Spending three months up close and personal with Winter the dolphin at Clearwater Marine Aquarium would be a dream for many kids. For Nathan Gamble and Cozi Zuehlsdorff, the experience has been business and a pleasure.
The 12-year-old actors are the youngest cast members of Dolphin Tale, a movie that just wrapped up filming in Pinellas County and is set for release in fall 2011. It is based on Winter's life and near-death story.
Well, Winter is younger at 5, but like Nathan and Cozi, she's smart beyond her years.
Nathan is the old pro of the pair, with roles in such hits as The Dark Knight, Babel and Marley & Me. He's playing Sawyer, a loner who befriends Winter when she loses her tail and it's replaced with a prosthetic.
Cozi got the role of Hazel — daughter of the aquarium's director (Harry Connick Jr.) — with her first movie audition, after appearing in children's theater and commercials. Chatting alongside Nathan between takes, her casting led to the first question:
Why do you think you landed a role your first time trying?
Cozi: When you come into the audition room you're either right (for the role) or you're wrong. It's not, like, are you doing a bad job or good job. I guess I was exactly what they were looking for. When I read the description for the character, it was: Caucasian girl with blond hair and freckles. (She raises her hands in a "Here I am" gesture.)
How is Winter as a co-star?
Nathan: I think this whole movie thing is going to her head. (Laughs) No, she's just an amazing animal. She's exactly like a human. She has days that aren't so great, and days when she's really excited, and days when, you know, it's just work.
Cozi: A lot of people say she's, like, the socialest dolphin ever. I believe that. She reminds me of a horse, the way she can sense your feelings. … They know when you're going to give them fish. Whenever Abby (Stone), her trainer, is teaching her a new behavior, Winter will memorize every muscle she just flexed, everything she just did, so she can do it again.
Nathan: And get more fish.
Cozi: Exactly. It always comes down to the fish.
You have impressive human co-stars, too. What are they like?
Nathan: Harry is so outgoing, so nice. He just wants to participate with everything here.
Cozi: And he's never too busy to joke around with us. I mean, goodness, I'll be sitting with him and his assistant will come up with, like, 40 things to autograph and he'll do it. He just loves his fans and he always has time for everybody. And Morgan Freeman hums all the time. You're never with him when he's not singing a jazz tune.
Nathan: Every song imaginable, he's singing it. In fact, I think I miss that hum-singing man.
Cozi: (in a faked pout) Yeah. …Where's the jazz man?
What music do you listen to?
Nathan: Don't tell Harry, but I'm not a very big music fan. (Cozi gasps.) I like to read, play Ping Pong and football. Video games, of course.
Cozi: I adore music. I play piano, and I was playing at school and Harry just comes in and starts doing all these jazz chords. Just went crazy on our keyboard. It's so cool to have, like, a musical mentor here.
Steve Persall can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8365. Read his blog, Reeling in the Years, at tampabay.com/blogs/movies.