Cave rescuer Jim recreates role for Thai movie

Jim Warny filming at Shannon Airport. Photo: Arthur Ellis.

FIVE months after he returned to a hero’s homecoming in Shannon, Jim Warny was back in the airport last Sunday to recreate his role in the rescue of 12 young boys and their football coach from a flooded cave network in Thailand.

This time the Shannon aerospace technician was facing the cameras for a film based on the story that gripped the attention of the world last June.

He was one of an elite multi-national group of divers who volunteered to assist in the unprecedented and highly dangerous rescue mission and is now playing himself in the film. The crew recaptured the poignant scenes of Mr Warny’s homecoming and the moment he was reunited with his fiancée and his dad in Shannon Airport.

He said he was overwhelmed by the huge outpouring of support he received when he touched down in Shannon back in July following the rescue and that it was surreal to be back.

“It’s a bit strange or a bit surreal but I take it in my stride, you know. It’s very nice and I am happy to tell people what happened there and share the story. It might inspire someone to do something special. Maybe I was a bit naïve about it. Of course, I was anticipating a bit of media but even a bit of media was nerve wrecking for me as I didn’t anticipate a big crowd like that.”

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Called ‘The Cave’, the film is written and Directed by Tom Waller, a Thai filmmaker whose father is a native of Tipperary.

Mr Warny, who lives in Ennis, was central to the evacuation and brought out Ekkapol Chantawong, the boys’ coach on the final day of the three-day operation.

He said he was happy to play himself in the film and just wants the amazing story to be told accurately.

He said there is no need to exaggerate what happened for any movie script.

“The story is so amazing. Yeah, you wouldn’t make it up for a movie.”

He said he decided to get involved in the film as he believed about 70 per cent of the story had yet to be told.

“Who else could play me anyway, with my accent,” he laughed. “You can’t find a stunt man either to go into the caves. It was nice to be in control as it gets so easily out of control with media. I am confident it will portray what I want to portray. And I am sure all the rest of the characters feel the same way. With any publicity around this, we take it with huge responsibility and you don’t want to do the story wrong.”

Mr Warny was involved in writing parts of the scrips and admits that reliving the experience was intense.

“Yeah, it’s been very hands-on for me from the get-go, from interviews, script writing and things. You live with it all the time. I was sitting there in my office, writing the stuff down and you get the sweats again when you think back at it.

“It will be nice to see Thailand again. It will be nice to see those people again. I would like to meet the boys, I know the British guys met them there last week, and that’s going to be a very special moment.”

“The boys are the real heroes. The way they stuck together, the way they endured those days. They are not trained like we are. They were there by choice initially but they weren’t stuck there by choice.

“It was impressive and a miracle that they were found alive and all that credit goes to the coach and the boys themselves for staying cool and calm.”

Director Tom Waller said that there are a number of movies on the rescue in the pipeline but this is the first.  He is hoping that production will be completed by the end of the year and is aiming for a worldwide audience on the anniversary of the rescue mission next July.

“We are very excited to be making the first Thai rescue film. We are even more excited that the story is starting here in Ireland,” he said.

“Jim was one of the international team that went to help out in the mission and we decided that one of the stories would be our very own Jim Warny.

“Jim is a very humble, unassuming man. He is basically an electrician from Shannon. When I decided to make this movie, I thought wouldn’t it be cool to have an electrician from Shannon, a rice farmer from Thailand, and a US military man from Okinawa involved.’

“People watched this story unfold and their hearts were beating – it was a story that touched everyone no matter where they were on the planet. I was in Ireland at the time when I heard about these boys getting trapped in the cave and it was just by chance that I heard that one of the divers had a connection to Ireland and that is when I came across Jim and his story.”

Mr Waller said that they have already shot in a number of locations in Clare. “We have been shooting in west Clare in Doolin, at the Cliffs of Moher and quite a lot of remarkable locations that you wouldn’t find anywhere else on the planet. It has been a pleasure to be able to come to Ireland and contrast with the scenes in Thailand.

“I thought wouldn’t it be great to have Jim play himself. He was open to it and I did some screen tests and I thought Jim playing himself would be the best thing for the movie. He got lots of offers from other movie studios to be honest and whether he took those offers seriously or not or whether they were serious offers, I don’t know.

“It is probably the one film I have been involved in that has had so much attention before it is even made. Usually, when making a film, no one is interested in the script, in financing it and this has been the opposite.

“My main objective is to make a good film – it is not whether it is commercially successful or not. I just want to tell a story that is true to what happened and to the fact that we are telling a story about civilians at the heart of the rescue.”

Tom McCullough
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