Kat Kourbeti chats with Dylan O’Brien, Thomas Brodie-Sangster and Will Poulter about The Maze Runner…
We meet in a swanky hotel room. Tall glass bottles of water and juice, immaculate white tablecloth on a round table, bright orange wallpaper on the walls. When they walk in, they’re tall and fresh as flowers; we find out we’re the first in a long line of interviewers they’re meant to talk to today.
We feel special. They haven’t had a chance to be tired of this yet. So we start firing questions.
This is Dylan O’Brien’s second starring role, having bagged a supporting gig on Vaughn-Wilson-fronted The Internship and a leading one on indie romcom The First Time. It is, however, his first time leading an action-packed franchise, and his character, like every other character we see in The Maze Runner, is a tricky one, as he has no memories of his past. How did he approach the character of Thomas, when all he has to go on is a name?
DOB: “It’s interesting to play that, actually. The audience gets to see the character discover who he is, things that he never even knew about himself. I love that Thomas starts out as the newbie, as the ‘Greenie’, and the audience kind of experiences that through his perspective. It’s really cool to watch him discover these leadership qualities that he has, and the way you approach it… I guess, just honestly. As honest as you can, really.”
And it really works, with O’Brien’s acting. He’s discovered a string in the maze, if you will, which he’s followed to reveal the innermost workings of Thomas without the need for words, but rather in his minute expressions and body language. He’s come a long way as an actor, from awkward YouTuber to TV star to a budding action film hero, all through nuanced performances and layered, emotional characters. How does he feel about taking on such a project?
DOB: “Not good. Not great. (laughs) No, uh, I felt really comfortable. From day one, I loved the script and the story, and I thought it could be something really cool and interesting and original, in this generation of regurgitated projects and sequels and stuff, so I’m proud to be part of it. At that same point, the first thing I saw too was that these guys (points to Brodie-Sangster and Poulter) were attached to it, and Kaya (Scodelario) as well, and I was like, ‘they’re all really strong actors, that’s awesome’. And then meeting Wes (Ball, director) and seeing his whole vision for the film… It was just sort of easy to feel comfortable, with the cast surrounding me. Everyone was so good at what they were doing, and what they were bringing onto the table, that I was confident. I guess I was just trying to keep up, really, that was my hope at the end of the day; that I could do them justice and do the story justice and do Wes justice.”
For Thomas-Brodie Sangster, action isn’t new; his filmography is extensive, as is his experience with characters who live in adverse conditions. What were the challenges in portraying Newt in The Maze Runner, and what did it feel like to play him?
TBS: “The fun thing we get to do is mess around playing all sorts of different people. People that really existed, people that exist in a book—whom people love and have a specific idea of who they are, and you kind of have to work with that—or people that you can take a completely fresh look at. Sometimes it takes a little bit of juggling of all of that, but that’s the fun, really. All I was told about Newt was that he was kind of the nice guy, he still had an English accent, and he had a bit of a limp. So I played around with that, really.”
The question Flickering Myth was dying to ask Brodie-Sangster, however, had little to do with The Maze Runner and everything to do with a green-clad hero on a quest to rescue a princess. If they ever did make a Zelda movie, would he take the role of Link? Because let’s face it, he looks exactly like him.
TBS: “Does this come from Wes?”
DOB: “Yeah, Wes says the same thing.”
WP: “This is a rumour that has been floating around.”
TBS: “I swear Wes started that rumour, because he mentioned that to me ages ago… Um, I’ve never actually played a Zelda game. I’ve played other N64 games, like Goldeneye, Mario Kart, they were my favourites.”
As for Will Poulter, he’s branched out into several different genres in his career so far, from fantasy to gritty Brit drama to hilarious comedy in last year’s We’re The Millers. How did he feel going from that to this much more serious and dramatic role?
WP: “I feel so lucky to have had the chance to do this. I really admire actors who do a mix of stuff and have versatility, that’s kind of what I aspire to. You know, just keep people guessing, and try and pick a role different from the one before and hopefully the one after, if all goes well.”
And had any of them read any of the Maze Runner books before auditioning?
DOB: “I read half of the first book before we started shooting, but then I stopped. I finished them all after we were done.”
WP: “Me too, I kind of started right before we were shooting, and then I slightly freaked out when I got halfway through, because there wasn’t total synergy between my character in the script and the one in the book. I mean, there was enough, enough for the fans to be happy about it—that’s one of the greatest things about this movie, it’s adapted really well, and the characters’ best loved features translate on screen. But from an acting perspective it was tricky, and often we would have conversations like, ‘oh yeah, doesn’t your character have that thing?‘ and then we’d be like ‘oh, no, that was in the book, not in the script, we don’t need to worry about it’. So I actually stopped and then finished it afterwards. Now I’ve read The Scorch Trials too, which is pretty dope.”
DOB: “It’s absolutely insane. It’s gonna be cool.”
Poulter’s character, Gally, cares a lot about Glader traditions, and he’s quite attached to and protective of the environment and the community they’ve built. What sort of person does Poulter think Gally is, and did Gally perhaps have a hand in creating these Glader customs?
WP: “In light of the fact that he was one of the first boys up—as I understand it, it was George, Alby, Newt and then myself—so I feel like naturally he was part of that kind of hierarchy, as well as building some of the Glade physically as he’s a Builder, that’s his role. I also kind of see in him, like me—one of the few things that I identify with Gally, there aren’t too many similarities—this kind of OCD quality about him. He’s kind of pedantic, and he really likes order, he finds comfort in order and hierarchy and the following of rules, so I think he would’ve been an enforcer of that in many ways, and would’ve wanted the more established Gladers to go along with him. He’s got a power struggle thing, he struggles with the fact that Newt is senior to him and Alby is senior to him, and so when Alby falls away he certainly sees it as an opportunity to maybe leap over Newt and do away with Thomas and kind of set up his own revolt. But a lot of that comes from fear, he’s ultimately a coward, and he likes having that kind of protective bubble around him, because he knows that one day, inevitably, he’s going to have to leave that little oasis, and venture into that maze.”
