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The Human Factor
In "Dolphin Tale," Dr. Clay Haskett-as the head of what was then the Clearwater Marine Hospital-was dealing with money troubles that put the entire facility on the brink of closing down. It was a threat to the one thing he had dedicated his life to: the survival of all the animals, including Winter, who faced an uncertain fate in the wake of losing her tail. But the invention of the groundbreaking prosthetic tail that saved Winter's life also gave new life to the marine animal rescue hospital, which now bore a new name: Clearwater Marine Aquarium.

While Winter's newfound fame brought CMA financial security, the staff and the animals are facing other challenges instigated by a death in the family. "The loss of Panama is heartbreaking to everyone," says Smith, "but for Winter, it's like losing her mother and she withdraws from everyone in grief. Dolphins are very intelligent, sensitive animals, and I really tried to illustrate that point. Winter is alone and not doing particularly well, which is a concern for everyone at CMA."

However, Clay knows there is a more pressing issue that could jeopardize the future of the Aquarium and its most popular resident. Harry Connick, Jr. offers, "They need to find a new poolmate for Winter, but that's easier said than done. One possibility is Mandy, a female dolphin that was found beached and badly sunburned, but the mission of CMA is Rescue, Rehab and Release, so it remains to be seen if Mandy will stay or will be returned to the wild. They have no right to keep Mandy if she can survive on her own in the ocean, where she belongs. Clay is getting a lot of pressure from all sides to hold on to Mandy in order to keep Winter, so he's at a point where he has got to make a pretty tough decision."

"Harry has a genuine goodness about him that comes across in his portrayal of Clay," says Smith. "He is also hilarious and a total jokester; he was always making everyone laugh during the first movie, and he picked up right where he left off."

Sawyer Nelson is also facing a difficult decision. Returning in the role, Nathan Gamble explains, "Sawyer has learned a lot over the years, thanks to his work at Clearwater. He has been offered the chance of a lifetime-to spend a semester at sea in the beautiful waters of the Caribbean, studying and swimming with wild dolphins. Everyone is telling him what a fantastic opportunity it is, but it will mean leaving Winter when she needs him most. He's conflicted about what to do."

No longer the shy, withdrawn boy he was when he found Winter on the beach, Sawyer is a teenager now and "has definitely grown up," says Gamble. "The last three years at the Aquarium have been so great for him; it's given him a purpose and many friends, so he struggles with whether or not he should go."

"Nathan Gamble is an extraordinary young man," Smith states. "He brought a natural sensitivity to the character of Sawyer. You can also feel the strength of his bond with Winter, and it is a genuine bond. I'm convinced of it. When Nathan, as Sawyer, is talking to Winter and she responds directly to him, that's absolute gold."

"People always ask if she remembered me," Gamble relates, "and I admit I wasn't sure. But then I had this amazing moment where I was just playing around with her, and I did this little head tilt and she immediately submarined to the bottom. I asked one of her trainers, Abby, why she did that, and she said, 'Don't you remember that signal? We did it on the other film, but she hasn't done it in a really long time.' I honestly didn't recall, but it meant that she remembered me doing that from three years earlier. It gave me chills," he smiles.

Sawyer is not the only one who has grown up. Cozi Zuehlsdorff, who again plays Clay's daughter, Hazel Haskett, confirms, "Hazel and Sawyer are not little kids anymore, so the story explores the different things that encompasses. Hazel feels she can offer valuable input and is as capable of making informed decisions as anyone else, so she's trying to prove to her dad that she can hack it."

"I really wanted Hazel to speak to what it means for a teenager to start to stand up for herself and have her own ideas," Smith comments. "And Cozi delivered that beautifully. She and Nathan are both such terrific actors and, more importantly, they are both good people."

Connick agrees. "Charles really cast well when he picked those two kids; I love them both. Nathan is incredibly professional and a very intuitive actor. When you're in a scene with him, he's very present and engaged with you at all times. Cozi is one of my favorite people in the world. She's very smart and so perceptive and brings a freshness to Hazel. And she also happens to be an enormously talented young musician and singer."

"Harry has become my musical mentor; he's taught me so much," Zuehlsdorff says. "I love to sing and play piano and I love theatre and jazz, so we'd just jam together, which was amazing."

In fact, Zuehlsdorff's singing and songwriting skills are showcased in "Dolphin Tale 2." In addition to her role in the film, she wrote and performs a song called "Brave Souls," which can be heard over the end credits.

