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Viggo Mortensen: 'Thirteen Lives' celebrates 'selfless collaboration'

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Left to right, Colin Farrell, Joel Edgerton and Viggo Mortensen can now be seen in "Thirteen Lives" on Prime Video. Photo courtesy of MGM
Left to right, Colin Farrell, Joel Edgerton and Viggo Mortensen can now be seen in "Thirteen Lives" on Prime Video. Photo courtesy of MGM

NEW YORK, Aug. 5 (UPI) -- Green Book and Lord of the Rings actor Viggo Mortensen says his new fact-based survival film, Thirteen Lives, celebrates what extraordinary deeds people can accomplish when they work together to help others.

Premiering Friday on Prime Video, the movie is a harrowing dramatization of how an international team of divers and scientists risked their lives to rescue 12 boys and their soccer coach, who were trapped for nearly three weeks in a flooded mountain cave.

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Oscar-winning director-producer Ron Howard filmed the project on location in Thailand. It co-stars Joel Edgerton, Colin Farrell, Tom Bateman, Sukollawat Kanarot, Thiraphat Sajakul, Sahajak Boonthanakit, Vithaya Pansringarm and Teeradon Supapunpinyo.

"It's wonderful that you have a recent event that exemplifies selfless collaboration for the common good," Mortensen, who plays British firefighter and cave diver Rick Stanton, said in a recent virtual press conference.

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"Nobody was doing this -- neither Rick nor any of the others, none of the Thai people -- were doing this because they were going to get rich, because they were going to gain new territory, because they were going to get political power," he added. "People did it because it was the right thing to do.

"Humans are capable of doing amazing things together."

Howard was fascinated by the story because, even though it is based on a real, widely publicized event, it includes many incredible twists and turns that lead to the team's salvation.

"Not only were there many surprises in terms of the wide variety of heroic selfless acts that were demonstrated that I didn't know about, in addition to the heroism and the remarkable feat that the divers achieved, but there was this seat-of-your-pants, problem-solving that was going on while [everyone was] under duress and under pressure," said Howard, who explored similar themes in his movies Apollo 13, A Beautiful Mind and The DaVinci Code.

The filmmaker recalled how he stripped down Thirteen Lives to its technical problems, emotional challenges and physical threats, and then built scenes around those elements to provide an authentic and thrilling account.

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"You have great actors, and you have scenes that you can construct to make these points," Howard said.

"It can make the film very relatable, creates empathy and creates suspense. It just reminds us, 'Look, this is what the real heroes did for us.' It creates a kind of an object lesson in what is possible."

Obi-Wan Kenobi and The Underground Railroad alum Edgerton plays Australian anesthetist and cave diver Richard Harris in Thirteen Lives.

He was most excited by the physical challenges of the role, which included diving in zero-visibility and carrying extra equipment -- not to mention children pretending to be unconscious -- through difficult obstacles.

"We were very well looked after and very well trained and guided," Edgerton emphasized. "But there were moments that it really underlined for us how dangerous cave diving can be if you aren't in the safe environment that we're in."

The experience crystalized everything Edgerton loves about being an actor.

"I can't imagine another job that you get to go and kind of live out what's like a childhood fantasy, which is pretending to be a real-life hero, which I'm not, and learning a new skill and understanding something that you may not have investigated before," he said.

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Edgerton looks for acting jobs that also teach him something about cultures and history about which he otherwise might not be aware.

"Somebody gives you that opportunity, opens the door to that, and you take it," he said.

Mortensen said the cast and crew had ample time to prepare for the arduous production, which took place during the coronavirus pandemic.

He spoke extensively to the real Stanton and tried cave diving with some of Stanton's friends in Spain.

"I thought: 'Wow, this is harrowing! Why would someone do this for fun? It's crazy,'" Mortensen remembered.

"I was not only listening to Rick, the way he spoke and trying to learn as much as I could -- via Zoom, he'd show me pictures, videos, so forth -- and then we went [to the film set].

"All of us actors who are playing these divers, we just watched [the real divers] very carefully. You want to get it right, but you also want to survive the shoot."

Mortensen described Howard as "a remarkable storyteller" and said he treated Thirteen Lives like "a giant independent film" by making it as realistic as possible.

The cast included actual Thai actors speaking Thai and, since the stars did most of their own stunts, Howard was able to get closeups of their faces.

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"If this was a movie that was made 20 or 30 years ago or by another kind of director, all the Thai characters would be speaking English and it would be mainly about the westerners and some heroic thing," Mortensen said.

"This was not that and it wasn't a special-effects movie. We were underwater. We were really doing these things. It's not like they took our heads and put them on stunt men."

Viggo Mortensen, Colin Farrell attend 'Thirteen Lives' premiere

Cast member Viggo Mortensen attends the premiere of Amazon Prime Video's "Thirteen Lives" at the Westwood Village Theater in the Westwood section of Los Angeles on July 28, 2022. Photo by Jim Ruymen/UPI | License Photo

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