Antonio Banderas and ‘The 33’ Cast Pay Tribute to the Chilean Miners at AFI Fest Gala

Although stars Antonio Banderas, Lou Diamond Phillips and Cote de Pablo walked the red carpet at AFI Fest’s gala screening of “The 33” at the TCL Chinese Theatre in Hollywood Monday, the group that received the most cheers weren’t the actors — but four of the actual miners that were trapped for 69 days and rescued from 2,300 feet below Chile’s Atacama Desert.

The real miners played a key role in the making of “The 33.” Director Patricia Riggen spent extensive time interviewing all 33 men who survived the 2010 Copiapo mining accident.

“When you’re standing in front of those 33 guys, there’s something special in the air,” Riggen said. “The very first time that I met them, every kind of thing happened. (One of the miners) Elvis was kind of lost when they introduced me, so he didn’t know who I was. He suddenly comes back, he’s a little tipsy to put it somehow, he grabs me, tries to kiss me and says, ‘Who are you?’ I say, ‘I’m the director!’”

Chilean miners Mario Gomez, Luis Urzua, Edison Pena, Juan Carlos Aguilar in front of a replica of the capsule used to extract the miners
Eric Charbonneau/Rex Shutterstock

Riggen’s intimate conversations with the miners helped her create composite characters that pull on experiences from the group as a whole. Alex Vega (Mario Casas) was a character comprised of three miners – one man with a pregnant wife, another man that was the first one rescued and the true Alex Vega, who had a miner father.

“It’s easier to stray away and make up moments that are going to play great with the audience, but we wanted to really stay true to the original characters,” Riggen said.

The actors also interacted with the miners to draw on the real events that took place during those 69 days. “Mario Sepulveda, the character that I play, said to me, ‘Antonio, I am not Zorro. I am not a hero. I am a human being. I have my high moments and I have my low moments and I want you to perform it like that,’” Banderas explained.

“The 33” stayed true to the real events by using Chilean extras, about 300 of them. A lot of these actors were in Chile when the rescue happened. “When you have these emotional moments and you see them crying, they’re truly crying because they lived this,” said Elizabeth De Razzo. “To be in the midst of that it was such a beautiful and amazing experience.”

“It’s great to be with your mind on the north but with your eyes on the south. We have so many stories,” Juan Pablo Raba said. “We’re such a thriving, exciting part of America.”

The film was shot in Colombia and in Chile, about two miles from where the actual events took place. After filming six days a week with 14 hour days in a dark, damp mine, the actors needed an escape. Phillips used cooking as his therapy, making dinner for the cast and crew on Sundays. “What I enjoyed about it was going to the market and seeing what’s fresh, what’s in, what’s new, what looks good and creating from there,” Phillips explained.

Also in attendance were Sylvester Stallone, Phoenix Pictures’ Mike Medavoy and Alcon Entertainment’s Andrew Kosove and Broderick Johnson. Warner Bros. opens “The 33” on Nov. 13.

(Pictured: Juan Pablo Raba and Antonio Banderas at “The 33” premiere at AFI Fest)

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