The tension between Gally and Newt is quite clear, as they begin to clash quite early on in the film due to their opposing viewpoints regarding Thomas. The adversity between them can turn dark pretty quickly. What was it like to shoot these scenes for Brodie-Sangster and Poulter, and how did they deal with the tense relationship of their characters?
TBS: “Yeah, there is tension, but I think there’s also a mutual respect between them. I think Newt very much respects Gally’s opinion. He likes to hear what everyone has to say, he’s a very open person, and he sees everyone for who they are and how they best fit into this establishment that they have going. He sees people and how they can help, and how he can help, so I don’t think he completely shuns Gally away. I just think he appreciates that he has a different way of dealing with things and with people.”
WP: “I think I’ll put it in political terms—just a fun fact, I’m not good with politics, I don’t know why I’m doing this—but, you guys seem more democratic (gestures to O’Brien and Brodie-Sangster), you know, you consider everybody’s views, and I think you kind of strive for a bit more of a collaborative running of the Glade, whereas I kind of feel that once there’s a threat to the idea of staying in the Glade I can become a dictator, I kind of tell people ‘this is what’s going on’, and kind of lead that revolt situation. We’re all two sides of the same coin, which is a good thing, really.”
DOB: “It’s a really good relationship.”
WP: “And our relationship is really fun in this film, because there are a couple of occasions where everything kicks off and there’s serious tension, and that was fun too.”
There is extensive CGI throughout the film. What was it like to shoot with green screen?
DOB: “Well, first of all, whenever we had to do things like that, Wes is so animated when he talks you through things, he describes what’s out there and it’s like, he almost makes you crack up, but it helps a lot. He’s so detailed, he has this weird way of being like (imitates Wes Ball) ‘and it goes, you know, bwoosh baaam’ and you understand what’s happening exactly. And then also we had such a great balance with real worlds that we were really shooting in, like the Glade, they built that entire thing, like you see in the film, nothing’s cheated or anything, that’s the world that we shot in every day. We actually had the doors, the threshold going into the maze, we actually had the box in the ground, they actually built a treehouse, they grew a cornfield… It felt very very real, and then the visual effects is just the icing on the cake. I think it was really important to Wes for us to have a real environment, to feel like we were a part of it and could disappear into. He was just planning of taking care of the visual effects at the end, and he also has a great way of articulating what it’s gonna be, what he plans on adding to it, and sort of paint that picture for you—and actually, literally, paint a picture for you. He can draw and sketch really quick and we’d be like ‘wow, okay, that’s incredible, that’s what it’s gonna look like, okay sweet’.”
WP: “He’s really a visionary. People use the words ‘genius’ and ‘visionary’ lightly but they genuinely apply to Wes Ball. We feel really lucky to get to work with him at this stage of his career, so we can be the guys who say ‘we worked with Wes Ball on his first feature film’. That’s genuinely how we feel.”
DOB: “He’s gonna be around forever. He’s a gifted filmmaker and storyteller as well, which is a brilliant combination.”
Were there any funny stories from their time on set?
DOB: “It was like summer camp with ten of your best friends.”
WP: “It was such good fun.”
DOB: “There were airsoft guns in the hotel, that was one of my favourite moments ever.”
TBS: “Oh yeah, the BB guns. Dylan decided to get like, an M16—”
WP: “Which was like, the size of that sofa. I mean, it was the biggest gun I’d ever seen in my life. And without telling us, we split off into teams, we’re all messing around with, like, pistols, and Dylan just comes out in the hallway with that massive gun… It was a good prank. And to keep it secret—did you have it stashed under the bed?”
DOB: “It was so hard for me to keep from telling anybody, and slowly but surely, at one point Thomas (Brodie-Sangster) came into my room, and I was like, (whispering) ‘alright, I’ve gotta show you something’. And I told him and then I was like, ‘don’t tell anyone, I’m gonna whip it out when we play tonight.’ And then Alex (Flores) knocks on the door and I’m like (whispers) ‘okay, come here, come here’…
WP: “And they had to be on his team.”
DOB: “We had to put ourselves in one team, and somehow have you guys (gesturing to Poulter) be the other team, you and Chris (Sheffield) only ended up being in it, and then poor Alex had to go, knowing I had the gun and he was just like… and so then I whipped it out, and the security guard came up at one point, and this was the sweetest—he comes up, and we were like, feeling terrible, because this was at two in the morning in a hotel, running around playing with our airsoft guns. We basically were the only ones in the hotel, so it was fine, but the security came up because there was some sort of complaint that happened, and we were like ‘yeah we’re in trouble, we’re sorry’, and he was just like, ‘y’all are rehearsin’, it’s okay, just gotta keep it down… how long are y’all supposed to be doing this for?’ and we were like ‘an hour or two?’”
WP: “And he was like ‘I can organise a place where y’all can do this.”
DOB: “’Do you guys need the conference room?’ and we were like ‘no, this is actually better for the… (gestures vaguely)’ so he walks away and we’re just like, ‘okay, so let’s take it from the top?’”
The Maze Runner is out in cinemas in the UK now. Read Kat Kourbeti’s review here, and listen to this interview on the latest episode of the Flickering Myth Podcast.
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