Teeradon “James” Supapunpinyo on Preparing for His Role in ‘Thirteen Lives’

Teeradon “James” Supapunpinyo has a newfound appreciation for meditation. After being cast in Ron Howard’s Thirteen Lives as the heroic coach Ekkaphon Chanthawong stuck in the Tham Luang caves in 2018 with 12 of his football players, Supapunpinyo had to do a lot of research for the role.

Prior to becoming a coach, Chanthawong was a monk for eight years and used his knowledge to help the boys survive the dark caves for 18 days. So Supapunpinyo immediately bought a book on meditation and began to pray and meditate every morning and night. 

“I saw a video on how to meditate – and then I started to meditate, pray again, and then sleep,” said Supapunpinyo during a Zoom call with Nerds of Color. “I kept doing that every day for 14 days during quarantine [before production].” He even went as far as asking local monks for advice on meditation and learned there were so many levels of meditation to reach. 

But, Supapunpinyo didn’t stop there in his method acting as Coach Ek. As a way to connect with the boys who would play the kids on the team, Supapunpinyo began teaching the kids, some of whom had no prior acting experience, how to meditate. In fact, he would spend ten minutes before and during rehearsals and shooting scenes with the boys just meditating. 

Howard knew Supapunpinyo would be great working with the young actors since he was a very popular performer and actor for the younger generation. “James was very important in actually leading [the boys] and guiding them and helping them understand how to be in a movie,” said Howard. 

Director Ron Howard on the set of THIRTEEN LIVES, a Metro Goldwyn Mayer Pictures film. Credit: Vince Valitutti / Metro Goldwyn Mayer Pictures © 2022 Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Although Supapunpinyo was an experienced actor, he had a difficult time when it came to the northern Thai dialect. He is originally from Bangkok, which has a completely different dialect and accent than Northern Thailand. He took some lessons from some of the child actors who were from the Chiang Rai region where the rescue took place. “I [told] them to record [their] accent for me,” Supapunpinyo recalled. “I kept practicing that every day.”

Supapunpinyo also went on an extreme diet in order to look like he hadn’t eaten anything for days because his character was stuck in the caves without food. “I had to reduce my weight because the first scene [we shot] was of the divers that came into the cave and found the boys and [learned] they were alive,” he remembered. “So I had to look very thin. I had to exercise and [reduce] my jawline.”

He went on a 700 calories-per-day diet and rode his bicycle losing about 300-400 calories per day. By the time he had to shoot the scene, he had lost about 13 pounds. He assures us that he was fine and it was good for the scene. 

“It was pretty surreal,” said Supapunpinyo. “I remember during the first scene [I thought], ‘Oh, I’m so hungry.’”

Though shooting the film proved to be difficult for Supapunpinyo due to the intense scenes of feeling trapped in a cave, he feels honored to be part of this film representing Thai people and their culture. He knows how important this story is to share with the world. 

“I [get] to play the role of a real person,” he said. “It’s my honor. I feel good that I am part of this story and deliver the message out to the world of love, hope, and everything.”

Thirteen Lives is out in limited theaters and premieres on August 5 on Prime Video.