Even as the actual event was unfolding, you knew the 2018 Thai cave rescue — a gripping real-life story of ingenuity and international cooperation with a happy ending — would become a Hollywood movie. But we should count ourselves lucky that the resulting film is Thirteen Lives, directed by a consummate pro, Ron Howard, and starring the flinty, always-interesting Viggo Mortensen as Richard “Rick” Stanton, the no-nonsense British cave diver who devised a daring plan that resulted in all lives being saved. We spoke with Mortensen, 63, about his attachment to the story, his preparation for the role, and his deeper thoughts about inspiration and heroism.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: You've played one of the most iconic heroes in literature, J.R.R. Tolkien's Aragorn, but what I like about your Rick Stanton is that he's not iconic. There's something very rough-edged and cranky about him — an unlikely hero — and it's fascinating watching you perform this. Was that part of the appeal of the role for you?
VIGGO MORTENSEN: It's interesting that you compare him to Aragorn. There are similarities. Both can be a little gruff, but they're very direct: men of few words, men who are determined to do the right thing. They're both working within a team. Both stories are about a collective effort, a selfless effort, for the common good, for the good of all people on the planet. Or, in the case of Lord of the Rings, Middle-earth.