Colin Farrell and Viggo Mortensen trained with the divers from the real rescue mission for Ron Howard’s upcoming film Thirteen Lives, about the incident in which 12 boys and their soccer coach were trapped inside a flooding cave system in Thailand for 18 days in 2018.
Speaking to The Hollywood Reporter, Howard says, “The same divers were there with us during our prep and as we were shooting, and Viggo Mortensen and Colin Farrell in particular, but the other guys as well, trained with them and copied their style. So we had a couple of weeks where they were in the water with them every day, emulating it and for that reason, because they’ve done that work — they also volunteered to work on the weekends and whatever was required, so that all of the shots are them — they learned the cave diving techniques and the personalities of the men that they were playing.”
Farrell and Mortensen play divers John Volanthen and Richard Stanton, respectively. The two men were part of the rescue mission that found all 13 people alive about 2.5 miles from the cave mouth. Various options for extracting the group were discussed, but as the rain began to pick up, the rescue team decided to extract the boys one by one by rendering them unconscious and swimming through the tunnels with them. Jason Mallinson (played by Paul Gleeson in the film), Chris Jewell (Tom Bateman), Richard Harris (Joel Edgerton) and Craig Challen were also part of the mission.
Between July 8 and 10, all of the boys were rescued from the cave. The rescue effort involved more than 10,000 people from all around the world. One Royal Thai Navy SEAL died of asphyxiation during an attempted rescue on July 6. In December 2019, another Thai Navy SEAL died of a blood infection contracted during the rescue operation.
The cave system was complicated and the added rainfall made everything much more difficult. To re-create the intricate caves, Howard and his team built five different tanks, each with a different cave and tunnel network.
“We couldn’t have done it in real caves,” adds Howard. “But it was definitely a feat — it reminded me, not as dangerous as the real analog fires in Backdraft, but sort of as intricate and meticulous to try to get. It also reminded me a little of our actual weightless filming in Apollo 13 where we went up in the KC-135, which is called the vomit comet — what astronauts use to train and scientists used to test weightlessness and its effects on all kinds of things. And we filmed all the master shots for the Apollo 13 weightlessness in the capsule on that KC-135. So this was another one of those kinds of physical filmmaking challenges.”
Thirteen Lives, written by William Nicholson and directed by Howard, will hit theaters Nov. 18.
Read Howard’s full profile here.