The film reunites Oscar winner Morgan Freeman, and actress Ashley Judd who first worked together on the 1997 action-thriller Kiss the Girls and then again in 2002 on the suspense-thriller High Crimes. Rounding out the cast are actors Nathan GambleThe Dark Knight, Harry Connick Jr. (New in Town}, and Kris Kristofferson (Blade).
Last fall we had a chance to travel to Tampa, Florida and visit the set of the movie, which is actually being filmed in 3D. We also had the chance to visit the aquarium where the movie takes place, as well as watch some filming and even meet the real Winter, who actually plays herself in the film. We also had a chance to speak with director Charles Martin Smith about shooting the film in 3D as well as actors Morgan Freeman, Ashley Judd, and Nathan Gamble who plays Sawyer in the film.
We began our tour at the Clearwater Marine Aquarium where upon arrival we were delighted to meet the real Winter, the actual dolphin whose story the film is based on. Winter plays herself in the film and not since Howard Stern in Private Parts has a mammal actually played himself or herself in a motion picture based on his or her own life story. While Winter was swimming around in her pool, we had a chance to pet her and actually feel her prosthetic fin, which felt almost real but kind of foamy. We went in to the aquarium where the 2nd-unit crew was filming a scene that involved a toy helicopter flying around the room. While there we also had an opportunity to see seals, turtles and even touch a few stingrays.
Once we left the aquarium we went to the set where actors Morgan Freeman, Ashley Judd, and Nathan Gamble were shooting a scene. In the movie Nathan Gamble plays Sawyer, the boy that rescues Winter and Ashley Judd is his mother, while Morgan Freeman portrays Dr. McCarthy. The scene they were shooting involves Sawyer asking the doctor to build a prosthetic fin for Winter. It was shot in 3D and we had a chance to watch it in playback on a 3D screen.
While they were setting up for the next shot we were joined by actress Ashley Judd, who was gracious enough to answer a few questions. The actress began by telling us what it was that she liked about the script. "I didn't know it was true story when I was reading it. When I was done I thought that the writer needed to be taken out and shot! This is just so emotionally manipulative, and how dare they have the audacity to incorporate every touching storyline imaginable," she explained.
"A little boy abandoned by his father who idolizes his hero cousin who's a great athlete and a soldier too. That's criminal. Then I saw seewinter.com and it dawned on me that it was a true story. Then I thought it would be a wonderful thing to be a part of. I'm also turning in my first manuscript so the schedule was attractive too," Ashley Judd continued. "It gave me plenty of time to finish the book while being on a show with people I really enjoy."
Morgan Freeman. "It was just serendipitous. I had seen a really extraordinary film called The Snow Walker that Charles Martin Smith had directed, and I'd also seen Stone of Destiny, which is a wonderfully Scottish story. When I received this screenplay my agent really downplayed it, she said, 'The part's really small, there's not a whole lot to it, but I think you might enjoy the elements involved and I know you're a fan of Charles' other films.' At the same time I was reading it Morgan was reading it, so it came together beautifully and we're very excited," she explained.
Iconic entertainer W.C. Fields once said never work with animals or children, and since Ashley Judd is working with both as well as 3D in this film, the actress talked about W.C. Fields' legendary warning. "I think that children and animals can be uniquely humiliating to grown-ups, but so far both of ours have behaved extremely well ... with an assist from child labor laws and good union rules. When we did the schedule and signed the contract the production also quoted Mr. W.C. Fields and said, 'some things may change over which we have no control. Please be as flexible as you can.' Who can predict what happens with all these dynamics, but so far so good," she finished.
We asked the actress if thinks that it adds a certain authenticity to the film to have the actual Winter playing herself? "Oh, absolutely," Ashley Judd concurred. "I'm very moved by her. Someone I work with at home who loves animals sent me an e-mail today knowing I was on the set saying, 'please give that dolphin my most profound regards.' My eyes welled up. She's a very special animal, as is her surrogate mother."
We followed up by asking Ashley Judd if she's gotten a chance to actually swim with Winter in her tank. "I haven't gotten in the tank yet but I have been around her at the aquarium. She's lovely. It's also fun for me to see her play on her own, really see her spirit. Isn't it great how the stuff the production built for her they made look old so it wouldn't look incongruous? In the film the aquarium is having a lot of funding troubles and is about to collapse, so even though we built a new tank it's movie making magic," she explained.
