Last year, when director Wes Ball was filming his adaptation of the James Dashner YA novel The Maze Runner near New Orleans, I got to visit the set with a few other reporters. While some movies are made primarily on soundstages, the production found a rough patch of land filled with poisonous snakes and transformed it into a filming location in order to bring this film to life. And if you think I’m joking about the snakes, the production had a few snake wranglers on set at all times and their sole mission was to make sure where they were filming was snake free. For more on that, watch this interview.
During a break in filming, I participated in a group interview with Dylan O’Brien. He talked about how he landed the role, why his MTV hair almost cost him the job, what the film’s about, if he feels pressure being the leading man, what it’s been like working with Ball, his reaction to the production artwork, the stunts, and a lot more. Hit the jump for what he had to say.
Before going any further, if you’re not familiar with The Maze Runner, the film centers on a group of teens who appear in an area known as “The Glade” but have no memory when they wake up. The only way out appears to be through a shifting maze of massive walls that harbor dangerous creatures known as Grievers. Only one of the teens, Thomas (O’Brien), holds the secret to their escape. The Maze Runner also stars Kaya Scodelario, Aml Ameen, Thomas Brodie-Sangster, Ki Hong Lee, and Patricia Clarkson.
Question: Was this a project you went after? Did they come after you?
DYLAN O’BRIEN: Just like anything, I just auditioned for it. It’s funny. The way Wes told me it happened was, at first, I went in on it initially with the casting director, just like everybody. I didn’t hear back for like a month and a half, because Wes was like, “His hair is too MTV!” That’s what he thought, which was so funny. Then he saw a picture of me with more regular hair, the buzzcut or something from Teen Wolf, and he brought me back and it worked. It just ended up working out.
So, your hair almost cost you your job?
O’BRIEN: Yeah! [Laughs] Isn’t it funny how that can happen?
[Will Poulter passes by and calls out, “I love you Dylan!”]
O’BRIEN: That’s Will. He’s my boyfriend here. You have to latch onto somebody while you’re working. It is a little bit like prison, what we do here.
His character is like your enemy in the movie. Are you having fun being horrible to each other?
O’BRIEN: It’s actually uncomfortable! We’re so funny. Even tonight, what we’re doing right now. We wrestle. He’s vicious. He’s scowling. He’s the antagonist of the movie and I’m the protagonist. Wes always says we’re opposite sides of the same coin, so we’re always supposed to be butting heads. Even after every take, he’ll go, “Are you okay?” I’ll go, “Yeah, are you?” He’ll go, “Yeah, but oh, I hit your knee!” And I go, “Yeah, my knee is fine! But how’s your elbow?” It’s just hilarious. We’re buddies off screen, as we all are. Having to then just act, like, awful to each other. It’s always weird with acting.
There’s a scene where your character goes into the maze, basically to sacrifice yourself. Do you think you would do that for your friends?
O’BRIEN: When you think about it, I think it gets in your way, in your head about it. But instinctively, I’m always one who will lash out at anyone hurts my friends, viciously, kind of. Like, murder. [Laughs] No, but I’m very protective of the people I love. Sacrificing is a whole other thing. I don’t think you often come to that situation in life. But it’s a primal instinct, but maybe. Put me in that situation and we’ll find out!
How does Thomas shake up the status quo with his arrival?
O’BRIEN: When Thomas gets to the Glade, these people have kind of settled in. They’re sort of surviving, is what they’ve settled into. They’ve built a place to live and they’re trying to make it as comfortable for themselves as they can. When Thomas comes in, he’s just instinctively not about that. To him, surviving isn’t living. They can spend their whole lives in this place, for all they know. But he doesn’t want to do that. He doesn’t want that for anybody else. He wants to get through to them that he’d rather die than have to spend the rest of his life trapped like a prisoner, which is how he feels. That kind of changes the course of everything. It ironically sort of activates the maze and the grievers. What he finds in the maze, a key kind of thing, and he kills a griever. It opens all of the doors, and that’s when things get crazy.
You have Teen Wolf under your belt and you were great in First Time. Do you feel pressure as a leading man in this movie, where you’re kind of the hero?
O’BRIEN: Yeah, yeah, there’s always pressure. Not pressure per say, I guess. You’re always conscious of what you’re doing. I don’t feel like I have to be the leader here or anything, I don’t have to take the reins. I think we have such an awesome group of actors so I don’t necessarily feel that way. But I can sometimes get into the head space of self-doubt. It’s just a human trying to act, essentially, but sometimes it can be a lot. But at the end of the day, I’m in love with what we’re doing. I’m in love with the movie that we’re making and the people we’re doing it with. Wes, my bosses and this whole group. I’m just trying to focus on the experience and what we’re doing with it. I think you yield the best result with that mentality, I think.
