ComingSoon editor-in-chief Tyler Treese spoke Thirteen lives stars Colin Farrell, Tom Bateman and Sahajak ‘Poo’ Boonthankit about working with Ron Howard and how they prepared to portray the real-life heroes the film follows. The film has its Prime Video premiere on Friday, August 5.
“Thirteen lives tells the incredible true story of the massive global effort to save a Thai soccer team trapped in the Tham Luang cave during an unexpected rainstorm,” says the synopsis. “Faced with insurmountable odds, a team of the world’s most skilled and experienced dive – uniquely able to navigate the maze of flooded, narrow cave tunnels – alongside Thai forces and more than 10,000 volunteers to attempt a harrowing rescue of the twelve boys and their coach. With improbably high stakes and the whole world watching, the group embarks on their most challenging dive yet, showing the limitlessness of the human spirit in the process.”
Tyler Treese: Colin, I was really curious if you could meet with John [Volanthen, the diver that Farrell plays] or what was your preparation to portray this real life hero?
Colin Farrell: Tyler, I still have never met John in the flesh, but he was incredibly generous with his time and energy in the build-up to the film. I think I got his number about two months before we left for Australia, maybe, and reached out to him. And then we just arranged a few times for us to talk on FaceTime. We were all living in a FaceTime world at the time, well… a FaceTime/Zoom world anyway. Social distancing and lockdown stuff was in the middle of the pandemic over here. So yeah, it felt more natural than it might have, but he was great. He was so generous and so welcoming with his experience during this time, the 17 days of the rescue, and also just his life in general. He was quite open with me.
He is [a] somewhat reserved, very humble man. [He] struck me as a perfectly decent human being – that’s what I came away with more than anything after spending time talking to him. I mean, I had a lot of questions to ask him about certain events and facts and things, but his complete decency was something that kind of stayed with me, you know? And his humility, having been a part of what he was a part of… being as humble as he was. I mean, there was a premiere last night in Los Angeles, right? And they would have paid for John to come and he’s damn near nowhere to be found. I think he was washing his hair or something or had a barbecue to go to. I don’t know, but he’s not that into it. He avoids it all. Unfortunately I didn’t make it to London to meet him, I would have loved to, but it was an absolute honor just to represent him as a man in this film.
Tom, how does your approach as an actor change when you’re portraying a real-life figure instead of a character?
Tom Bateman: I have played a few real characters but none of them are still alive and the story was so new. That was only about four years ago, wasn’t it? So it didn’t really change my approach to how I just read everything I can and devour everything I can to be as informed as possible about the person I’m playing. This was just made easier for me because Chris was, as Colin said about John, they are so generous with their time. I had about five, six hours of Zoom with him just a few days after I got the job, and I watched all the material on his YouTube channel. Chris Jewell [has] got this awesome YouTube channel where you can see his POV through caves that he makes on his own.
So I could really get a feel for who this guy was and we just exchanged numbers. I would just WhatsApp him anytime, day or night, he would help me. I could ask him, “what did you do this morning?” Because much of this movie, life happened between the lines. The lines on the page weren’t necessarily what the scene was about. We had to fill in a lot of that and find the color in the scene and what we want to do while this scene was happening. These guys were constantly busy. They checked their oxygen supply, they checked the batteries on their torches, they repaired their equipment, they healed their hands, embalmed their hands. So it was a real joy and a privilege just to have Chris there to say, “that’s what I did that morning. That’s what I thought about. That’s what I went through.” It made my job much easier.
Poo, Ron Howard is such a talented director. What stood out about coming to work with him?
Sahajak “Poo” Boonthankit: Wow. How would you like to work with Ron Howard? Honored. It’s freaking awesome. I don’t know what other adjectives I can use. I always wanted to work with him and I know now that it was really worth it and I would do it again and again and again. He is quite a compassionate instructor and I would do it again.