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Stars, director of 'Dolphin Tale' didn't sample a lot of Tampa Bay nightlife

Movie stars and directors lead glamorous lives, right? Not according to the Dolphin Tale principals, when asked about their after-work pastimes in Clearwater during filming last fall.

From the sound of it, Winter the bottlenose dolphin might have an easier time leaving her aquarium pool for a night on the town.

Morgan Freeman prefers being a homebody on the road. Harry Connick Jr. found one out-of-the-way place and kept going back. Director Charles Martin Smith was too focused on the task at hand to play tourist, or even realize how close a favorite restaurant was located to his temporary digs.

"It's really sad," Smith said during Wednesday's media junket at the Hyatt Regency Clearwater Beach Resort and Spa, where he was promoting his movie, opening nationwide Sept. 23. "I always joke about the fact that I can't put a little legend across the bottom of the screen saying: 'I'm sorry this scene isn't any better, but I went out to this great restaurant the night before.' Or: 'I went to this museum and saw this wonderful thing so I didn't have time to prepare.' I have to put absolutely every ounce of my energy into the movie. That's one of the reasons I came back early this time, so I could just relax."

A sunset stroll Tuesday night on Clearwater Beach made Smith aware of what he hadn't missed but rather misplaced.

"We had lunch a few times at Frenchy's Rockaway Grill and I was staying at the Sandpearl (Resort)," Smith said. "We'd drive around looking for locations and stop in to eat.

"Last night I walked down the beach to the Sandpearl and realized I didn't know it's (Frenchy's) located next door to the hotel. I lived here for five months and didn't know that. I was so focused on this movie that I had no idea it was there. I never even walked along the beach until last night."

Connick spent most of his down time resting or leaving town for concert dates with his jazz band. When he did venture outside his room, it was usually farther north than autograph seekers might expect.

"There's this one restaurant in Dunedin and I'm blanking on the name right now," Connick said, "a Mexican restaurant and the people were very kind to me. I went there 50 times, probably. (His assistant later reminds Connick it's Casa Tina.) Other than that, I really didn't hang out too many places, only because I try to get as much sleep as I can. I'm not a big hanger-out guy anymore."

Freeman lowered his head and cast those familiar, limpid eyes at the question.

"You're asking the wrong person, and I'm going to tell you why," he said, in that even more familiar baritone. "I don't do anything. I go to work, get up in the morning and go to the set. In the evening I go back to the hotel. I will generally find some nice restaurants, go eat and go home. I don't sightsee, I don't tour."

Why is that?

Freeman said in a conspiratorial whisper: "Primarily because it's so difficult to go around. You've got to hide. People come chasing you with cameras and stuff. You can't go to the museum or anywhere."

Not even in New York or L.A., where celebrity sightings are common occurrences? "No, no" Freeman replied with mock exasperation.

"I remember in Ireland one night I was going back to the hotel from a pub and I heard this (sound of running feet) coming behind me, and someone threw their arms around from behind. It was a young woman. She was, like, 'Morgan Freeman! Morgan Freeman!' I said: 'Goodness, child, you scared the daylights out of me.' She's like: 'Oh, I just love you, I love you.' "

With a devilish nod and satyr's voice, Freeman finished his story: "And how old are you?" Pleased with the laughter that provoked, he shifted back to his normal voice:

"No, don't get around much anymore."

Steve Persall can be reached at persall@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8365. For more with Freeman, Connick and Smith, check out the Dolphin Tale special edition of Weekend on Sept. 22.

Creating a splash

• Winter causes a tsunami of tourism advertising. 4B

• Trademark shields Winter's likeness from knockoffs. 4B

Online: Find all of the latest news about Winter and Dolphin Tale and follow Steve Persall's Twitter updates (#DolphinTaleSPT) at tampabay.com/winterstale

Stars, director of 'Dolphin Tale' didn't sample a lot of Tampa Bay nightlife 09/14/11 [Last modified: Thursday, September 15, 2011 11:21am]

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