How is working with Wes different than working with the other directors you’ve worked with?
O’BRIEN: He is the most laidback human being. I haven’t worked with a director who is a crazy person at all. I’ve had really good experiences with the directors I’ve worked with so far, which is part of the reason I was able to get those jobs. Having a connection and chemistry with a director is really key. Wes is fantastic. He’s so prepared, which is very important for the schedule we have to shoot this movie on. But the guy drew a maze. He has this whole huge picture in his head, of what we’re doing here, some of which we’re not even seeing in this movie. It’s just for him. It’s for his understanding of the world, and he understands it inside and out. He understands it more than anybody. And as a person, my God, have you talked to the guy? He’s so cool. He’s so relaxed. I don’t think a temper exists in him. He’s confident, quietly, very stoically confident. But not arrogant in any way. There isn’t a shred of that. He just knows what he wants. He’s incredible. I think he’s going ot be a star.
Can you talk about the relationship with Blake Cooper, who plays Chuck?
O’BRIEN: It’s the easiest thing in the world. I can’t imagine any other kid being Chuck. Blake is such a great kid. I wish I was like that when I was 12. He’s so smart and professional. He understands things. When Wes gives him a note, he does it, and does it great. He’s really impressive. I don’t understand how I would’ve been able to act when I was 12, on a set, around all of us, who are in our 20s, and we can hang out with him. He fits right in. As far as the character goes, he’s got Chuck down. He is Chuck. It’s great working with him.
We’ve heard that you can run really fast.
O’BRIEN: Yeah, I can run pretty quick. [Laughs]
Is that something they looked for when they were casting you?
O’BRIEN: You see, that’s funny. You’d think they’d have to. He’s a Maze Runner! But sometimes with casting, I think about this sometimes. I never ran for them or anything. I just happen to be able to run really fast. I hate running, though. I love this running—long-distance, get out of here—but I’d be down to do a sprint any day, then wake up the next day and not be able to move. I love sprinting, which is such a weird sentence. [Laughs] But no, they never tested my running ability. I didn’t have much time to physically prepare at all. I do work every night on Teen Wolf, so to get up on your feet every day … I’m not in bad shape, but I’m not in great shape. I’m not somebody who works out every day, who goes to the gym ever. But it works with the character. I’m not supposed to be ripped. It’s about the heart that’s put into everything. When my character runs, he doesn’t even know he’s running. He’s just doing it. It’s instinct. It all plays well into the story.
You went after the project before seeing any production art. We’ve seen some production art and it looks really fucking cool. What was your reaction?
O’BRIEN: When it got down to meeting with Wes and [producer] Wyck [Godfrey] before I went out to test, it was getting close. So much of what had me so down to do the project was Wes’ look-book he had. He took me through his computer for an hour after the meeting, we just sat and he showed me all of his work. It’s so important to trust what you’re getting into, despite it being a great project already. I would have done it anyway, because it’s such a great opportunity; it would’ve had to be a lot of things I was sure weren’t going to work out. I’d be doing this movie anyway, kind of. But having Wes show me this vision and all of the work he already put in over the past year, you just put your hands up. “I have to be part of this.” Every step was better and better. Getting into the wardrobe, seeing the Glade, seeing everything. It’s a movie that I would’ve wanted to see. It’s one of those things where it lifts from the script in a way your mind couldn’t. Sometimes you’re disappointed by how a movie comes out. This was incredible, though, getting to see every step of the way, how Wes made this world. It was way cooler than anything I’ve ever imagined.
The-Maze-Runner-movieWe saw you out there doing stunts. Is there a level you won’t do?
O’BRIEN: I’m always game to do it. I have to realize though that there are some things I can’t pull off as well as a stuntman can. There’s a compromise. I have to know sometimes that it’s better to let the stunt guy do it. Like, rolling down a hill. There was a scene where I had to trip and roll down a hill. There’s no way that A) the production was going to let me do that, or B) that I could pull that off take after take. So it’s a compromise with your stuntman. You let him make you look awesome for that frame.
I wanted to ask you about your relationship with Teresa in the movie.
O’BRIEN: We have a connection. We kind of just make each other feel safe in a way. It’s surprisingly unromantic, but I think that’s good. It’s so uncliche in a perfect way. We don’t have a kiss at the end of the movie. It’s really nice. It’s a companionship.
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