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My Costar Is a Dolphin: An Interview with Cozi Zuehlsdorff

September 8–12, 2014   |   Vol. 120, Week 12

If you have a budding actor at your house, what’s the best way to help them develop their skills? This week on Home School Heartbeat, Cozi Zuehlsdorff talks about life in the acting world, and shares some tips for students who want to break into this industry.

“Make projects that you’re passionate about and ... I want to see them, I think you’re going to succeed!”—Cozi Zuehlsdorff

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When a young actress lands her first film role, she has to have a sense of adventure—especially if her costar is a dolphin!  Join Dr. Michael Farris as he talks with Cozi Zuehlsdorff, star of the hit film series Dolphin Tale. That’s today on Home School Heartbeat.

Mike Farris: My guest today is a young and talented actress and she’s a homeschool student. Cozi Zuehlsdorff, welcome to Homeschool Heartbeat.

Cozi Zuehlsdorff: Thank you so much, I’m so grateful to be here.

Mike: Cozi, tell our listeners how you got started as an actress.

Cozi: Well, when I was eight years old I started in musical theater locally. I was cast as Annie in Annie, and that’s how I really got bit by the bug. From there I did a lot of musical theater, and then when I was ten I switched to commercials, because I wanted to get into TV and film. And around twelve years old I really wanted to start telling stories again rather than just advertising products, so I started auditioning for movies, and my sixth audition for a movie was Dolphin Tale.

Mike: Obviously this is a really popular movie. What did you enjoy most about working with a dolphin?

Cozi: Oh, that’s a hard one, because I just love them so much. I think one of the things that people wouldn’t expect is that dolphins have such amazing, almost human-like personalities. They all are so different and I love watching them, how they respond to, like, they learn things called behaviors which are kind of like tricks, but they’re a little more advanced, and you’ll see them, if they get one right, especially Winter, the dolphin, will be so excited and happy and she’ll just, basically, cheer herself on. And then, another one of our dolphins, if he doesn’t do something right, you could just see that he’s frustrated with his progress. It’s just amazing how much they are like us.

Mike: How many different dolphins did you work with on the production?

Cozi: Mostly I worked with two, Hope and Winter. And in the sequel, what audiences can be excited about is that Sawyer the character has Winter the dolphin, and Hazel has Hope. And Hazel’s my character. So I’m really excited for them to see—it’s like each kid has their own dolphin! And I think the kids are going to love that, because there’s a lot of underwater scenes in this one.

Mike: Cozi, how have you been able to juggle being a student and an actress?

Cozi: Well, my family and I both agree that education is super important, and we just refuse to compromise it, no matter what I’m doing in the rest of my life. So on a normal day on set, they allow three hours for school and then you have six hours extra of just working, so it’s nine-hour days, which are pretty tiring. But for those three hours we make it count, and I do a lot of homeschooling curriculums, I love mixing and matching, and I’ve just really enjoyed this year as far as school goes.

Mike: What impact has your acting career upon your family?

Cozi: Well, I’m so grateful to have such a supportive family. We all get just as excited from a new trailer that comes out as my very first one. So, we’re just so excited together. But like I said, we really value education, so my family’s been my rock and just helping me get my priorities straight and I’m definitely going to college. I see myself either being an actress or maybe if the Lord has it in His heart for me to be an elementary school teacher, or a writer—I love working with kids so I can see myself doing that in the future.

Mike: Cozi, tell us a little about your family. How many children are in the family?

Cozi: I have an older sister named Lacy and she is almost twenty now.

Mike: Cozi, tell us about the production part of the day. What do you do all day?

Cozi: Well, that’s a good question. The fun part of my job is that no day is exactly alike. Mostly on the set of Dolphin Tale 2, I’d get up around 7:00, have a Bible study, get dressed, and towards the end of the production, it was in the 40s, so I would get all bundled up and go to set. And it takes them a while to set up the cameras, so I would wait in between shots, and we’d probably take a whole day to do a three minute scene. It goes pretty slow on movie sets, but we make sure we get it right.

Mike: Cozi, I was in one low-budget movie playing myself, and it took a nine-hour day to do, like, a seven-minute scene where I’m playing myself. You have my sympathy entirely. But also, I’m interested: you were able to work with some first­-rate actors in Dolphin’s Tale. Why do you think you were able to move comfortably into acting at the professional level?

