INTERVIEW WITH Cozi Zuehlsdorff

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Alcon Entertainment's "Dolphin Tale" is inspired by the amazing true story of a brave dolphin named Winter and the compassionate people who banded together to save her life. Caught in a crab trap, a young dolphin's tale is severely damaged. She is rescued and taken to the Clearwater Marine Hospital, where she is named Winter. Due to the damage, Winter loses her tale, which might cost the dolphin her life. Winter's struggle for survival touches the lives of thousands of people around the world.

The film stars Harry Connick, Jr. as Dr. Clay Haskett, who runs the Clearwater Marine Hospital; Ashley Judd as Lorraine Nelson, a single mother; Nathan Gamble as her son, Sawyer, who frees Winter from the trap and forms a unique connection with the dolphin; Cozi Zuehlsdorff as Hazel, Clay's daughter, who befriends Sawyer; Austin Stowell as Kyle, Swayer's cousin; Kris Kristofferson as Clay's father, Reed; and Oscar® winner Morgan Freeman ("Million Dollar Baby") as Dr. Cameron McCarthy, who takes on the seemingly impossible task of crafting a prosthetic tail for Winter. The real Winter plays herself in the film.

At a recent round table interview, I had an opportunity to talk with Nathan Gamble and Cozi Zuehlsdorff about working on the film, modern-day heroes, and their true guiding star.

Q: What was it like filming the scenes swimming with Winter?

Nathan: An absolute dream come true. When I was first met Winter, during my audition, I saw how amazing and smart she was. She was fantastic to work with.

Q: Did they help you with interacting with the Dolphin?

Nathan: Yes, they did. Abby and Elaina - who are Winter's personal trainers - did a lot of that stuff.

Q: Nathan, you had to audition with Winter. How was that process?

Nathan: My mother told me, "You're going to Florida; but you haven't got the part yet. You have to audition with Winter." I thought that was kind of weird. Then when I saw her, she has to get used to people before she does all these tricks. I guess she got used to me.

Q: Cozi, how did you do with the pelican in the movie?

Cozi: I was scared at first. There were two pelicans - Ricky and Lucy - I loved the I Love Lucy reference. The pelicans have a sharp hook at the end of their beak. In the scene where we're scrambling with the ice and the fish and the pelican was snapping, it was scary. We did so many takes of that scene, there were fish scales all over my arms;I called them natural sequins, it was too gross to think of them as fish scales, and the pelican was chomping at the fish and us. It was pretty scary, because I never knew what the pelican was going to do.

Q: There were a lot of films this summer with super heroes and comic book heroes. This movie is separate from that dynamic. Has working on "Dolphin Tale" changed your perspective at what being a hero is?

Cozi: I think it's strange that a lot of kids are watching movies that are inappropriate for their age. They see movies with a lot of violence and our idea of heroes becomes these huge guys who aren't afraid to kill. It dilutes the idea of honor, integrity, trust and hope. I think Winter is so clean - she's just innocence - I think that is something that our culture needs.

Nathan: To me, I think that Winter is the real hero. What she does for those people with disabilities who come to see her - when she inspires them to not give up hope - to me, that is what heroism is.

Q: When you were younger, what movies did you watch that communicated heroism?

Nathan: I was a big fan of Indiana Jones; then I realized he was kind of a fake hero. The real heroes are the people who work hard and do their stuff right, like firefighters and policemen.
Q: Have you found any other heroes in your life?

Nathan: Actually, I have an uncle who is in the army. He told me about his career overseas and I thought, 'Wow; that is heroism to me.' Serving his country.

Q: One of the themes that the movie keeps coming back to was in the scene where Kris Kristofferson quoted from John Masefield's poem, Sea Fever, "I must down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and the sky, And all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by." If you had to say what your guiding star is in life, what is it?

Cozi: Jesus Christ, for sure.

Nathan: Hands down. Definitely. Follow the Lord. I try to be - well, not holy - but my whole family is very religious and I want to be like that too. So I try my hardest to be more in touch with the Lord.

Q: That's not common for people chasing a film career.

Nathan: I was talking to Mama about that. Back in the old days, people would openly talk about [their faith in Jesus]. Now people are quiet about it, because they don't want to offend anybody, which is really strange to me.

Cozi: I learn so much from Jesus, just from praying every morning on my deck in the hotel room. Watching the sun set at night. Thinking about how I can always trust in God. There were a couple of hard scenes in the movie; I had to jump in a 60 degree lagoon with manatees in it. I was so scared, I lost it one time. I realized after that that I needed to trust God, because we needed to shoot the scene again.

I prayed, "Lord, I give myself to You." At first, I expected Him to make the water warm; [laughs] I trust in God and the water will be warm. But it wasn't! But once I trusted in Him, that He would be with me in the cold water, I wasn't scared. I knew He was with me.


Paula K. Parker lives in a small town near Nashville, Tennessee, with her husband Mike. She writes articles, plays, reviews, books and inspirational devotionals. Learn more about her at

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