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Viggo Mortensen ‘Couldn’t Breathe’ While Filming Underwater Scenes for ‘Thirteen Lives’

The Oscar-nominated actor narrowly escaped a life-or-death situation when recreating the true story of the 2018 Tham Luang cave rescue.

Thirteen Lives

“Thirteen Lives”

screenshot/Prime Video

Viggo Mortensen implemented a “Dangerous Method” on set for Ron Howard’s “Thirteen Lives.”

The thrice Oscar-nominated actor recalled barely being able to breathe when filming “Thirteen Lives,” telling the story of the 2018 Tham Luang cave rescue of 12 youth soccer players and their assistant coach who were trapped after a rainstorm. Mortensen portrays real-life hero Richard Stanton, with Colin Farrell as fellow rescue diver John Volanthen. Joel Edgerton, Tom Bateman, and Paul Gleeson also star in the film, released July 29 in theaters before launching globally on Prime Video August 5.

“All of a sudden I couldn’t breathe,” Mortensen told People. “It seemed like a long time, but it was only a matter of seconds. I panicked.”

In that moment, Mortensen remembered Stanton’s training to switch the mouthpiece to the oxygen tank and breathe using the second tank. “It’s not that complicated,” Mortensen added. “But at the moment, it’s hard to think clearly.”

The cast of “Thirteen Lives” trained with real divers to accurately portray the rescue mission that found all 13 people alive approximately 2.5 miles from the entrance to the cave after surviving for 18 days without rescue. The rescue involved more than 10,000 people from around the world and took two days to bring all of the boys out of the flooded cave.

Director/producer Howard led his team to re-create the caves, calling to mind the real analog fires in “Backdraft” and the zero-gravity filming of “Apollo 13.”

“This was another one of those kinds of physical filmmaking challenges,” Howard told The Hollywood Reporter. “It was definitely a feat.”

IndieWire’s David Ehrlich wrote in his C+ review of “Thirteen Lives” that the film was “at its best when navigating the narrow divide that separates a miracle from a fiasco, and saving a life from ending it.”

Ehlrich continued, “The more practical aspects aren’t so well-articulated. While the rescue itself is shot with a straightforward intensity that emphasizes the risk involved, and immersive sound design helps convey the alien hostility of Earth’s deadliest environments, Howard is sometimes reluctant to let his audience share in the panic-inducing claustrophobia that made it so difficult to extract the kids from that cave.”

Yet “Thirteen Lives” wasn’t the only horrifying underwater experience for Mortensen. When filming 2002’s “The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers,” the actor was pulled to the bottom of a river.

“I remember thinking, ‘This is it. This is the end,'” he reflected. Mortensen also “barely survived” a sailing trip from England to Denmark in the 1970s after his “small dinghy” capsized.

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