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Joel Edgerton, Viggo Mortensen, And 'James' Supapunpinyo On Thirteen Lives' Challenges - Exclusive Interview

"Thirteen Lives," the new movie directed by Ron Howard coming to Prime Video on August 5, retells the true story of how people from around the world came together in 2018 to save twelve young soccer players and their coach who were trapped in the flooded Tham Luang cave network in northern Thailand. In the film, Viggo Mortensen plays Rick Stanton, one of the British cave divers who first makes contact with the boys. Joel Edgerton plays Richard Harris, whose skills as an anesthetist prove vital to getting the boys out of the cave, while Teeradon "James" Supapunpinyo plays the guilt-ridden but extremely helpful coach Ekkaphon Chanthawong.

Looper got the chance to speak to the cast and crew of "Thirteen Lives" in four different group interviews. In our conversation with Mortensen, Edgerton, and James, we asked the actors about how they did research for playing these real life characters, the challenges of the cave diving scenes, and about their connections with "Lord of the Rings," "Star Wars," and Thai pop music, respectively.

Researching their real life characters

How did you go about researching your characters?

Joel Edgerton: Sadly, I didn't have [Richard Harris] with us on set, but we had access. This was such a well-covered event, particularly ... not so much in the early news coverage, but the deeper detail and the execution of the rescue for us as guys playing divers, having access to interviews and books written by the divers and really get[ting] inside their head. Beyond that, some of us were lucky enough to have conversations with our real folk and this incredible team of divers that supported us to go into the real physical research and physical training for what we had to do.

Teeradon "James" Supapunpinyo: I haven't met the real coach ... but I did research that [involved] watch[ing] him in the news, [on] YouTube and everything that [let me] watch him, how he speaks. [How] did he act when he was with the boys? I started to copy him. Another thing is the accent that I have to speak in ... not in a Thai accent, but some dialect that has to change. 

[My character, the] coach, he has been a monk for eight years, so he knows how to meditate in the Buddhist way. I went to the temple and had to learn about how to meditate in the Thai Buddhist way. [Finally], I had to reduce my weight. I had to diet in the quarantine. In 14 days, I remember that I ate about 700 calories per day, and I had to burn, and I had to do an exercise bicycle and do exercise [targeting] my jaw line, to make [the bones] visible.

Viggo Mortensen: You look a lot better now.

James: Yeah.

Mortensen: You looked good then, the way you're supposed to look, but you look much healthier now.

James: Thank you. More healthy now.

Mortensen: Rick Stanton, the guy I play, he was our technical advisor for the diving stuff. He was there for our rehearsals and trained all of us, and so did Jason Mallinson, one of the other divers who accomplished this feat ... I prepared, but before we got to Australia, I did a lot of Zooms talking to him, trying to hear the way he spoke and his rhythms, physically and verbally and all that. 

He gradually shared a lot of images and videos and information about the rescue so I could imagine what it might have been like to do it. Once we got to Australia and we were together, we had a good amount of time in the water with those guys, and that helped us to copy their diving style, which is very particular in cave diving.

The challenges of filming the diving scenes

Elaborate on that. What was it like performing the diving scenes?

Mortensen: At first, it seemed tricky, but we had no idea what we were going to be getting into. The first section that they built and we were diving in, it was narrow and the water was cloudy, it was hard to see, and you had to handle this line or you'd get lost, which we did a couple times and had to be found underwater. It was like, "Okay, we got through that week." 

Then, the following week, we're on a different set, which was more complex. It was like some strange video game in a way where each new section that we had to shoot in was more complicated, more difficult, more [of a strong] current, narrower spaces, turns, then there were stalactites, and then we were given a real person to carry. It was like the degree of difficulty kept going up until the very end.

We were in a good rhythm, we were well trained, and so we got through it, but if they'd given us what we had to do in the last couple weeks in the beginning ... I don't think we would've been able to do it. We would've felt, "No, we can't do that. We can't physically do it," but we worked up to it and were able to do all of it, fortunately.

Lord of the Rings and Star Wars

Viggo, this movie's being released on Prime Video. Also coming to Prime Video soon: the new "Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power" series. As someone with a personal connection to Middle Earth, have they let you watch any of the new show yet?

Mortensen: No, I don't know anything about it. I don't even know who's in it, but I look forward to seeing it.

Joel, what were the biggest differences between acting in the "Star Wars" prequel films and returning to the universe for the "Obi-Wan Kenobi" Disney+ miniseries?

Edgerton: Quite a lot, actually. One of my first sort of jobs on a big movie was doing the initial prequels, and I was nervous. It was also my first job working on an American production. I was nervous. I thought I was going to get fired. ... I felt so lucky to be there. 

Cut to 20-odd years later, and I'm a middle-aged guy and I'm asked to return, and there was never a question of not returning because, not only were all the original cast back, I owe a lot of the reason I'm sitting here today to being in those initial prequels, because that opened the doors to the world of international filmmaking to me. I'll always thank George Lucas and the fact that I look enough like a young Phil Brown, Uncle Owen, that I got that job, because it really changed the course of my life in many ways.

Going from music to acting

James, you've been a member of two different idol groups. Are you working on any music right now or are you primarily focused on acting at the moment?

James: I'm not doing that right now. For now I'm focusing [on being] an actor, just being in acting and being an actor only. I hope that this movie is going to open a new door for me, also. [I'm] looking forward to another opportunity.

Any particular opportunities you're specifically looking for? Any dream roles or anything?

James: Any roles. I don't have my specific role that I want to play, just any of them. I love being another character, a different version of the [someone] that is not myself. I can explore the world more. I can understand more people. I can understand different types of people, and I love that. I'm [open to] any roles.

Did you get any feedback from the people you were playing after they got the chance to see the movie?

Mortensen: Rick Stanton is here, and he seems happy. He likes — he said it was believable underwater. He said he was amazed at how true-to-life the entrance to the cave was, the physical landscape of the movie, and that what we did underwater, fortunately, he and the others were pleased with it and thought it was accurate. 

I remember when we were shooting, when we did this, where we finally come out, all of us, and we've accomplished this seemingly impossible task and all those people are there and there's this cheering going on and it's been raining, and he said it was ... He relived that moment. He said he was moved by it, that it reminded him very much of the real event.

"Thirteen Lives" is now in limited theatrical release and will be available to stream worldwide August 5 on Prime Video.

This interview has been edited for clarity.