Dolphin Tale: Behind the Scenes

By Christa A. Banister | senior editor,
Posted: Tue, 09/27/2011 - 09:02

album promo image for Dolphin Tale: Behind the Scenes

Given Hollywood’s current appetite for sequels, prequels and countless remakes, it’s always a refreshing change of pace when a crowd-pleasing, family-friendly story with a certain wow factor makes its way to the big screen.

And for Harry Connick Jr., a GRAMMY-winning musician, Broadway star, actor and philanthropic advocate for a post-Katrina New Orleans, that was exactly what inspired him to star as Dr. Clay Haskett, a single father of a little girl who runs Clearwater Marine Hospital, in Dolphin Tale.

“I can respond to anything if it’s a really good story,” Connick said during a recent press junket in Clearwater, Fla., where the film was shot. “Not only was it well-written, but I was blown away by the fact it was true. Here I thought someone just had a good imagination, but this was so much better than fiction.”
In his role, Connick worked closely with dolphins, including Winter, who became a subject of national attention when she was rescued from the clutches of nearby crab traps in 2005. Severe damage to her tail prohibited her from swimming properly, and her chances of survival weren’t exactly promising.

But thanks to the tireless commitment of a dedicated marine biologist, the forward thinking of a brilliant prosthetics doctor, Dr. Cameron McCarthy, who’s portrayed by Morgan Freeman, and the unconditional love of a young boy, Winter was not only successfully rehabilitated but eventually served as a symbol of hope to anyone with physical challenges.

“When you look at a dolphin, you know there’s an undeniable connection,” Connick shares. “You can see the intelligence in their eyes, and it’s almost as if they can look right through us. I felt that the whole time I was making this movie, and it was an incredible experience.”

To prepare for the role, Connick went to Massachusetts to meet with a few marine biologists and see firsthand what their lives were like. “As an actor, there’s a certain amount of enthusiasm that goes into every character,” he says. “But these people were different than I’d expected. While excited about what they do, they are really calm in the day-to-day. So I definitely learned from everyone I talked to, especially that you truly have to be dedicated to working with animals, because even though it’s rewarding in one sense, there aren’t a lot of financial rewards.”

While Connick has certainly worked with an impressive list of co-stars in his career, including a trio of Oscar-winning women Renée Zellweger, Sandra Bullock and Hilary Swank, they apparently have some serious competition with Winter, who he, like most of the cast, fell in love with.

“It’s an extraordinary sensation to be so close with such a majestic animal,” Connick continues. “And where something else that sets this dolphin apart – maybe it’s what she went through or the fact that she survived when others wouldn’t have. Either way, it’s a privilege just being around her.”

A Welcome Return to Innocence
For newcomers Nathan Gamble, 13, and Cozi Zuehlsdorff, 12, who play Sawyer and Hazel, two kids who rarely leave Winter’s side, working with Connick and Morgan Freeman wasn’t exactly a bad way to spend a few months.

“Morgan was always singing on set, which was a lot of fun,” Cozi recalls. “But more than anything, I loved that Dolphin Tale was a story with an innocence that our culture needs.” An outspoken Christian who says she prayed to Jesus whenever she was doing a scene where she was afraid, Cozi says she’s drawn to stories where honesty, integrity and hope are the focal points.

The film’s director, Charles Martin Smith (Never Cry Wolf, Air Bud), echoes that sentiment, adding that he’s always been drawn to stories that explore man’s collision with nature. “I also loved that it was a love story, but not in the traditional, boy-meets-girl sense,” Smith continues. “It’s also a story about a shy boy finding a new family. There’s a feeling of family and community throughout, and it also empowers kids to do something meaningful with their time, rather than just watching television or playing video games.”

Dolphin Tale also reminds viewers that heroes often come in unconventional packages.

“We wanted to show the remarkably strong relationship Winter fostered with people who saw her as a sentient, feeling and intelligent being, worthy of the enormous time and energy required to help her,” says screenwriter Karen Janszen. “She pushed the humans around her to reach higher and be better – for her and one another.”

Rated PG for some mild thematic elements, Dolphin Tale, opens nationwide on Friday, September 23.

Click here to see a video from a special Dolphin Tale movie premiere.

Copyright 2011, For permission to repost or reprint, click here.


About the Writer

After graduating with a B.S. in Journalism from North Central University in 1998, Christa Banister moved from Minneapolis to Nashville, Tenn. and eventually started working at CCM Magazine/Salem Publishing in various editorial capacities as an editor, columnist and website guru for five and a half years. After that, she launched her own Dallas-based freelance writing company and writes for numerous clients including Salem Publishing, (she reviews movies for them each week), Christian Single, Christianity Today, Threads Media,, and also helped kickstart the first Christian music blog for MTV. In addition, she also writes bios for professional recording artists and authors and penned her first two novels, Around the World in 80 Dates and Blessed Are the Meddlers for NavPress.

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