florida?

CONNICK:

It added a lot. The fact that we were in Winter’s environment working with the people who work with her everyday definitely helped. It made it easier to understand what my character was all about.

TFK:

On the last day of filming—which also happened to be almost exactly five years after Winter’s rescue—another dolphin calf was rescued. Were you there for that?

CONNICK:

I had already left for the day, but it was so neat to see it come full circle like that. That’s what these people at the aquarium do. They’re amazing at their job.

TFK:

You’re involved in rescue efforts of different a sort. You’ve helped to revive the musical tradition in your hometown of New Orleans in the years after Hurricane Katrina. The Ellis Marsalis Center for Music, which you cofounded, just opened. What was it like to walk through the completed center for the first time?

Nathan Gamble, who plays Winter's human friend Sawyer, and Harry Connick Jr. spend some time in the tank with Winter.
JON FARMER
Nathan Gamble, who plays Winter's human friend Sawyer, and Harry Connick Jr. film a scene in the water with Winter.

CONNICK:

We’ve been walking through various stages of it for a few years now, and to see it open was a great thrill. We’re so thankful to all the people that helped make it happen. It was great to walk through. I’m sure I’ll be spending a lot of time at the center, trying to pass on as much knowledge as I can.

TFK:

What are you most excited about with the opening of the center?

CONNICK:

I’m excited just to watch the kids come in and learn from the older people, which is what [music in] New Orleans is all about. To see the changes and to watch the traditions continue… that’s why we built it.

TFK:

Do you think New Orleans will ever return to the city it once was?

CONNICK:

I think it already has. In some ways, it’s better than it was before. The city is totally up and running. There are certain areas that still need a little work, but for the most part, it’s back.

TFK:

You’re raising even more money for the center with “A Lot Like Me,” your new song for American Girl (which just introduced two New Orleans-inspired dolls).

CONNICK:

We’re trying to. American Girl wanted to know how they could help the after-school program at the center. This was a great way to do it. My daughter Kate sings the song. She’s 13 and right in the American Girl age range.

TFK:

What’s the meaning behind the song?

CONNICK:

It’s about looking past what’s on the outside and realizing that friendship is about character and values and trust and sincerity, as opposed to what you look like. Like the lyric says: “We may not look alike, but she’s a lot like me. We come from different places, we have different faces, but she’s a lot like me.”


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