This week in theaters, the heartwarming story of Winter, the dolphin with no tail and the two children who stood by her no matter what, comes to theaters with Dolphin Tale. The film boosts an impressive cast including big names like Morgan Freeman, Harry Connick Jr., and Ashley Judd, but undoubtedly the characters that will win you over (aside from Winter) are the adorably charming, child-acting duo, Nathan Gamble and Cozi Zuehlsdorff. The actors come from completely different backgrounds, but they they both share a strong passion for acting, a love for Winter, and were able to speak about the film better than many of the adult actors I’ve spoken to. Find out what they had to say below…
When do you first meet Winter?
Nathan: I first met Winter on my audition, actually. They flew me in from LA to audition with her and to make sure that we could have that kind of bond.
Was it important that you and Winter bonded?
Nathan: It was very important, yeah. I thought I was going to be doing scenes and stuff, but they just wanted to see if we connected.
When you’re working with Winter or any of the other animals, does it get to be a point where they’ll say, “No more takes!”
Nathan: Yeah, the whole set sort of revolved around Winter. If she was happy, we were happy and if she was angry, we were angry.
Cozi: There was one time where she got really stressed out and what dolphins do is swim jaggedly around the pool. They’ll blow their blowholes and you can see that they’re angry. The trainers are very protective of her and will step in and say, “She doesn’t want to hang out right now.” They’re like mama dolphins. They’ll say, “Winter doesn’t want to do anymore” and everyone would step off. If anyone dropped a big piece of machinery, it was like, “What are you doing?!?
One time, they were doing stretcher training, which is to get her used to getting into a stretcher in case she ever becomes injured or has a stomach problem or anything. One of the workers came by and accidentally dropped a huge pole right as they were blowing the whistle. Suddenly, she thinks that whenever she goes into her stretcher, a huge pole is going to drop and she’s going to hear a loud noise. It’s hard to unlearn something when you’re a dolphin. There are definitely a lot of precautions that are taken.
And Cozi, what was your experience like meeting Winter for the first time?
Cozi: It was really interesting because they take such good care of her that it’s so quiet all around her. They make sure that she’s not stressed out in any way. It was a nice, still day and it was sunny and her little eye looks up at you. You can tell that she’s thinking and that she’s bright and intuitive and is forming an opinion about you. An opinion is formed in the first ten seconds when you meet someone and you can tell that Winter was doing that, too.
Did Winter have any doubles?
Nathan: Yeah. It was called “Plan B”. It was a blow-up dolphin. In fact, they gave me, for my birthday, “Plan B”, which everybody signed. It was so cool. The whole crew signed it. I thought it was really neat.
Was it hard to leave her when the filming was done?
Nathan: I definitely think so. After spending three months with this magnificent creature, you just want to spend more time. But we had to go.
Cozi: I was really sad. And I got to spend a lot of time with all the animals for the first two weeks. I was chopping fish and I was feeding the otters and turtles and everything. It was really hard to leave all of them. They all kind of looked up at me and were like, “Goodbye!”
What kind of things did they tell you before meeting Winter to help prepare you?
Cozi: The wanted us to be calm.
Nathan: No sudden movements.
Cozi: You’re not supposed to shout or anything. It’s very quiet.
Can you talk about the two of you meeting for the first time and what that experience was like?
Nathan: I thought she was kind of a diva (laughs). No, Cozi was just an absolute blast to work with. You would never be able to tell that this was her first movie because she was just so professional and an absolute blast to work with.
Cozi: It was great to meet Nathan as well. The scenes worked really well. We both had the same kind of timing. The lines came pretty naturally and it was really fun to audition. I had never really done that, where you go to an audition and you read the lines with someone who is really your age and someone is the right character. It was fun to feel like Hazel for the first time.
Nathan, did you ever offer Cozi any advice?
Nathan: You know, when I worked with her, I honestly didn’t feel like she needed any advice. I was just really impressed. She said it was her first movie and I was like, “You’re kidding, right?” She was really just professional to work with.
Cozi, this was your first film job, but you had done theater before, right?