Since director Charles Martin Smith is a former actor himself, we asked Ashley Judd if that experience was helpful to her as an actress on the set. "I think so. He cares a lot about the performances and he gives us plenty of feedback, plenty of time. He really pays close attention to the subtle connective tissue that other directors overlook," she said. We followed up by asking Ashley Judd which of Charles Martin Smith's past performances is her favorite. "Well I haven't called him 'Toad' yet. I think American Graffiti in particular because we lived in Marin, CA when it was being filmed. Mr. George Lucas is a great hero of mine both personally and professionally. I was pretty young to see the film, and didn't necessarily appreciate it for what it was, but I related to his character because he was funny. He's actually what stood out the most for me."
Finally, the actress talked about working with Nathan Gamble, the young actor who plays Sawyer in the film. "It's been wonderful. I really enjoy kids and he is a lovely young man. The first day he had to do a really big moment, and he totally blew me away! He was incredible. He's impressed me, because child actors can be these little professionals," Ashley Judd explained. "But he manages to be both a kid and respectful/appropriate on the set. He does the work in a way that's very becoming to him and the production. I was looking at him today and thought that little 10-year-old girls need to watch out!"
Ashley Judd went back to set, we had a chance to speak with child actor Nathan Gamble, who is best known to audiences as James Gordon Jr. in The Dark Knight. We began by asking Nathan Gamble if he met Morgan Freeman while shooting The Dark Knight or if is the first time he had a chance to meet the Oscar winning actor. "Nope, this is the first time. Crazy though, second movie but I just met him a week ago," answered Nathan Gamble.
We followed up by asking Nathan Gamble what it's like working with Morgan Freeman on the film. "Oh, he's a blast, he's really just a fun guy to work with. He's so funny and his voice is so broad. He has all these great stories about when he was younger. Harry Connick Jr. was telling me he used to be on the The Electric Company and he showed me all these videos. We were laughing over it," explained Nathan Gamble. "Did you see the one where he's taking a bath in a casket? He's taking a bath in a coffin and we thought that was funny."
The young actor went on to discuss the difference between shooting scenes with the actors and shooting scenes with the different animals in the film. "I guess the difference is, instead of waiting around on usually just the camera stuff, it's waiting around on what Winter does. The whole set is based on what she's doing. If Winter's in a bad mood, we're all in a bad mood. And if she's in a good mood, we're all in a good one. We revolve around Winter," he explained.
Nathan Gamble also described the character he plays in the movie, Sawyer. "He's very timid, he's very shy and nervous. He has this background where he feels like everything is his fault. He thinks the reason his dad left is because of him, or the reason Kyle's hurt is his fault. Now Winter might die and he thinks that's on him as well, because he didn't do as much as he could have. But you can see the change when he meets Winter, he's more outgoing, he's more cooperative, and stuff like that."
Since the film is based on a true story, we asked the young actor what kind of research he did for his role. "Well, I was given a book, actually it's called 'Winter's Tale,' and it just explains everything, all the prosthetic stuff. It's a crazy story, if you think about it. If you were to pitch something like, oh yeah, we're going to put a prosthetic tail on a tailless dolphin,' I'd say you were crazy. But it really is a crazy story and it's true."
We continued our conversation by asking Nathan Gamble what it's been like for him working with the 3D cameras. "It's a gigantic box with a camera lens on it. It has been different," he said. "We have a rehearsal then a mechanical rehearsal, as we have to do all this different stuff with the 3D. It's very difficult with all that stuff. I'm pretty sure it's going to look awesome in the end."
Nathan Gamble discussed working with actor-turned-director Charles Martin Smith. "There's definitely an upside to it, because he knows how we work and that really helps me feel like who the character is. Not only is he a director, he was an actor, so it really helped me to develop the role."
Next up, we had a chance to speak with the film's director Charles Martin Smith. With all the legendary directors that he's worked with as an actor, is there one that has come to mind most while making this film. "Yes I remember all of them. Well I think it is just because I learned so much from him on that one. It was really, really helpful to me. I stayed on that movie for a long time, not just shooting it but then I was around through post as well."
We followed up by asking Charles Martin Smith if working on Never Cry Wolf, and Air Bud prepared him for working with animals on this movie. "It helps to know what you are up against and I have. I learned a lot about filmmaking from Carroll Ballard who did Never Cry Wolf and I think that the man is an absolute genius. I learned so much from him and I always carry around in the back of my head, 'what would Carroll do if he were shooting this.'"
