Viggo Mortenson Discusses 'Immersive' Cave Diving Training for 'Thirteen Lives' (Exclusive)

Thirteen Lives is a new movie from Ron Howard, recounting the harrowing global rescue efforts in Thailand, after a team of junior league soccer players became trapped in a series of caves when rainfall caused flooding in the tunnels. Among the incredible cast are Viggo Mortensen, Colin Farrell, Joel Edgerton, Tom Bateman and Paul Gleeson. The five men portray the team of expert cave divers who devised the unorthodox plan to free the team before the caves flooded more, or they ran out of air.

Mortenson and Farrell play Richard Stanton and John Volanthen, respectively, the leaders of the team who are good friends with decades of cave diving experience between them. Taking on the role of portraying Stanton seems as if it could be quite intimidating, as he has been called "one of the world's most accomplished cave divers," "the face of British cave diving" and "the best cave diver in Europe." Speaking about his time working with Stanton in preparation to play the skilled cave diver, Mortenson shared, "Both Colin and I spoke by phone, and then a lot, at least my case via zoom, for months before. I got to know Rick fairly well."

He continued, "It took a little while to earn his trust, he can be stand-offish. He's very honest [and] direct. And he just feels you out for a while until he feels like, okay, you're trustworthy, and you have the best interest of that rescue mission, and his, and representing him faithfully. Once he trusted that, then we got to know each other well. He turned me onto some people he had trained in the north of Spain, in the mountains there, there's some caves that are similar. And so, I got a chance to go meet them and learn a little bit from them."

Recalling their training for the roles, Mortenson said, "And then when we got to Australia, we all trained with Rick, and with Jason Mallinson, who's Paul Gleeson's character. And they really showed us how everything, every detail about how the equipment functioned, how to put it on each day, how to behave underwater. To swim like them, to move through the currents like them, handle the rope like them, carry the kids like them. Each one had a particular way of moving through the water, diving, finning, everything. And so we watched them very carefully, and learned how to imitate them, and also learned how to be safe."

He went on to add, "They're overriding, understandably, they're overriding concern always for themselves and the other divers, and for us, was safety. Do things in the right way. Be focused. Don't rush things. One job at a time, and each job of success, boom, boom, step by step. Very methodical, to be safe. Our lives depended on it, and the lives of the people we were transporting depended on it."

Mortenson continued, "So, it was a really immersive task, series of tasks, that required our constant focus. It was great. Like Joel said, it was a wonderful learning experience, a new set of skills, like, 'Okay, we did this together.' A fraction of what it must have felt like for the real people. By working together as a team in a good way, everybody's a supporting actor here, everybody is pulling together. Just a little taste of what it must have been like to be on the extraordinary real thing."

Other stars of Thirteen Lives include Sahajak "Poo" Boonthankit, Weir Sukollawat Kanarot, Pattrakorn 'Ploy' Tungsupakul, Thiraphat Sajakul, Vithaya Pansringarm, Nophand Boonyai, Lewis Fitz-Gerald, and U Gambira. Howard directed the movie from a screenplay by William Nicholson, based on a story written by Nicholson and Don Macpherson. Thirteen Lives is now playing in select theaters and on Prime Video.