How The Cast Of Thirteen Lives Researched Their Real-Life Characters - Exclusive

"Thirteen Lives," the new movie directed by Ron Howard now streaming on Prime Video, tells the true story of how people from around the world came together in 2018 to save 12 young soccer players and their coach who were trapped in the flooded Tham Luang cave network in northern Thailand. This rescue was a serious team effort, and the film reflects this as a true ensemble piece, featuring many different characters working together.

Over three group interviews, Looper got the chance to speak with eight of the film's actors: Viggo Mortensen (who plays Rick Stanton), Joel Edgerton (Richard Harris), and Teeradon "James" Supapunpinyo (Ekkaphon Chanthawong); Colin Farrell (John Volanthen), Tom Bateman (Chris Jewell), and Sahajak "Poo" Boonthankit (Governor Narongsak Osatanakorn); and Weir Sukollawat Kanaros (Saman) and Pattrakorn "Ploy" Tungsupakul (Buahom). We asked all of these actors how they researched to play these real-life characters — and what these real people thought of their portrayals.

Some of the actors got to meet their characters

Three of the "Thirteen Lives" actors interviewed by Looper were lucky enough to have had the opportunity to speak to the people they were playing directly and regularly. Rick Stanton, played by Viggo Mortensen, was on set as a technical advisor for the diving scenes, as was diver James Mallinson (played by Paul Gleeson). Mortensen said that even before they met while filming in Australia, "I did a lot of Zooms talking to [Rick Stanton], trying to hear the way he spoke and his rhythms, physically and verbally and all that." Mortensen also noted that Stanton "seems happy" with the finished film and the accuracy of how everything was portrayed.

Colin Farrell and Tom Bateman also spoke to their respective characters, John Valanthen and Chris Jewell. Farrell notes that, while time zone differences made communicating with Valanthen a bit more work to arrange, "John made himself really available for me" and "was incredibly open with me about his experience during this two weeks and also how he got into cave diving and some of the personal things in his life."

Bateman says that Jewell spoke to him for "hours and hours" and was very responsive to questions. "Personally, I could text Chris every morning, if I had a question," he said. "He'd tell me what he did and what he went through. The work was already done for us." Bateman says that many of the divers, Jewell included, attended the film's London premiere and offered high praise to all of the actors.

News coverage proved incredibly helpful

For those actors who couldn't directly ask questions to the people they were playing, research was helped out significantly by how in-depth all the news coverage of this story was. Joel Edgerton, for instance, couldn't speak to Richard Harris on set but says he and the others playing the divers had "access to interviews and books written by the divers and really get[ting] inside their head." Ploy Tungsupakul says she "went back to watch the documentary, the news, and interviews of the real parents and focused on the reactions of the parents at that time, [to see] what they felt." Poo Boonthankit had the background knowledge of playing a particularly public figure whom he saw "every day on the news."

Some of the actors went so far as to learn real skills used by their characters. Weir Kanaros got a diving certificate, and James Supapunpinyo learned Buddhist meditation to apply these lessons to playing the former-monk-turned-soccer-coach. James also described having to engage in a serious physical transformation: "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."

"Thirteen Lives" is now streaming on Prime Video.