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Dolphin Tale Teens: Dolphins are smart and awe-inspiring!

Sep 22, 2011

By: Lynn Barker

Kidzworld is interviewing Nathan Gamble and Cozi Zuehlsdorff, the teen actors at the center of this inspiring film.

13-year-old Nathan Gamble and Cozi Zuehlsdorff play Sawyer and Hazel, two teens whose lives are both complicated and enriched by meeting and working to save Winter, the true-life dolphin who lost her tail due to an accident at sea.

Cozi and Nathan at the interviewCozi and Nathan at the interview

Sawyer is a sullen kid who is a mechanical wizard. He hasn’t been happy since his dad left the family. Discovering Winter stranded and dying on the beach is a new challenge for him. Hazel is the daughter of a marine biologist played by Harry Connick Jr. The dad and daughter care for wounded animals at a marine hospital. Hazel makes great friends with both Winter and new guy Sawyer.

Kidzworld: How awesome was making this film for you?

  • Nathan: When do ever get to swim with a dolphin? It’s pretty rare. I was a little nervous the first day. A dolphin can read people so I was a little nervous with Winter. What if she doesn’t like me? I didn’t know we were going to use the real Winter. I learned that sometimes she is temperamental but usually really sweet and an amazing creature.

Kidzworld: When you first met Winter, what did you do to get her to like you?

  • Cozi: For me it was mostly about being quiet and respectful of her, making sure you don’t try to get in her face a whole lot when you first meet her. But, once you respect her and are very gentle and insightful and perceptive on how she’s doing and don’t do something she wouldn’t like, then she’ll like you. She’s very social.
  • Nathan: Yeah, be respectful to her and be calm and it doesn’t hurt to have a pocketful of fish on ya! (we laugh). She likes capon and herring. I ate one.

Nathan in Dolphin TaleNathan in Dolphin Tale

Kidzworld: Ewww. Tell the story.

  • Nathan: Harry (Connick Jr.) ate a capon and dared me to. I thought, “Okay, just like sushi” so I crunched at the head and spit it out. “What am I doing? That’s so dumb!”
  • Cozi: I had to do a lot in Food Prep where you prepare the fish for the dolphins and one time I thought I was gonna be sick. They gave me this dull knife and this huge herring and wanted me to chop its head off. Blood was everywhere!

Kidzworld: Yuk! Cozi, were you a big dolphin fan before this?

  • Cozi: I liked them but didn’t realize how cool they were until I came here (the Clearwater Aquarium). On my first day, I swam with Panama who is kind of Winter’s great Aunt. There is nothing like it. They are so gentle. Their skin feels rough like a 3-D bookmark but wet and they shed a little bit.

Kidzworld: We know dolphins aren’t pets. They are very intelligent beings but do you have pets and what kind of special bond do you have with them?

  • Nathan: I have like a farm (in the Seattle, Washington area). I have 16 chickens, two dogs, a cat, a frog and a fish and we’re gonna get some peacocks pretty soon. One of the dogs is my personal dog and I love that guy with all my heart. With Winter, I started to think about Nick my little puggle because I feel really happy when I’m around him.
  • Cozi: I have a dog named Bandit and love him to death. I had cockatiels for a while and they are fun too.

Kidzworld: Did you have to research dolphins?

  • Cozi: No, because (I learned) everything on set. I asked lots of questions. I learned that dolphins are ‘conscious breathers’. They have to tell themselves when to breathe. They shut half of their brain off at a time. They sleep with one eye open and half of their brain is awake. That’s amazing. They have emotions. They like to get attention. They can sense when you are stressed out like dogs can. They have great memories. They are smart and awe inspiring.

Cozi Zuehlsdorff

Kidzworld: Cozi, your character Hazel talks fast and a lot and she forgets to lock doors. Are you like that at all?

  • Cozi: In some ways. I try to be a little more focused than Hazel. She’s definitely a lot like me.

Kidzworld: Nathan, are you like your character Sawyer?

  • Nathan: Not at all.. well, he’s nervous, shy and temperamental like Winter. He believes that everything is his fault. I’m only like that sometimes.

Kidzworld: We got to meet Winter at a set visit to the aquarium. We saw that she likes to learn new things and she’s quite a diva or a ham.  Do you guys remember any examples of that?

