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‘Thirteen Lives’ Director Ron Howard And Star Viggo Mortensen On Why This Movie Matters – Virtual Screening Series

Director Ron Howard, star Viggo Mortensen and producer Karen Lunder joined me Thursday night for Deadline’s Virtual Screening Series to talk about the making of their true-life Thai cave rescue drama Thirteen Lives. It is a story known the world over, an event surrounding the attempt to rescue 13 young boys trapped in a Thailand cave with little hope of getting out, except for the extraordinary heroes who banded together from around the world in order to save them against all odds.

Thirteen Lives

‘Thirteen Lives’

Vince Valitutti / Metro Goldwyn Mayer Pictures

Howard has done many heroic true-life stories before, from Apollo 13 to his Oscar-winning A Beautiful Mind, but this one presented new challenges, not least because there had been so much known about this event including books and documentaries. But he knew there was more to tell.

“When I read it I thought I knew the story and I didn’t. There were a lot of twists and turns that I didn’t know and a lot of ways in which characters were really tested that were powerful, emotional, ” he said. “So there was that part. The other thing was, I felt I actually have a lot of experiences, and it sort of ticked two boxes at once. I had a lot of filmmaking experiences that that led me to believe that I could fulfill the potential of this story. I could understand how to make it suspenseful, how to make it a real movie movie, and still deliver on the themes, even though there were some challenges and those were equally exciting, even though they were a little daunting, and that was the cultural aspect. I knew I had to get that right in this era more than ever, but simply because it’s just the right thing. You know, this is a Thai story. So I knew that I was going to be in some deep water and I need to rely on on building great collaborations and it was really thrilling and fun to achieve that.

“I knew there were other versions being contemplated. Or being made. I knew there had been documentaries and more to come and and all that. I honestly just felt like this is such a great story, that if we can get strong acting, and I can apply the right sort of cinematics to this story, we can tell a version that creates this sort of bridge, this empathy, this intimate understanding of what it might have been like to be there,” he added. “And I just want people to understand this story. You know, the people who lived through it achieved something really remarkable. I want people to recognize that we didn’t make this stuff up. This happened.”

Thirteen Lives

(L-R) Colin Farrell, Joel Edgerton and Viggo Mortensen

Vince Valitutti/Metro Goldwyn Mayer Pictures

Mortensen, who played key rescuer Rick Stanton (Colin Farrell and Joel Edgerton co-starred), felt the same way. He hopes Amazon will actually find a way to put it back into theaters for the ultimate viewing experience, even though it has been streaming on Prime Video for months. He thinks it is that important.

“A lot of people have seen this movie, and will hopefully continue to do so,” he said. “It’s a movie that deserves to be seen. It’s one of Ron’s best movies. It’s a beautiful story. It’s thrilling. It’s moving. It’s a great adventure story. It’s beautifully crafted. I’ve been lucky to see it on on the big screen a few times and there’s nothing like it. It’s just evolving in experience, and I hope people get a chance to see it.”

As for Lunder, she knew there would be competition to get out there first, but also felt they had a responsibility to get it right. “There are several producers that were involved in making this because it was such an unbelievably meaningful and important story when it came out in the world. There were all kinds of people flying to Thailand and scrambling for different rights, as Hollywood tends to do, and we had actually sat back and didn’t do that,” she said. “Bill Nicholson wrote a beautiful script, which Ron and I read and we were so struck by how suspenseful it felt and how much like a movie it felt. But we also felt this tremendous responsibility for it not to be, you know, a Hollywood hero’s journey, things swelling, epic kind of story. We really, really wanted to tell the truth.”

Watch the interview in the video above.

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