Thursday, July 25, 2024

‘Thirteen Lives’ Director Ron Howard: Actors Did ‘100 Percent’ Of Their Dives


The actors who portrayed the expert cave divers who helped rescue the Thai boys soccer team in 2018 wound up doing “100 percent” of the underwater work, according to the film’s director.

In a behind-the-scenes interview featured on the Mayhem Mendes Youtube channel, “Thirteen Lives” Director Ron Howard said:

“Our actors needed to learn how to dive in caves. I thought they would maybe do half of their dives but they became so expert at it, they wound up doing 100 percent of it. Which gave me so much latitude to be able to develop shots, and let them move into close-ups and be very fluid. It helped build up the tension and suspense, and you recognize that these people are really in there. And that only enhances the authenticity and along with it, the tension, excitement and the suspense.”

Colin Farrell, who plays cave diver John Volanthen, said:

“He [Howard] wanted to make it as much of a cinema verite as he could, and … he was always on the set, moving around, looking at the angles, looking at the how to get to the center of the story he was telling.”

For Joel Edgerton, who plays Dr. Harry Harris, the only diving he’d done before was on vacation:

“I in the past had done like two scuba dives in my life, on holidays. And there I was, being asked to sort of go and get my PADI license and start the process of being really, incredibly well looked after by this team of stunt divers and ex-Navy divers, salvage operation divers and some of the real cave rescue divers.”

Getting re-certified led to a crash course in cave diving, Edgerton added:

“This idea of basic scuba diving was just fast-tracked to zero visibility, diving through really kind of tight pinch points and obstacle courses underwater and these incredibly elaborate true-to-life [situations] with currents and extra equipment and then, add to that diving with the human beings so that we could simulate the execution of the rescue. And then add to that, sometimes because it’s a movie, strapping certain camera equipment to yourself. Incredible honor as an actor to take on a new skill and to be invited and to be embraced by professionals to even get a glimpse of what they can do. If anything, the whole process gave me an even greater respect for the guys that did this, and that do it for real, those men and women that do cave rescue diving. It’s like, massive respect.”

Thirteen Lives - Behind the Scenes (Image credit: Mayhem Mendes/Youtube)
Thirteen Lives – Behind the Scenes (Image credit: Mayhem Mendes/Youtube)

For Viggo Mortensen, who plays cave diver Rick Stanton, there was no room for complaints while on set:

“We had to live up to the example that the real rescuers had set, I mean you’re not gonna complain, ‘Oh my coffee’s not warm.’ You’re not gonna complain about little things like that.

“I liked learning, what Joel was talking about, this new skill. I had been certified years ago and just done it once, you know, 25 years ago, so I had to get re-certfied and so, step it up. We had to go into these caves, we had visibility problems and transporting real human beings eventually, it just felt like a lot of pressure. … I think I tend to be focused and detail-oriented as an actor in preparing and shooting anyway because I’m always conscious of the fact that we got one crack at this scene today but in this case it wasn’t just that I want to get it right, I don’t want to make a fool out of myself or contribute to the overall filmmaking effort, it’s I also want to survive. Literally. So, I’m paying a lot of attention to Rick Stanton, the safety divers, the people — the experts.

“It’s like, how do we put the equipment on, make sure it’s working properly before going under. And when you’re under there, do exactly what they told you to do. Copy exactly what they’re doing. Otherwise, you’re not gonna get out of there.”

Tom Bateman, who plays Chris Jewell, said the training “was pretty intense”:

“It was fast because you know we had to shoot and we didn’t have time to cram in four years of experience that these guys had. We had an amazing team around us, they threw us right in at the deep end, forgive that pun, and we just went with it, man. I think it was one of those things where we were aware of the size and scope and the beauty of this story, and effectively just submitting to it, and just trusting in the fact that we had Ron at the helm and amazing people in every single department and just saying ‘Great, I get to be part of this.'”

“Thirteen Lives” is now streaming on Amazon Prime Video.

Check out the interviews with Howard, Edgerton, Mortensen and Bateman below.

Thirteen Lives Thirteen Lives

In the true story of Thirteen Lives, twelve boys and the coach of a Thai soccer team explore the Tham Luang cave when an unexpected rainstorm traps them in a chamber inside the mountain. Entombed behind a maze of flooded cave tunnels, they face impossible odds. A team of world-class divers navigate through miles of dangerous cave networks to discover that finding the boys is only the beginning.

John Liang
John Liang
John Liang is the News Editor at He first got the diving bug while in High School in Cairo, Egypt, where he earned his PADI Open Water Diver certification in the Red Sea off the Sinai Peninsula. Since then, John has dived in a volcanic lake in Guatemala, among white-tipped sharks off the Pacific Coast of Costa Rica, and other places including a pool in Las Vegas helping to break the world record for the largest underwater press conference.