Cozi: I had done a lot of theater, yeah. That helped me considerably. There were a couple times where I had to mellow out a bit more because I’m used to projecting and using so much body language. In a movie, the camera is right there and you don’t to go (emphatic:) “Hello everyone!”. That and just getting to learn my marks because you have be able to look down just a little bit and see your mark.
What have you done in theater?
Cozi: I did Annie in “Annie”. Dorothy in “The Wizard of Oz”. I was Charlie in “Willy Wonka”, which was really fun. I had a bob at the time, so I just threw it up. I’ve done a lot of shows. I was Jo-Jo recently in “Suessical”. What a show! You’re surrounded by animals. That was really fun. I’ve done a LOT of theater.
Are your characters based on real people at all?
Nathan: No, actually.
Cozi: Winter is true. And Morgan Freeman’s character is, too, kind of. There was a doctor who gave Winter a prosthetic tale. It’s not like one of those movies that ends with “Hazel now lives…” But there are a lot of neat, real pictures at the end of the movie that show how Winter still lives and has touched the lives of many children with prosthetics.
One of the fun things about it is that it’s kind of made for kids and is told from a kid’s perspective. Was that something that was encouraged on-set, for it to be told from your point of view?
Cozi: I guess so, in some ways. Charles, the director, wouldn’t give us much direction on how to say our lines. Of course, if there was something a little bit off in what we were doing, he’d correct us. But mostly he’d let us use our body language or whatever to make sure that he’s not over-directing us and having us do something that our character wouldn’t do. It’s more like whatever I would do naturally and whatever Nathan would do.
Can you both talk a little about working with the adult cast?
Nathan: I absolutely loved working with Harry. I was so nervous, thinking, “Okay, I’m gonna meet Harry Connick Jr. now”. But when I first got there and talked with him, I just said, “Wow, this guy is the best.” He’s funny and a great person to act with. He just makes the set real comfortable and stuff. I became really good friends with him. I think we both did.
Cozi: I remember meeting him about an hour before Nathan did and we went into food prep, which is all the fish stuff. I knew he was a really nice guy because he was immediately like, “Call me Harry” because I was calling him Mr. Connick and all that stuff. He was just really great and really warm. I remember him meeting Nathan and them shaking hands and he whispered to me, “I don’t like him!”
What about Morgan Freeman?
Nathan: He was great, too. I remember one time that it was November or December and it started to get a little cold, which is like 60 or 70 degrees here. We were in the water and my lips started to turn blue and I was shivering. He told the crew, “Hey, we’ve gotta get this kid out of here. He’s gonna freeze.” I thought it was really cool that he stepped up and did that.
Can you talk a little about Rufus, the bird?
Cozi: I was so scared of Rufus. He had a hook on the end of his beak. When it hits you in the face, it’s like snap! I liked the real Rufus better than the puppet Rufus because with the puppet Rufus, the guys would just get right in there and just clap on your head and stuff. It was like, “There’s a bubble, okay!” But Rufus was especially into cold fish and ice and stuff. I guess he wasn’t warm and fuzzy.
Nathan: I loved Rufus. I thought he was the funniest looking thing I had ever seen. When I had scene with him downstairs with the underwater tanks and stuff, he would grab the fish and the ice and shift through. It was really weird, but it was really cool.
Cozi: He would go [munch, munch, munch] and the ice would fall out of his mouth.
What kind of experiences would you tell your friends about when you came back from shooting?
Cozi: I would tell them about the blender scene. Roasted red pepper, milk, bread and hotdogs. Nathan had to go step out after that one.
Nathan: There were hotdogs in my hair!
Cozi: They were going to use milk and raw squid and I said, “Do you mind if we use stuff that’s cooked?” So they used the other stuff, but the smell in that place! It was not pretty.
Nathan: My experience was that I got so used to being around Winter and she got so used to being around me that whenever Abby or Elena would pull me back, Winter would push Abby off and circle around me because she felt like she owned me or something. That was really cool.
See Nathan, Cozi and Winter in Dolphin Tale starting this weekend, September 23rd!