Colin Farrell Says He Had Panic Attacks While Filming ‘Thirteen Lives’: “It Was Incredibly Nerve Racking”

When Colin Farrell heard that his Thirteen Lives co-star Viggo Mortensen wanted to do the film’s grueling underwater scenes himself rather than rely on a stunt double, he couldn’t resist diving in behind him.

“I couldn’t have Viggo take all the glory,” Farrell joked to The Hollywood Reporter on Thursday night at the premiere of the Ron Howard-directed film. “I might have to blame Viggo for that decision but, you know, in for a penny in for a pound. If Viggo’s in, I’m in.”

Easier said than done.

Thirteen Lives, now in select theaters from MGM/UA before a global Prime Video debut on Aug. 5, recounts the true story of an unprecedented global effort to rescue a Thai soccer team after they became trapped in the Tham Luang cave during an unexpected rainstorm. A collective consisting of the world’s most skilled divers mobilized alongside Thai forces and upwards of 10,000 volunteers to attempt a harrowing rescue of the twelve boys and their coach. Howard directed from a script by William Nicholson based on a story by Nicholson and Don Macpherson.

Farrell stars as one of those divers, John Volanthen, opposite Mortensen, Joel Edgerton, Paul Gleeson, Tom Bateman and others in a role that was not only physically demanding but mentally as well as they were tasked with intensive scuba training to prepare to navigate real

“I had a couple of really panicky moments underwater when I had to say to myself, ‘Just relax. Be calm. You’re fine. There’s nothing to worry about. Your tank is good, you’ve got a 60 percent full tank. Just slow your breath down. It’s OK,’” Farrell recalled of the harrowing underwater moments in the cave. “At times, there was no surface over your head, just a ceiling and it was incredibly nerve racking and I was incredibly uncomfortable. There was no light and you would wait for [the crew] to get on the speakers to tell you the camera was rolling. But if you were underwater when they called ‘action,’ you might not hear the fucking speaker so everyone is looking at everyone else under the water. If something happened, someone might back up into you and hit your fucking mask [pushing it sideways]. All of a sudden — hello, panic attack.”

Colin Farrell appears in a scene from Ron Howard’s Thirteen Lives.

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As to whether Thirteen Lives is the most challenging project he’s ever been on, the actor said, “Probably because there was this mental aspect, too, to be honest with you.”

For Howard, navigating the caves became one of his biggest challenges as a director. “I’ve done a lot of work in the water and water is pretty manageable. The tight spaces are what wound up making the movie much more challenging than I even realized it would be,” he explained, adding that it was one he was able to rise to thanks to the bravery of his cast. “Our actors wound up doing all their own diving because once they had learned the technique of cave diving, they came to me and said that it was such a particular skill of their characters so they asked if we could rearrange the schedule and make it possible for them to do all of their own underwater work. And they did. It made a huge difference for me as a director and it will for the audience because there are no quick cuts. Suddenly, you realize that what you’re seeing is really Viggo Mortensen and Colin Farrell. They’re in there.”

Hardships aside, Farrell says he always tries to center gratitude for being employed as an actor: “I should never lose sight of what a fortunate position I’m in to be able to make a living telling stories, which is essentially what I do. You know, that’s it. I make a living telling stories and I bring characters to life. I learn a bit about myself to it on the side but that’s not the reason I’m doing it, of course. It’s an incredible job, really, and an experience that I get to share with other people.”

He continued: “In a world that’s as fractured as the world that we share is, there’s a common purpose on a film set. You don’t walk on one and hear ‘The Hills Are Alive’ [with the sound of music] being sung. Sets can be very tense places but the bottom line is that there’s a common purpose and I’ve been lucky enough to be on films where there’s a sense of togetherness and that’s awesome to experience.”

Speaking of awesome experiences, Farrell attended last night’s premiere with his son, Henry, who kept close to his dad while he was making his way down the press line. “I’m so proud of him as a human being,” Farrell said during their rare red carpet outing together. “I’m a big fan of his, I love him so much. I have two great boys. I’m very, very lucky.”

Colin Farrell and Viggo Mortensen in a scene from the film. “I knew he would do a good job,” Mortensen says of working with filmmaker Ron Howard. “He’s good at telling these kinds of stories and I learned that not only is he a great director, he’s a great actor director, too. It was just a nice experience.”

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Colin Farrell, Viggo Mortensen, Joel Edgerton, Thira Chutikul and Popetorn Soonthornyanakij in the film.

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