  • Nathan: (Her trainer) Abby had all these little hand signal tricks for Winter and one I really wanted to learn would make Winter splash water in our faces. Winter’s fave trick was doing that. And she liked spitting food on me.
  • Cozi: I remember when we were shooting a scene without Winter in it and she’d put almost her whole body out of the water and wave her little fins and open her mouth wide in a smile like “I’m over here! Pay attention to me!” And she’d make little noises.

Nathan Gamble

Kidzworld: That’s a diva all right. Nathan, Austin Stowell who plays your character’s older cousin, told us that you were really so awesome in his scenes with you. Did you like working with him?

  • Nathan: One scene where I thought, “This guy is an amazing actor and person” was a scene toward the beginning of the movie where I’m tinkering on a toy helicopter and he comes in and tries to bring me back to his party.  That was such a good scene for an actor. It was great to play off of him.

Kidzworld: What would be your advice to kids and teens if they see dolphins out in the wild?

  • Nathan: If they see them, don’t try to go up and feed or pet them because they really should only eat fish. If they eat any other kind of food, they get sick.
  • Cozi: And it can stress them out if you catch them and you aren’t their trainer. Leave them alone in the wild.  And go on the internet to learn more about them.

Kidzworld: What can kids do to bring more attention to the Clearwater Marine Aquarium there where you filmed the movie?

  • Cozi: Visit the Facebook page and the site but they are getting a lot more tourism because of the movie. They are doing great.
  • Nathan: They are doing a lot of renovations. We built a couple of tanks there for the movie that they kept.
  • Cozi: They are going to build a million dollar extension.
  • Nathan: They have other animals too, otters, turtles, all kinds of fish.
  • Cozi: Two sharks named Thelma and Louise.

Kidzworld: That’s great. I read that when you guys had the wrap party for the movie a new little orphan baby dolphin was discovered or brought in. Did you see it? 

  • Cozi: I heard about it right as we wrapped and I was so happy about that. Maybe that one will be in Dolphin Tale 2! We’ll see it soon I guess because we’re going to the aquarium.

Kidzworld: What scene was each of your favorite and what scene was so hard that you wouldn’t want to do it again?

  • Cozi: I would never want to do the blender scene again (where goop goes all over her) and I would like to do the night shoot again and the popsicle scene.
  • Nathan: I would love to do the blender scene and would hate the one at night.. (laughs). I’m kidding. All the scenes with Winter were such a blast but the hardest scene was also swimming with Winter because I had to hold my breath for a long time. That was really difficult.

Kidzworld: What is a big misconception about dolphins? What do people just have wrong about them?  

  • Cozi: They think that if they see a dolphin in the ocean they can just swim right up and dance with it. But don’t do that. Only if the trainer says it’s okay. If you do one of those swim with the dolphins things, make sure you give any animal in the water the respect it deserves. 
  • Nathan: Give them room and don’t go up and feed random food to them. The oldest dolphin there, Panama, was at the aquarium because somebody in a boat fed her fish she wasn’t used to and human food and it made her sick.
  • Cozi: So she beached herself. And they’re not fish (they are mammals). Morgan Freeman’s character in the movie calls her a fish.

Cozi at the premiereCozi at the premiere

Kidzworld: What is the biggest lesson you learned from Winter? What can she teach us?

  • Nathan: Not to give up hope! There are a lot of people out there with a disability so don’t give up hope because Winter didn’t give up hope even though she had no tail. A lot of people will think, “Hey, she didn’t give up. I won’t either”.
  • Cozi: Also that animals have feelings. Don’t think of them as just creatures. You have to believe that Winter has a heart.

The cast at the Dolphin Tale premiereThe cast at the Dolphin Tale premiere

Kidzworld: Do you feel sorry for Winter?

  • Cozi: I have pity for Winter because she’ll never be able to be released. She won’t have a normal dolphin life but when I see her trainer go into the tank and she looks at her, I think Winter has the best life that she could ever have. She’s persevered through a lot. She’s a brave little dolphin.

Kidzworld: What is next for you guys?

  • Cozi: I did a (demo) tape and am waiting to hear on something and I’ve shot more commercials and looking forward to a bright future.
  • Nathan: I did an episode of “NCIS: L.A.”