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The 63-year-old actor currently stars as real-life hero Rick Stanton in the forthcoming movie, which chronicles the 2018 Tham Luang cave rescue.
In preparation for the role, Mortensen learned how to dive in order to shoot various complicated underwater sequences in which his character, along with other cave divers, risk their lives to save 12 players of a youth soccer team and their assistant coach who become trapped inside a flooded cave.
Speaking to People in a new interview, Mortensen recalled the moment he was diving into one of the Australian sets built to replicate the Thai cave. While wriggling through a narrow spot, the valve of his oxygen tank switched off, a scenario not uncommon under those particular conditions.
“All of a sudden I couldn’t breathe,” he remembered. “It seemed like a long time, but it was only a matter of seconds. I panicked.”
He was then reminded of his training protocol: to change the mouthpiece and use the second tank to breathe.
“It’s not that complicated. But at the moment, it’s hard to think clearly,” he said.
Thirteen Lives releases in select cinemas on 29 July, and will later be available to stream on Prime Video on 5 August.