Colin Farrell, Ron Howard dive into the making of their rescue drama Thirteen Lives

Colin Farrell stars in Thirteen Lives, a feature film from Prime Video chronicling the 2018 rescue of a boys soccer team from a flooded Thai cave. The Ron Howard-directed film also stars Joel Edgerton and Viggo Mortenson, and will be available to stream on Aug. 5. 

Ron Howard-directed drama tells story of the 2018 Thai cave rescue

Thirteen Lives, in theatres Friday, recounts the 2018 rescue of a boys soccer team from a flooded Thai cave. From left to right are actor Thira Chutikul, Popetorn Soonthornyanaku, Joel Edgerton, Colin Farrell and Viggo Mortenson. (Vince Valitutti/Metro Goldwyn)

In the summer of 2018, the world watched as a 12-member Thai soccer team and their coach were rescued from a flooded cave over the course of more than two weeks.

But despite having recreated some of that experience for film, actor Colin Farrell (The Batman, Miami Vice) says he still can't imagine what the divers went through. 

"I was having multiple panic attacks under the water with 20 safety divers around," he told CBC News. "There was a sense of claustrophobia that a few of us struggled with."

Farrell stars in Thirteen Lives, a feature film from Prime Video chronicling the rescue. The Ron Howard-directed film also stars Joel Edgerton and Viggo Mortenson, and will be in select theatres Friday and available to stream on Aug. 5. 

This isn't the first time the dramatic rescue of the boys and their coach has been recreated on screen, and won't be the last. The Cave retold the story in 2019 and in September Netflix will release the six-part series Thai Cave Rescue. There was also the Jimmy Chin-directed documentary The Rescue which had its Canadian premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival in 2021. 

WATCH | Farrell on avoiding Hollywood tropes:

“The Thai experience was at the centre of the film”

2 months ago
Duration 1:49
Colin Farrell discusses avoiding Hollywood tropes while making Thirteen Lives

Despite this, Howard (Apollo 13, A Beautiful Mind) feels there's a space for more than one film.

"The promise that you make with the audience is sort of different with the documentary than it is with a feature film," he said. "You are just creating a sense of what it might have felt like to actually be there." 

WATCH | Howard on his directing approach:

“People who did not have to be there making this amazing commitment”

2 months ago
Duration 1:44
Ron Howard on how he approached telling the story of Thirteen Lives

Farrell, who plays diver John Volanthen, says the film strikes a balance between telling how parties across the world collaborated on helping those boys while, at its core, remaining a Thai story. 

He notes that there isn't a word of English spoken in its first 10 minutes. "The film really was, in my experience, more about the Thai people and the spirit of the Thai people," Farrell said. 

Co-producer Vorakorn "Billy" Ruetaivanichkul, who was born in Thailand, says the scale of the story they were trying to tell required international co-operation, much like the rescue. He says the goal was "to touch audiences around the world." The team also worked with Thai consultants and actors from the region that was impacted by the rescue. 

The scope of the events surrounding the rescue also informed Howard's storytelling.

"This is a story of process in a lot of ways," he said. "The technical and physical aspect of the diving. It's also the process of the rescue from a governmental side, a cultural side, the parents' perspective, the rice farmers." 

WATCH | Edgerton talks about learning from young actors:

“There's such a purity and innocence”

2 months ago
Duration 1:12
Joel Edgerton discusses learning from young actors while filming Thirteen Lives

Howard says he was very granular about those processes, adding he's been working more with documentaries and learning about how people react under duress.

"I'm sort of evolving as a filmmaker in my own understanding of people and how they behave. And I hope to share that through this story," he said.

Edgerton plays Richard "Harry" Harris in the film, the Australian anesthetist and diver who made the difficult and potentially deadly decision to put the boys trapped in the cave under anesthetic so they could be rescued — despite the huge risk involved. 

"I can only imagine what the weight of that responsibility and that choice would have felt like," said Edgerton, who was on his way to becoming a father during filming.

Edgerton says he enjoyed working with children during filming, despite the longstanding industry adage. "I know that, was it [comedian] W.C. Fields said, 'Don't work with children or animals,'" he said. "But for every time there might be a challenge, working with a young person, there's something to be learned."

He says he was impressed by the performances of the Thai children in the film, many of whom he says had never really acted before. 

"There's such a purity and innocence and an uncomplicated approach to being in front of a camera. I was so moved by some of the kids," he says.

"There was a couple of moments that made me choke up."

WATCH | Thirteen Lives trailer:


Joseph Pugh is a writer with the Entertainment department at CBC News. Prior to joining CBC he worked with the news department at CHLY, Nanaimo's Community radio station, and taught math at Toronto's Urban International School. He can be reached at joseph.pugh@cbc.ca

With files from Eli Glasner


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