ComingSoon Editor-in-Chief Tyler Treese spoke to 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 that the film follows. The movie makes its Prime Video premiere on Friday, August 5.
“Thirteen Lives recounts the incredible true story of the tremendous global effort to rescue a Thai soccer team who become 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 divers – uniquely able to navigate the maze of flooded, narrow cave tunnels – join with Thai forces and more than 10,000 volunteers to attempt a harrowing rescue of the twelve boys and their coach. With impossibly high stakes and the entire world watching, the group embarks on their most challenging dive yet, showcasing the limitlessness of the human spirit in the process.”
Tyler Treese: Colin, I was really curious, were you able to meet with John [Volanthen, the diver that Farrell plays] or what was your preparation for portraying this real-life hero?
Colin Farrell: Tyler, I’ve still 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 digits about two months before we traveled to Australia, perhaps, and reached out to him. And then we just arranged a few times for us to talk on FaceTime. We were all kind of living in a FaceTime world at that stage, anyway … a FaceTime/Zoom world. The social distancing and lockdown stuff was in the middle of the pandemic over here. So yeah, felt more natural than it may have, but he was great. He was so generous and so forthcoming 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’s [a] somewhat reserved, very humble man. [He] felt to me like an utterly decent human being — that was the thing that I came away with more than anything, having spent time talking to him. I mean, I had a bunch of questions to ask him about certain events and facts and things, but his utter 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 … to be as humble as he was. I mean, there was a premiere last night in Los Angeles, right? And they would’ve paid for John to come, and he’s fucking 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 interested in it. He kind of shuns it all. Unfortunately, I didn’t get to London to meet him, I would’ve loved to, but it was an absolute honor to just 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 rather than a character?
Tom Bateman: I’ve played a few real-life figures, but none of them that are still alive, and the story was so recent. It was only about four years since, right? So it didn’t really change in my approach to how I just read everything I can and devour everything I can to be as informed as I can about the person I’m playing. This was just made more easy for me because Chris was, like Colin said about John, they’re so generous with their time. I had about a five, six-hour Zoom with him only a couple days after I got the job, and all the material I watched his YouTube channel. Chris Jewell [has] got this amazing YouTube channel where you can watch his POV through caves that he’s doing just on his own.
So I could really get a sense of who this guy was, and we just exchanged numbers. I’d just WhatsApp him anytime, day or night, he would help me out. I could ask him, “what were you doing this morning?” Because a lot of this film, the life was happening in between the lines. The lines on the page weren’t necessarily what the scene was about. We had to fill a lot of that in and find the color in the scene, and what we’ll be doing while this scene was taking place. These guys were constantly busy. They were checking their oxygen supply, they were checking the batteries on their torches, they were repairing their gear, they were healing their hands, balming their hands. So it was a real joy and a privilege to just have Chris there to say, “this is what I was doing that morning. This is what I was thinking of. This is what I was going through.” It made my job a lot easier.
Poo, Ron Howard is such a talented director. What stood out about getting to work with him?
Sahajak “Poo” Boonthankit: Wow. How would you feel working with Ron Howard? Honored. It’s outrageously amazing. I don’t know what other adjectives I can use. I have always wanted to work with him and I now know that it was really worth it and I would do it over and over and over again. He is quite the compassionate director and I would do it again.