The shoot for “Thirteen Lives,” the feature film adaptation of the miraculous 2018 cave-diving rescue mission known as the Tham Luang cave rescue, found all principal cast members taking to the water to navigate long, recreated cave corridors. Tom Bateman, who plays one of the rescue divers in the film, recalls the hours upon hours of underwater training the film required.
“We were fucking pruned!” Bateman told Variety at the red carpet premiere of the film at Westwood Village Theater on Thursday night. “It was pretty tough, man. We get looked after, but you pretty much put on a wetsuit at, like, 6 in the morning. And you’re not out of it until 8 o’ clock at night.”
Bateman stars alongside Viggo Mortensen, Collin Farrell and Joel Edgerton in the new film from director Ron Howard. “Thirteen Lives” follows the true story of the 2018 rescue of a boys’ soccer team in Thailand, after they were trapped in a cave for 18 days due to a flash flood. In order to rescue the coach and 12 boys stranded about 2.5 miles inside the flooded cave, four British cave divers — Rick Stanton, Vernon Unsworth, Connor Roe and Josh Bratchley — traversed the narrow corridors and brought each of the boys to safety, one-by-one. In the film, the cast did all of their own stunts and diving, requiring intensive training and hours underwater.
“The water stuff was horrible!” Farrell said. “They built four or five tunnels that were designed based on the drawings of the Tham Luang cave. I mean, there were twists, turns, down, up, pitch points, stuff you had to go upside down. And we had safety divers, but it’s still water. And there was no fuckin’ surface — they had holes on the side of the tunnel where the safety divers could watch us. Yeah, I definitely had a few anxiety attacks under the water.”
Bateman echoed Farrell’s panicked response to the intensive shoot, claiming that he didn’t expect the process to be so realistic and grueling.
“I didn’t realize they had one of the most incredible camera operators who could be in those tunnels with us,” Bateman said. “The dude was, like, going backwards and stuff! So yeah, I had a hell of a lot of panic attacks in there.”
The real cave divers who rescued the 13 lives those days had a heavy hand in consulting on the film, providing the actors with their unique perspective.
“Ultimately, we all go cave diving for fun,” Roe said. “And we’re all part of rescue teams to give back to our communities. And so we never expect anything from that, it’s just a nice thing to be able to do. So to find ourselves in this position, it’s nice to share this story with the world.”
For Mortensen, the film is more than just a spectacle of cliff-diving filmmaking. It’s a story of an international collaborative effort, showcasing the best that humans can be when they band together for a common cause.
“I believe in collaboration as opposed to selfishness, greed and competition above all else, which seems to be the times we’re living in,” Mortensen said. “It’s a great example of the way things can be when people think in a good way, as opposed to the way most people — certainly politicians — think nowadays.”
“Thirteen Lives” is hitting theaters on Friday, July 29. It will also be available for streaming globally on Prime Video starting August 5.