Arts: Not bad for a boy from the Bayou

Harry Connick Jr looks set to fulfil his Sinatra sobriquet - from crooning schmaltzy songs, he now makes movies - bigtime.

HOOOO!, AS Harry Connick Jnr would say, describing "tornadoes, man" stalking the landscape of Austin, Texas, during the filming of his latest movie Hope Floats not far from his co-star (and executive producer) Sandra Bullock's new home. Hoooo! After all, Harry is legendary for his intense, tornado levels of ambition. Or as the oddly maternal Sandra (who personally chose him as her romantic lead) so delicately puts it, Harry has "a healthy ego".

Or does he? Back in 1991 he was being hailed as the new Sinatra, what with that soft-caramel, jazz voice and that zeal to act tough guys in the movies. Then the next thing anyone knew, Connick was being arrested in the post-Christmas rush at Kennedy Airport for trying to take an unlicensed 9mm gun on board a TWA flight to New Orleans in his spongebag.

Was he trying to out-Sinatra Sinatra? What was going on? Everything went dead after that. Connick simply disappeared. That massive approaching blip on the Big Time radarscope flickered and vanished - for a good 18 months or so.

Flash back five months from the arrest to summer, 1991. Picture Harry at Prince Philip's 70th birthday bash at Windsor Castle, crooning the self-penned "All of You" by special request of the toe-tapping Duke. How many 23-year-olds from the Bayou would have thought they'd be doing the Noel Coward thing for the Windsors in a private party as the sweet Thames ran softly by?

At that particular moment in time, Harry could afford to be a bit smug. He'd recently won a Grammy, had been Oscar-nominated for a song ("Promise Me You'll Remember" from Godfather III), had begun a promising acting debut in Memphis Belle (1990), and had produced a succession of wildly successful jazz LPs (several going multi-platinum, including the sound- track of When Harry Met Sally).

Flash forward. After the airport misdemeanour, the next thing anyone knew about him was a rumour in late 1993 that he had enrolled in a degree course at Georgetown University, to read law. He does now admit that this is so. It seems he lasted only a few weeks of term. What was he thinking? He tells me, unconvincingly, that he had a sudden, inexplicable urge to earn a degree as he "never was educated". Yet his biography shows that from the age of 18 he attended New York's Hunter College and the Manhattan School of Music - where he learnt, among other things, the complex and highly cerebral art of orchestration.

He claims he hates the work of his fellow New Orleans denizen Anne Rice, but I suspect that Harry has a southern Gothic streak to his soul, souped up by an Irish-Jewish gene-pool inheritance.

Try Jewish alienation and Irish melancholy. Perhaps a race memory surfaced as he tickled the ivories on that sunny Berkshire afternoon: the pogroms of Prince Philip's Romanov forbears, Cossacks riding down Connick's distaff ancestors back in old Kiev. Whatever.

"I find dark themes attractive," he tells me, conspiratorially. "I've seen a lot of darkness and I find it more interesting. When I sing "Oh I Love, You!" - that's nice - but when I sing about death, disease, I like that. I'd love to play slow tragic songs all day; I love it".

Sandra Bullock has mentioned that "there's so much pain in Harry's past", referring to the death of his mother of ovarian cancer when he was only 13. It affected him deeply. Harry himself has even speculated that the overtly "boyish" side of his nature is the result of some kind of "arrested development".

I asked Harry whether his mother would have liked Hope Floats, in which he plays a blue-collar Texas stud who saves the returning prom queen Sandra Bullock from the despair of a wrecked marriage (the sort of role a pre- lapsarian Rock Hudson so often performed). Harry doesn't blink as he replies. "Maybe not," he concedes, with unexpected truthfulness. "It borders on sennimentality and she was not a fan of that." Hooo! This man is wonderfully off-message for someone on a slick PR junket ("I think there were a lot of things that were undeveloped about my character," he tells me later, "which was kind of frustrating.")

His mother would have liked his celebrated role as a serial killer in Copycat, he says with some confidence. And no doubt his next role - as a rapist being let out of prison, would also intrigue her, as a former state judge from NYC, "whose favourite colour was black".

I ask him about the gun. He stalls. "You can get my statement from the police department," he says. Your "missing years"? He doesn't acknowledge them. Instead, he laughs, waves his big hands, does his gregarious, love- me Harry thing. Whatever his mysterious crisis was, it ended in 1994, with marriage, a new album and a US tour happening almost simultaneously.

The triple-platinum ambition is untarnished. It's telling when he finishes a question for me. "It seems to me that however fine your music is..." "It's not gonna get any bigger, yeah." Which seems to indicate a certain frustration with the genre of music for which he is the crown prince, big-band swing. It's clear that he's really been mulling it over in his head, and it's been bothering him somewhat. Move into movies, he's thinking, since you don't have it in you to make a pop record, and make it really big-time like your fellow top-gun in Independence Day, Will Smith (a cameo role there for Harry). Would he like to be Will Smith? "Sure, he gets $20m a movie, that's what I'm working so hard to achieve." He visibly collects himself. "Not for the $20m," he adds, hastily, "but for the opportunity to select what I want to do." Then what? The canvas chair and the riding crop. "My ego and my ambition wants to direct," he says. "But my head says wait until you have enough skill."

