Ron Howard & Raymond Phathanavirangoon Interview: Thirteen Lives

Thirteen Lives, premiering on Prime Video August 5, is based on the inspirational true story of the Tham Luang cave rescue. In 2018, over the course of eighteen days, Thai and British divers came together to save twelve young boys and their coach from a flooded cave. Now that incredible story has been immortalized as a film by Ron Howard (who similarly directed the gripping story of Apollo 13).

Several big Hollywood names played the British divers, including Colin Farrell, Viggo Mortensen, and Joel Edgerton. But a Thai story needs Thai minds behind it as well, and there were plenty actors who joined Thirteen Lives to bring the beautiful tale to life, as well as producers and consultants who helped do the research behind the scenes. One such co-producer was Raymond Phathanavirangoon, who was previously produced Thai films such as Samui Song and Apprentice.


Related: Thai Cave Rescue Gets Detailed & Gripping Retelling In Thirteen Lives

Screen Rant spoke to Howard and Phathanavirangoon about the most surprising things they learned from their research into the real-live events, and the immense pride they feel in having done their best to tell the story with respect.

Thira Chutikul and Viggo Mortensen in Thirteen Lives
Thira Chutikul and Viggo Mortensen in Thirteen Lives

Screen Rant: Can you walk me through what you were surprised to learn about this story, when you really started diving in?

Ron Howard: Well, I did not know how the kids were extracted and how they ultimately were able to safely get them out of the out of the cave. I had no idea that, days after, the cave had flooded. I didn't realize that, on that last day, they were literally battling the weather. I didn't know anything about the other sacrifices. I didn't know that, in order to divert the water from the mountain, it meant that the rice farmers had to sacrifice their crops.

There were so many details and so many different brands of courage and heroism on display, beyond the diving, that it all felt very dramatic, emotional, and interesting to me. I felt like we could do something compelling that would really surprise audiences.

Raymond Phathanavirangoon: There were just so many things that I felt were so important. For example, the fact that these British divers, who are obviously strangers to Thailand, at some point actually started to look at the mountains and go, "I can see that. That's the princess Nang Non." And they start to really appreciate and understand a lot of Thai culture - not just Thai, because this is in the north of Thailand, where the religion is slightly different there. They believe in this kind of animism, that is also part of Buddhism, which is not what we believe in the rest of Thailand.

For them to actually [have] so much respect? Like, those red bracelets that are blessed? And I hope that - and I believe that we did - we showed that extremely respectfully, because it came from the divers when they told us what that meant to them. And I think that we really made a point to really respect that.

All the credit to Ron, because he made sure that that happened. He was very, very clear that he wanted to make a film that Thai [people] would watch and go, "I could see this being made by Thai people because these are people who really got all the details. Right.

You were talking about the British divers, and I have to shout out Colin. I remember that clip so vividly, and it felt like he did that perfectly. It was amazing.

Ron Howard: Colin, Viggo, Joel, Tom Bateman.. They really threw themselves into it. And it's an ensemble movie. It's not a vehicle for Colin Farrell, like he's used to, or Viggo Mortensen. And yet they wanted to join me in this process of really getting it right and bringing it to as many as many people as possible.

People sometimes say, "How do you take events where people know the outcome, and still create suspense and urgency?" The reason to do a dramatized version, a scripted version, is to give these actors this opportunity to convey these moments in a way that's going to resonate with us in the audience and going to surprise us. "I hadn't thought about that this way. Oh, that's what it must have felt like to be there." I can do that to some extent as a director, but it really comes down to the actors and their artistry.

And I have to say that, on the Thai side of our cast, I was just blown away. But as Raymond was suggesting, it's a Thai story and these artists were so invested in getting this right. We all felt honored, frankly, to have the opportunity to tell this story.

Thirteen Lives Synopsis

Colin Farrell, Paul Gleeson, and Thira Chutikul in Thirteen Lives
Colin Farrell, Paul Gleeson, and Thira Chutikul in Thirteen Lives

A rescue mission is assembled in Thailand where a group of young boys and their soccer coach are trapped in a system of underground caves that are flooding.

Check out our other interviews with Thirteen Lives stars Joel Edgerton, Viggo Mortensen & James Teeradon Supapunpinyo, Colin Farrell, Tom Bateman & Sahajak Poo Boonthankit, and Weir Sukollawat Kanaros & Pattrakorn Tungsupakul. You can catch our previous interview with Ron Howard for Under the Banner of Heaven as well.