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Dolphin Tale – How Morgan Freeman got a little scruffy

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Dolphin Tale - Morgan Freeman
Dr Cameron McCarthy (Morgan Freeman) © 2011 Alcon Film Fund

Academy Award winning actor Morgan Freeman has lent his considerable talent to the new family drama Dolphin Tale. The movie is inspired by the true story of Winter who, as a young dolphin, got caught in a crab trap, severely damaging her tail. Unable to maneuver in the water correctly, Winter’s life is in danger, and it takes a team of experts, including marine biologist Dr Clay Haskett (Harry Connick Jr) and Dr Cameron McCarthy (Freeman), a brilliant prosthetics inventor, to bring about a miracle. The real Winter plays herself in the movie.

Also starring in the film is Ashley Judd, who has worked with Morgan Freeman in High Crimes and Kiss the Girls, which prompted the first question.

Was one of the reasons you wanted to do this movie to work with Ashley again?

Dolphin Tale - Austin Highsmith, Nathan Gamble, Harry Connick Jr, Betsy Landin and Morgan Freeman
Phoebe (Austin Highsmith), Sawyer Nelson (Nathan Gamble), Dr Clay Haskett (Harry Connick Jr), Kat (Betsy Landin) and Dr Cameron McCarthy (Morgan Freeman) © 2011 Alcon Film Fund

I‘ve loved Ashley from the first time we worked together. She is one of the precious people in my life. I also thought it was a lovely story and a nice part.

I thought of Dr McCarthy as a man who spends all his time thinking about ways to help people – the kind who jumps out of bed in the middle of the night, grabs a pencil and paper, and starts drawing new ideas. He probably has no other life, so he appears a little scruffy.

Did you base your character on the actual doctor who created the prosthetic for Winter?

This whole story is based on a true incident with that dolphin. I kind of based it on the guy. He did it, I don’t look anything close to like him, I don’t sound like, feel like him, there’s nothing between us that matches. But it based on the real guy.

Did you meet him?

Dolphin Tale - Harry Connick Jr, Morgan Freeman and Nathan Gamble
Dr Clay Haskett (Harry Connick Jr), Dr Cameron McCarthy (Morgan Freeman) and Sawyer Nelson (Nathan Gamble) © 2011 Alcon Film Fund

I met him, yeah. But I took the character traits off the script. I wasn’t necessarily playing a real person, just the fact that the real person actually did this.

What is the joy of doing a movie like this when you’re going to be upstaged by the dolphin?

The joy in doing anything is getting paid! I thought it was a good story and real good family fare.

There are no crashes, no chases, no sex, just a good story that’s very kid friendly and I liked the idea of my grandkids and great grandkids being able to go and see something like this, get a little bit of boost in some of the values that are out there to learn in life, it was good to be involved in that.

What was it like working with Winter?

Dolphin Tale - Winter
The dolphin star Winter © 2011 Alcon Film Fund

I was looking forward to getting to work with Winter. I know she’s the real star of the movie, so I just tried to ingratiate myself!

What do you think your character’s biggest challenge was?

I think my character’s whole challenge was not seeing how this dolphin was inspirational. He was inspired to get the job done. That was a challenge. All of these things are for these inventors, people who create ways for people to function.

The challenge for these guys is solving a problem. It becomes his problem.

What was it like working with the movie’s director Charles Martin Smith?

Dolphin Tale - Nathan Gamble. Morgan Freeman, Austin Highsmith, Cozi Zuehlsdorff and Harry Connick Jr
Sawyer Nelson (Nathan Gamble). Dr Cameron McCarthy (Morgan Freeman), Phoebe (Austin Highsmith), Hazel Haskett (Cozi Zuehlsdorff) and Dr Clay Haskett (Harry Connick Jr) © 2011 Alcon Film Fund

This is the first time working with Charles, he was terrific. You always have fun with the director who knows what he’s doing and what he wants.

What can you tell us about The Dark Knight Rises?

Nothing, if I tell you anything about Batman I’ll have to kill you.

Is it different to work with someone like Christopher Nolan?

Different, no. It’s better. The thing is working with somebody like Chris is you just develop this relationship that grows and grows. He’s a wonderful filmmaker, he’s a wonderful director and he’s just really terrific to work with. And this third time is better than all.

Do you watch your old movies?

No, I have trouble watching myself. I just don’t ever see that I’m as good as the hype. But when people do these retrospect’s, you get little glimpses of things, like they did with the AFI tribute. I love those, because they pick out special moments that were good.

Is there a movie that you are still dying to do?

I can’t do it now, but I’ve always wanted to redo Shane, and I talked to Alan Ladd Jr., we were doing An Unfinished Life, and he said, ‘You know, we should do Shane.’ I said, ‘Yes, absolutely.’ It would be a completely different story. But they didn’t want to mess with it.