It's that Harry career tornado again.

`Hope Floats' is released on 13 November

Arts and Entertainment
Loaded weapon: drugs have surprise side effects for Scarlett Johansson in Luc Besson’s ‘Lucy’
film
Arts and Entertainment
Novelist Martin Amis at The Times Cheltenham Literature Festival

books
Arts and Entertainment
Alfred Molina, left, and John Lithgow in a scene from 'Love Is Strange'

After giving gay film R-rating despite no sex or violence

film
Arts and Entertainment
Robin Williams will be given a 'meaningful remembrance' at the Emmy Awards

film
Arts and Entertainment

tv
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
'The Great British Bake Off' showcases food at its most sumptuous
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Cliff Richard performs at the Ziggo Dome in Amsterdam on 17 May 2014

music
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Educating the East End returns to Channel 4 this autumn

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch will voice Shere Khan in Andy Serkis' movie take on The Jungle Book

film
Arts and Entertainment
DJ Calvin Harris performs at the iHeartRadio Music Festival

music
Arts and Entertainment
The eyes have it: Kate Bush

music
Arts and Entertainment
From left to right: Mark Crown, DJ Locksmith and Amir Amor of Rudimental performing on stage during day one of the Wireless Festival at Perry Park, Birmingham

music
Arts and Entertainment

books
Arts and Entertainment
Tim Vine has won the funniest joke award at the Edinburgh Festival 2014

Edinburgh
Arts and Entertainment
Peter Capaldi and Chris Addison star in political comedy The Thick of IT

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Judy Murray said she

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Tim Vine has won the funniest joke award at the Edinburgh Festival 2014

edinburgh
Arts and Entertainment
Jeremy Paxman has admitted he is a 'one-nation Tory' and complained that Newsnight is made by idealistic '13-year-olds' who foolishly think they can 'change the world'.

Edinburgh
Arts and Entertainment
Seoul singer G-Dragon could lead the invasion as South Korea has its sights set on Western markets
music
Arts and Entertainment
Gary Lineker at the UK Premiere of 'The Hunger Games: Catching Fire'
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Christian Bale as Batman in a scene from
film
Arts and Entertainment
Johhny Cash in 1969
musicDyess Colony, where singer grew up in Depression-era Arkansas, opens to the public
Arts and Entertainment
Army dreamers: Randy Couture, Sylvester Stallone, Dolph Lundgren and Jason Statham
film
Arts and Entertainment
The Great British Bake Off 2014 contestants
tvReview: It's not going to set the comedy world alight but it's a gentle evening watch
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

    Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

    The President came the nearest he has come yet to rivalling George W Bush’s gormless reaction to 9/11 , says Robert Fisk
    Ebola outbreak: Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on the virus

    Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on Ebola

    A Christian charity’s efforts to save missionaries trapped in Africa by the crisis have been justifiably praised. But doubts remain about its evangelical motives
    Jeremy Clarkson 'does not see a problem' with his racist language on Top Gear, says BBC

    Not even Jeremy Clarkson is bigger than the BBC, says TV boss

    Corporation’s head of television confirms ‘Top Gear’ host was warned about racist language
    Nick Clegg the movie: Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise

    Nick Clegg the movie

    Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise
    Philip Larkin: Misogynist, racist, miserable? Or caring, playful man who lived for others?

    Philip Larkin: What will survive of him?

    Larkin's reputation has taken a knocking. But a new book by James Booth argues that the poet was affectionate, witty, entertaining and kind, as hitherto unseen letters, sketches and 'selfies' reveal
    Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?

    Waxing lyrical

    Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?
    Texas forensic astronomer finally pinpoints the exact birth of impressionism

    Revealed (to the minute)

    The precise time when impressionism was born
    From slow-roasted to sugar-cured: how to make the most of the British tomato season

    Make the most of British tomatoes

    The British crop is at its tastiest and most abundant. Sudi Pigott shares her favourite recipes
    10 best men's skincare products

    Face it: 10 best men's skincare products

    Oscar Quine cleanses, tones and moisturises to find skin-savers blokes will be proud to display on the bathroom shelf
    Malky Mackay allegations: Malky Mackay, Iain Moody and another grim day for English football

    Mackay, Moody and another grim day for English football

    The latest shocking claims do nothing to dispel the image that some in the game on these shores exist in a time warp, laments Sam Wallace
    La Liga analysis: Will Barcelona's hopes go out of the window?

    Will Barcelona's hopes go out of the window?

    Pete Jenson starts his preview of the Spanish season, which begins on Saturday, by explaining how Fifa’s transfer ban will affect the Catalans
    Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

    We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

    Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
    Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

    Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

    Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
    Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

    The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

    Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
    Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

    Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

    Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape