The young human stars of Dolphin Tale, Nathan Gamble and Cozi Zuehlsdorff, are back for the delightful sequel. They conducted a charming Q&A session after a screening in Washington, D.C., always remembering to say “Good question!” to the children who raised their hands, and warming the hearts of the locals by praising their visits to the local monuments. I very much enjoyed talking to them, two of the nicest, brightest kids I have ever met, and with the same chemistry off-screen that makes them so good together in the film. They were just 12 when they made “Dolphin Tale,” and are now both 16, so they have been working together for a quarter of their lives, and they stay in touch by text when they are home with their families, Cozi in California and Nathan in Seattle.
One addition to the cast in the sequel is Hope, the young dolphin whose rescue and “pairing” with Winter are the a key part of the plot. I asked Nathan and Cozi to tell me about the personalities of the two dolphins. “They are similar in the way that you can connect with them because they are very personable creatures,” Nathan said. “But they are different because Hope is a very energetic, fun-loving bundle of energy and Winter is more gentle. She is really there just to hang out not really to do all the funny crazy stuff.” Cozi said that if she could ask them a question, she’d ask, “What do you think we are doing when there are cameras in the water? What do you think is happening?” Nathan was surprised by “how easy it is to interact with them. When I first met Winter before I heard the trainer going through all the do’s and don’ts and I was pretty nervous.” He was worried he would hurt her because there was so much to remember. “But really with Winter and Hope it’s very easy to swim with them and connect with them. I’m not nervous around them at all.” “What surprised me is how distinct their personalities are,” Cozi said. “You see dolphins in the wild and you kind of go, ‘Oh look how cute!’ And they all look kind of the same. But when you’re with them you totally feel their personalities. In that way they’re very human-like.” They both understood why dolphins cannot survive alone. “They are social,” Nathan said. “They’re just awesome that way.”
They both felt they’d brought what they had learned from the first film and just from being more grown up to their characters and to the other actors. “I don’t think I’m as nervous that much I think especially on the first one with my first leading role where I was the main protagonist in it and it was all very new to me. And now that I’ve done that I’m not as nervous and I think I am very confident in that way,” Nathan said. Cozi added, “I think for me it is easier to grasp how important it is to stay focussed. That’s another thing like being respectful to the other actors; you really understand that it’s important to give as much as you can even when you’re completely off camera to aid them. It’s so disrespectful, like making funny faces.”
Charles Martin Smith directed the first one, but with the sequel he directed, wrote the screenplay, and appeared on screen as well, as a stern but not unsympathetic government official. Both Nathan and Cozi loved working with him, and enjoyed watching him in his early films like “Never Cry Wolf” and “Starman.”
Cozi wrote and performed a song called “Brave Souls” that is played over the closing credits. She talked about how much she appreciated being around Kris Kristofferson and Harry Connick, Jr., who play her grandfather and father. Surprisingly, she said Morgan Freeman also loves music and did more singing around the set than the two musicians. “He sang ‘Night and Day’ and it was lovely.” She said her notebook is filled with “scribbles” from her conversations with Connick about music. “He doesn’t treat me like a kid in that musical sense. He talks to me until I go ‘I have no idea what you’re saying,’ then he’ll clarify. I would play a really tough piece and he’ll say what chord is that?”
There’s a great story behind the shoes that Cozi wears in the film. “Hope Hanafin who is our costume designer, she’s like one of my favourite people. Hope was so knowledgeable and so intelligent about never buying something in a store that my character couldn’t afford. But she said, ‘I want Hazel to have some really cool shoes. Do you like to draw and would you like to draw on your shoes? Because a lot of people do that. You know like they’ll take blank white shoes and they’ll draw on it. So she gave me some yellow shoes because yellow is my favourite colour and she gave them to my sister and my sister took all my favourite quotes from shows like ‘Doctor Who’ and Bible verses and just like anything that I loved and put them around the base of the shoes. And then she drew dolphins all over them and a sunrise and waves with the dolphins breaching and jumping over and birds in the air. And every dolphin has a little name. And it was all my best friends’ names so now I can say to all my best friends that they were there in the movie. You really see the shoes in the scene where we’re lowering the stretcher and Winter got scared. There’s a whole shot where you can totally see the shoes.”
Nathan talked about playing a character who is very interior, “which is totally opposite of me. I’m a very outgoing person and I talk a lot. So, you’ve got to find little things you can relate to and just build on that. Sawyer is shy but also he is just passionate about things. Not a ton of things but when he finds that thing that he really loves, he really is passionate about it and he is going to devote his life to it. That’s how I am so I just sort of build off that and see how I can morph that into a real life character.”
They enjoy the questions they get from children when they show the movie or appear on behalf of the aquarium. Some kids offered to share their popcorn. Some just say, “I have a question! …..You are cool!” But some ask thought-provoking questions about what is real in the movie (yes, Cozi really cries, but if what they are doing would be even a little bit dangerous for the animals, they use robots). And in some scenes, where they appear to be interacting with the animals, they were just looking at a tennis ball to show them where their eyes should go. Nathan said he prepares for those shots by closing his eyes and picturing what his character would really be seeing “and kind of match it together.” And Cozi said, “I kind of think of it as a game for myself like how emotional can I get when I look at the tennis ball? Ii is kind of like a fun challenge, like how much realness can you put into staring at a tennis ball. Sometimes there is this full second where you go, ‘This is so weird!’ And you just kind of go, ‘Okay, forget it. Now I’m just going to do it.’” One surprise was that the water, which looks very warm and comfortable in the film, was very cold and salty.
They would both love to make a “Dolphin Tale 3.” Nathan said that he would like to return from the adventure we see him begin at the end of the movie “almost like a totally new person.” Cozi said she would like to have her character meet a new volunteer who might make Sawyer feel a bit displaced. “I hope that she would be happy and strong and really, really starting to own up to the fact that one day she will probably run the aquarium.” But she thinks before she can do that, Hazel would have to “travel around the world in the same boat that her dad and her grandfather travelled the world in, and then she can find out where she belongs.”
They are both grateful for what they have learned from the movie and from the dolphins. “I learned so much just from the countless stories of families and people who have been inspired by Winter. It’s really cool to just see in person what Winter has done for so many people.”