Cozi: I think homeschooling was a big part of it because it gave me awareness and maturity. But of course it was very nerve-wracking. Every day I just prayed and went on set and tried to act professional. I think all the producers and staff appreciate when somebody’s being professional and when they’re not goofing around, you know, at such a young age. So I just made sure that I was working, and not just having fun, even though that was definitely something that happened every day.

Mike Farris: Cozi, do you have any tips for other homeschoolers who might want to act professionally?

Cozi: Oh, for sure! I think it really helps so much, it’s very beneficial, to start in local theater. That’s how I got my start. It teaches you really good habits to carry on into a professional situation. And also, as far as acting goes, I think kids can get nervous and think that they have to be bigger than life or they get outside themselves. And I think it helps so much to just be self-aware, to be real in your acting, and just to let yourself be natural, and I’ve found that in film, that’s the thing that really gets you jobs and it’s just more fun that way too.

Mike: A related question is, you can’t believe the number of young people when I speak at a homeschool graduation, for example, that want to make movies. Any suggestions for the army of moviemakers out there?

Cozi: Well first, power to them! That’s so cool! I’m probably going to a film-making camp this summer, so I’m really excited to learn about that. As far as film-making, I don’t know! Make projects that you’re passionate about, and, I want to see them, I think you’re going to succeed!

Mike Farris: Cozi, at 15 years old, you have already accomplished a lot. What projects are you working on right now?

Cozi: Well, I’ve been blessed to work with Disney on a few things. I’m recurring on two Disney shows. One of them is Mighty Med, and the other one is Liv and Maddie. And I also record the background vocals for their Disney animated show, Sofia the First. But to keep with all my projects, people can follow me on Twitter at @Cozi Zuehlsdorff.

Mike: Okay, that would require somebody like me to actually know how to use Twitter, but all the young people in the audience, they got that right away. In addition to Dolphin’s Tale 2, what else do you hope to do in the future?

Cozi: I just love that God has plans for me in the future that I don’t even know about. Like I said, I’d love to pursue a career in teaching, or writing. But also, I mean, if it’s His plan for me to continue in movies, then that’s something I want to do. But I’m a storyteller and I always plan on telling beautiful and good stories.

Mike: Cozi, what’s your favorite story?

Cozi: As far as movies go, I love movies like The Secret Life of Walter Mitty that just came out, or The Truman Show with Jim Carrey. Just really creative, amazing projects like that. But I also love books like Little Women, I just read it so fast and I loved it.

Mike: Cozi, thank you so much for being on our program this week. We wish you all the success, both in acting and, if the Lord directs you into teaching and writing, all the more success. I’m Mike Farris.

Cozi Zuehlsdorff

Cozi began her acting career at the age of eight when she was cast in the role of Annie at a local theater company in Orange County, CA. She has loved musical theater ever since, performing lead roles in both local and professional theaters in Southern California. 

At the age of 10, Cozi began auditioning for TV and film, beginning with commercials for Buick, NestlĂ© Water, and Trident Gum, to name a few. In 2010, weeks after her 12th birthday, Cozi landed her first principal role as Hazel in the feature film Dolphin Tale, produced by Alcon Entertainment and distributed by Warner Bros. Pictures. The film also stared Morgan Freeman, Harry Connick Jr., Ashley Judd, Kris Kristofferson, and Nathan Gamble and was released on September 23, 2011, reaching number 1 at the box office in its second week.

Since then, Cozi has appeared on the TNT medical drama Monday Mornings as Trisha Miller, a young pianist with a brain tumor, has been heard singing in many episodes of the Disney Emmy Award-winning animated hit Sofia the First, and currently recurs on the Disney XD show Mighty Med. Most recently, Cozi wrapped filming for Dolphin Tale 2 which features the same wonderful cast as the first movie. Dolphin Tale 2 comes out on September 12, 2014.

Cozi's newest pursuit is songwriting. She has some exciting projects in the works as this new facet of her career unfolds. When she's not working, lives in Orange County, California with her parents, her older sister, and their dog Bandit. She is a Christian and is home schooled, with a passion for singing, playing piano, and working with children.
Cozi is a Spokesperson for Clearwater Marine Aquarium and serves on the Celebrity Youth Council for GenerationOn, a division of the Points of Light Foundation.

You can learn more about Cozie by visiting her website at http://cozi-zuehlsdorff.com/.

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