Thirteen Lives tells the true story of the attempt to rescue a group of young boys and their soccer coach who are trapped in a system of flooding underground caves in Thailand. This isn’t the first time that this story has been told, having been the subject of several documentaries previously, but director Ron Howard saw this film as an opportunity to paint a more intimate portrait of such a harrowing mission.
Speaking at Deadline’s Contenders LA3C panel, Howard and Joel Edgerton, who plays cave diver Richard Harris, spoke about the delicacy of the story and the importance of cultural authenticity during production.
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“We heightened a certain sense of empathy or understanding of what it might have felt like to be there,” Howard said. “I felt like our job was to make that [threat] immediate and present in an unsentimental, authentic way — in a way that reflected in very honest terms the power and the humanity of those choices. … There’s nobility in these choices that are made, and I wanted to reflect that in his honest way.”
Not only did the subject matter require some sensitivity, but the story also revolves around what Howard called a “case study in what is possible in cross-cultural collaboration.” Giving the proper representation to all the heroes in the story, including the Thai leadership and the 5,000 volunteers who helped save those innocent lives, was paramount for the director.
“I made that priority No. 1 from the moment I said yes, was to begin to research [and] to develop the collaborations, so that the quality control would be there — the creative control would be there to make sure the Thai side of the story would resonate with Thai audiences and authentically reflect the culture,” he said.
Getting that right required relinquishing a certain level of control over the cultural and religious aspects of the story that Howard might not have understood on his own. Edgerton said Howard did so with great care.
“This ability to trust everybody’s input — to me, that’s real power and real confidence,” the actor said. “It felt like a very exciting environment to be in not just because of the story but because everybody was sort of on their toes and really leaning into the experience.”
Check back Wednesday for the panel video.
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