The director also spoke about his choice to direct this film in 3D. "I'd like to say that it was my idea because I think it is working out beautifully but it wasn't. It was something that Alcon Entertainment thought of," he explained. "I was already writing and we were moving towards making the film when they came up with the idea and came to me. They said, what do you think about doing this think in 3D? At first, I thought it didn't call for it really, but then I began to think what you could do, especially with the underwater stuff, and I got very excited about it."
"Immediately I began studying up on 3D and all of that. We are really making an effort to use it in all of the sets," he continued. "If you notice on this set we've got lots of sort of lines converging and we're shooting in deep spaces. I wanted to use the 3D not as a gimmick to have things come out at the audience but to use it as a device to draw you in to the frame much more than having stuff come out at you. I'm focusing more on the 3D and it does change the process a little bit," explained the director. "I'm aware that is better to not be too cutty. You don't want a lot of fast cuts with 3D because it takes your eye so long to adjust to the frame. Actually every frame that you look at in 3D, there is so much in it and your eye doesn't just travel across the screen like it does in normal movies but it also goes in and out and so on. So you want to hold on shots a little bit longer. So I'm trying to design it that way."
Finally, we asked the director if this was the first time that he has worked with Kris Kristofferson since he died in his arms in Sam Peckinpah's Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid. "That's right," replied Charles Martin Smith. "We've bumped into each other a couple of times over the years. He had just seen that film and that particular scene on television," explained Charles Martin Smith. "We were talking about it and reminiscing about Sam and all the craziness on that film."
Charles Martin Smith was called to set and we had a few moments to speak with Academy Award winning actor Morgan Freeman. Since the real life person that Mr. Morgan Freeman is portraying in the film happened to be on set this day, we asked the actor if he has spent much time with him as research for the part? "I don't think I've ever met him beyond today. But it's pointless to try, and it's really not necessary. He's a completely different person than I am. I decided that this character would be sort of disheveled, unkempt and uncombed for all intents and purposes because he's so dedicated to what he's doing, trying to get these people into some shape so they can live a life. That's what he thinks about night and day and not whether or not his hair is combed."
Morgan Freeman also talked about the luxury of working with Charles Martin Smith, an actor-turned-filmmaker. "Generally it's much easier to work with actor/directors versus writer/directors. The reason is that actor/directors know a lot more about what you're going through. Whereas writer/directors in large part know all of the characters intimately, so it's hard to get them out of your hair."
The legendary actor discussed with us some of his theories on the craft of acting. "You know the trick to any profession is making it look easy. So you're not supposed to see me acting. That's what I work for, that's what we all work for, so you don't see the wheels turning," he said. "Listening is the biggest part of it," Morgan Freeman continued. "Listening engages you with the other actor. Then once you're engaged, you don't really have to act you just react. I think I learned that somewhere in my thirties."
Next, we asked Morgan Freeman about having a chance to reunite with Ashley Judd for a third time on this film. "Ashley and I, aside from having a life outside of movies, we've done two together now and we just have this nice feeling for each other," he explained. "I'm always looking forward to not just seeing her, but acting with her. She's a marvel. She's got so many things going, she's so powerful and a very driven lady."
"It's a nice little family movie, it's a nice feel good movie and they're good to do every now and then when a good one comes your way," Morgan Freeman said explaining why he chose to do the film. "It's hard to find a good script. They're just not falling out of the sky all over the place. Amazingly we don't have a lot of great writers left because, and this is my opinion, but there was too much demand that they get burned out. You can't just sit down and continue to grind out good scripts. You won't have it in you. So we've got blogs, we've got the Internet, we've got television, and we've got DVDs. I mean the demand is just too high. So for a writer to sit down and come up with a good one now, they're few and far between," said the actor.
Morgan Freeman if he has had an opportunity to have any interaction with Winter the dolphin. "Only a little," he answered. "I noticed when I got here, you know I've never had any intimate relationships with a dolphin. Horses, dogs, chickens, geese, penguins, and things like that but not fish. So I was trying to ingratiate myself, she's just like a little child. She shies away and then she comes back. Then finally you can touch her a little bit, and that's enough, so you feel like you're really accomplishing something if she lets you be close and pet her. You shout, 'I GOT HER!'"
Dolphin Tale was released September 23rd, 2011 and stars Harry Connick Jr., Ashley Judd, Nathan Gamble, Kris Kristofferson, Cozi Zuehlsdorff, Morgan Freeman, Austin Stowell, Frances Sternhagen. The film is directed by Charles Martin Smith.