At one point during the launch event for the global trailer for Thirteen Lives, co-producer Vorakorn 'Billy' Ruetaivanichkul talked about a very vital part of casting the movie: finding actors to portray the thirteen boys who were the beating heart of the Tham Luang cave rescue that caught global attention in the summer of 2018.
"Most of them are non-actors, so I just needed to form a spacial session for them. I briefed them step by step... imagine you are in a tight space, imagine that you have a lack of food and water... we did several rounds until we got the right boys... I was really proud to do the casting, to do this."
Pride, sincerity and collaboration were common themes that came up throughout the launch event for Thirteen Lives, a movie that centres on the myriad of stories that revolve around the rescue of the young soccer team and their coach. Director Ron Howard mentioned how working on many true stories throughout his career influenced his authentic and documentary-esque approach to the movie, not just in terms of the story, but also in accurately representing the nuances of Thai culture, saying "it needed to reflect Thai culture and these characters in, you know, in very
nuanced, very connected, contemporary, thoughtful ways."
Some household names from the world of acting also feature in the film, playing the cave divers that helped to rescue the boys, with Viggo Mortensen as Richard Stanton, Colin Farrell as John Volanthen, Joel Edgerton as Richard Harris and Tom Bateman as Chris Jewell. Bateman talked about the intense preparation around making a movie where his character had such a specific skill-set, revealing - to the utter surprise of Ron Howard - that he suffers from claustrophobia, an aspect that intensified the shooting process for him. "I'm hugely claustrophobic, so I struggled pretty much every day," he confessed. "The last stunt dive was one of my last days, and I loved this experience, Ron, very, very much. But my God, I was happy to get out of that, I thought."
Other actors also shared their experiences around developing their characters: Thai actress Ploy Pattrakorn Tangsupakul who plays Wahom, the mother of one of the boys, reflected that since she has no children of her own, she worked on many situations to help her tap into the experiences around motherhood and the emotions therein in order to accurately convey what the parents of the boys went through. "She asked her friends and approached people around her who had kids and just... discussed with them about motherhood... and tried to study about what the parents expressed to the media."
Likewise, Joel Edgerton explained that becoming a parent while shooting the movie only accentuated his emotional connection to the story, and mentioned how all the extra information he learned about the rescue beyond what was privy to the general public only served to further deepen his appreciation of the rescue itself. "Once I got involved in the project, there were things that were not really available to the public that had become available to the public afterwards that were very surprising to me," he said. "And there were elements to the rescue that I think were quite shocking and surprising to people, you know, particularly the way that the children were anesthetized to be sort of taken out of the caves."
The soccer team's coach, played by popular Thai actor James Teeradon Supapunpinyo, also shared a story of his parental emotions and attachments to the boys under his care during shooting. Given that he spent the majority of shooting in their company, he shared with much affection about how he found himself being inspired by the children: "They show me something that... some habits [to]inspire me to want to make it good, better, better, and better."
Co-producer Ruetaivanichkul recounted how he and Ron Howard wished to ensure that the nuances of the Changrai dialect of Thai were utilised correctly, and that he often found himself encouraging the boys to try out lines in the script in the way they would naturally wish to say them, instead of going precisely with what was scripted. In that vein, many other sentiments revolved around the great collaborative spirit between all those involved in the project, with actor Colin Farrell saying that "it was about being led by our Thai brothers and sisters, and those people who we were playing as well, of course, the divers, and how they guided us through the actual events that took place, and how serious it was." Poo Sahajak (Governor Narongsak) credited Howard's close and tight direction, and the script by William Nicholson: "...it was very easy for me to play him because I was told by Ron, 'This is what it is.' And I guess Mr. Nicholson had written it in such a beautiful way."
Alongside the trailer release, the panel also shared a short clip from the movie as well as a behind-the-scenes featurette, which showed up-close the gruelling conditions of the cave rescue as recreated by Howard and the production team. Included amongst the advisors was one of the cave divers directly involved in the rescue, Richard Stanton (played by Viggo Mortensen). In reflection of the great responsibility around playing real people that were still alive and involved with the film, Mortensen mentioned how he ended up looking for cave diving opportunities while he was in Spain during the pandemic. "Imagine for hours in these situations and trying to stay calm," he said. "And the waters, it’s dirty, I mean, it’s not clean, clean water where you can see everything. It’s very dark. You can easily get very frightened in a hurry, and like I say breathing, breathing that was the key."
Finally, one of the most poignant moments in the evening can from actor Two Popetorn (Dr Karn) who stated that it was an "honor to be able to tell our story through Ron’s film, and it feels like we have that responsibility to just do a really good job for all of us Thai people. And, you know, it's just been a great ride, and we just enjoyed every moment of it."
"I really, really liked the fact that [Ron] wanted to get everything right," said co-producer Raymond Pathanavirangoon. "And the thing that I really loved is that the way he pitched it [to] me was that, you know, of course that was when the pandemic was going on and then he said, 'there's just a lot of, you know, darkness around the world. We should, if I can, make a film that actually can show the world that everybody can come together despite all their differences and create a miracle and to basically give some positivity back. That would be something that is truly amazing."
The wish to do the story justice and truly portray the incredible and remarkable experiences that led to such a miraculous rescue was conveyed by all multiple times during the evening and if the depth of Ron Howard and co's research and intense precision is anything to go by, Thirteen Lives is set to be a moving and profound cinematic experience.