By Steve Persall
Times Movie Critic
Funny thing about sequels like Dolphin Tale 2, currently in production at Clearwater Marine Aquarium. Even their media days can seem awfully familiar.
Alcon Entertainment invited a couple of dozen entertainment reporters to the aquarium Monday for an update on how the 50-day shoot is proceeding near its midway point.
Everyone's having a wonderful time, happy to be back together in Clearwater. Winter the tailless dolphin seems to remember her human co-stars, and her BFF (best finned friend) Hope is adorable.
Technically an on-set visit, the closest any press pass-holders got to the set was a closed circuit television feed with the sound turned down.
But reporters got to ask Bethany Hamilton, the sunny, unself-conscious Soul Surfer, all about her cameo role playing herself in Dolphin Tale 2. And now and then, there were some freshly topical moments apart from the movie.
For instance, Morgan Freeman recalled his relationship with the late Nelson Mandela, that began when the actor planned to star in a movie based on the South African leader's autobiography Long Walk to Freedom. That project fell through (a version starring Idris Elba hits theaters Christmas Day) but Freeman played Mandela in 2009's Invictus.
"During that whole period, we became rather close because I told him … that if I was going to play him I needed access," Freeman said. "I needed to be close enough to hold his hand. He said that's fine, so there we were.
"I've known for the past three months that he was on his way out. When he was in the hospital with pneumonia, everybody was asking about him. I said I think he's just negotiating his pass. He probably got what he wanted before he left. He usually does. This was a life that will go on. They will always, always remember Mandiba."
On a lighter note, there was Harry Connick Jr. explaining how he's balancing Dolphin Tale 2, a concert tour and his new gig as an American Idol judge.
"Nothing really overlaps too badly," Connick said. "The most unusual circumstance was when I had bronchitis and had to (postpone) my show here (at Ruth Eckerd Hall). Then we reschedule it and that was actually the first time I've shot a film during the day and did a show at night.
"For most of the day, we were standing on a boat off of — is it Fort De Soto? — and then doing a show that night. It was a cool little mental shift."
Connick said he's settled in well with his American Idol co-stars.
"They are everything you would hope they would be, you know?" he said. "It's really a fun job. Probably the most fun you can have working in this business, for me, because it's everything I like to do. … I'm listening to singers all day. The other thing I don't get to do is perform. But I get to be around two really, really creative people. Keith Urban is a very talented guy, and Jennifer (Lopez) is a incredibly bright, a mega-power in this business. The three of us bring three different perspectives to it."