Reprising the role of Sawyer's mom, Lorraine, Ashley Judd says, "It's always wonderful when young people find their voice and their autonomy, and it's great to watch the kids in this film begin to act on the courage of their convictions. In 'Dolphin Tale,' Lorraine was mostly concerned about Sawyer and then was relieved that he was going to be okay. Now, maybe he's gonna be too okay because he's getting ready to leave for several months. Of course, as a mom she wants him to go out and do big things."

The actress, who is an outspoken animal advocate, adds, "I was so pleased to discover that so much of this film focuses on the animals. To be on set with Winter and see the range of her emotions-from the unbelievable gentleness with which she interacts with both children and adults with disabilities to her mischievousness and humor-is one of the most profound experiences of my career. As Dr. McCarthy likes to joke, with intentional inaccuracy, 'She's a hell of a fish,'" Judd laughs.

Morgan Freeman returns as Dr. Cameron McCarthy, the ingenious prosthetics doctor who devised the artificial tail that saved Winter's life. "Dolphin Tale 2" also marks his fourth collaboration with Judd, whom he says is "one of the women I love most in the world. "She is super smart, she is gorgeous and she has a beautiful soul. What's not to love?"

He and Judd also share an admiration for their aquatic co-stars. "Dolphins are extremely bright creatures; the fact that they don't make computers or cars doesn't diminish that fact," he observes. "I think their intelligence is part of what draws us to them and them to us. And that's also part of what makes the 'Dolphin Tale' movies such terrific family affairs. We have to remember, as filmmakers and storytellers, that children do not listen to what we say; they're watching what we do. So if we make movies about caring for the environment and its animals, that's what they learn. We should be joyous when something good comes along that will resonate with people who are concerned about taking their children to the movies."

"Morgan was so gracious to come back and play Dr. McCarthy again," Smith says. "Many of the ideas for his character came from him, right down to his hat and his bowtie. It goes without saying that he's a phenomenal actor and just a dear, dear man."

Gamble reveals that his one-on-one scene with Freeman-in which Dr. McCarthy imparts to Sawyer an important life lesson-made an indelible impression on him. "It's not only my favorite scene in the movie, it's my favorite scene I've ever done," he attests. "It was an amazing privilege to work alongside a legendary actor like Morgan Freeman. I kept saying to myself, 'Remember this scene; remember this moment,' because it was definitely a highlight of not only this movie but of my life."

Another veteran actor giving advice in the film is Kris Kristofferson, again playing Clay's dad, Reed Haskett. Smith says, "Kris has a folksy charm combined with a sense of wisdom that really carries on screen. I knew he would bring those qualities to his part and he's always a delight to work with."

In "Dolphin Tale," the role of Sawyer's cousin, Kyle, played by Austin Stowell, represented the men and women in uniform who bear the scars of war and who have found a sort of kindred spirit in Winter. "Kyle has come a long way," says Stowell. "He has gone from being lost after his injury and not knowing where he was going to end up in his life to being in medical school, because he wants to help his fellow veterans. He is back at Clearwater for the summer and has become an important part of the staff."

Austin Highsmith returns as another integral member of the CMA staff, Winter's lead trainer, Phoebe. "Having another chance to work so closely with Winter was literally a dream come true for me," she says. "The trainers put me through trainer boot camp and taught me to do just about everything they do. I learned how to put on Winter's tail and emulate all the hand gestures they use for certain behaviors, and it was the best feeling in the world when she responded to me. I loved every minute of it."

Smith notes, "We had a number of the real trainers and other CMA staff prominently featured right alongside the actors and they were all wonderful. I don't think anyone will be able to tell which are the actors and which are the actual marine hospital workers."

The director also stepped in front of the camera to play George, a USDA rep who gives Clay a hard deadline to pair Winter with another dolphin...or lose her to another aquarium. "He means well; he simply has a job to do," Smith remarks. "It creates a nice friction and added pressure on Clay."

Adding a new face to the cast, the filmmakers were excited to welcome Bethany Hamilton to the "Dolphin Tale 2" set. Smith recounts, "Bethany has been so inspirational to so many people with the courage that she's shown and that she continues to show. We all admire her a great deal, so in the early stages of production, we reached out to her to see if she would like to come and take part in our film."

Hamilton relates that she was thrilled to be involved in "Dolphin Tale 2," noting, "I love that it has a positive message, especially for kids, about giving back and making a difference in this world."

Interestingly, though Hamilton has spent much of her life in the ocean, this was her first up-close-and-personal dolphin encounter. "As a surfer, I would always see big pods of dolphins, but I was never close enough to touch them...and probably shouldn't anyway. It was awesome to get in the water with Winter and actually get to pet her."

"We created a scene for her at the beginning of the movie, and I will tell you it's some of the most magical footage," Smith states. "When Bethany and Winter swam together, everyone on the set was absolutely captivated."

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