I’ve said this before, but I get a kick out of talking to younger, up-and-coming actors, still in the early phase of their film careers. The new science-fiction film THE MAZE RUNNER has a cast made up almost entirely of just such actors. I recently did a great post-screening Q&A (and a more traditional interview the next morning, which is what’s below) with the three main actors from THE MAZE RUNNER, and I found them all refreshingly serious about their work, the film and where things go from here.
Probably the most popular of the three is “Teen Wolf’s” Dylan O’Brien, who also had a role in last year’s THE INTERNSHIP. The actor I was most familiar with was Will Poulter, who is probably best know as the weird fake son in WE’RE THE MILLERS, but I remember as one of the two young leads in 2007’s SON OF RAMBOW, one of my favorite films about how kids’ imaginations work. Poulter also starred in THE CHRONICLES OF NARNIA: THE VOYAGE OF THE DAWN TREADER, and will soon be seen in THE YELLOW BIRDS from director David Lowery, which co-stars Benedict Cumberbatch and Alejandro González Iñárritu’s follow-up to BIRDMAN called THE REVENENT, also starring Tom Hardy and Leonardo DiCaprio. So yeah.
And finally there was Kaya Scodelario, who appeared briefly via video screen as Sam Rockwell’s daughter in MOON, was a regular on the UK version of “Skins,” had a supporting role in CLASH OF THE TITANS, and in 2011 was the star of a radical and quite moving take on WUTHERING HEIGHTS.
I was genuinely impressed with all three of these folks and their work in THE MAZE RUNNER, and the Q&A in particular turned into something far more in depth and interesting than I’d thought it would, thanks to some solid audience questions. The guests all seemed happy with the way things went, which explains their enthusiastic response when I came into the room the next morning for our follow-up interview. Please enjoy this lively chat with Dylan O’Brien, Will Poulter, and Kaya Scodelario…
Capone: Hey, guys.
Dylan O’Brien: Steve! We love Steve!
Will Poulter: We love Steve! How are you, man? Good to see you.
Kaya Scodelario: Hi, Steve. Lovely seeing you again.
Capone: Feels like only yesterday.
WP: Feels like only yesterday. How you living, man?
Capone: Good, but not as good as you guys are, apparently.
DO: You just missed our little tweet party.
Capone: That's what it sounds like. I don’t know what a tweet party looks like, exactly.
DO: Neither do we.
WP: Neither do we.
Capone: I’m sure it’s where all the kids are hanging out. With most really good science fiction, there’s usually some underlying social commentary or political statement or commentary on what’s going on in the world. What do you think that message in this film, and what do you hope people walk out of the movie thinking about?
DO: I think it’s in a way meant to restore faith in humans, and not just humans but kids. We’ve talked about this some, but [MAZE RUNNER author] James Dashner always talks about how he likes the comparison to “The Lord of the Flies,” because it was one of his favorite books as a kid, and it definitely played a lot into how he created this world, but thematically something that’s so polar opposite of his own vision of how people are, and his belief in the fact that people are innately good, and that this is actually how they would react in a situation like this. That’s his theory, and he wholeheartedly believes that. And I think it’s also a weird coming of age tale for these kids—facing their fears, overcoming them, and becoming stronger as they ban together and work together and survive. So I think that’s a big one.
Capone: I like the idea that everyone is assigned a role when they get there, but what the film is really about is not just accepting that role because that’s the way it’s been. Don’t be afraid to do something else if you think you can do something useful. Society is like that sometimes—assigning roles to groups of people.
DO: Exactly. Absolutely.
KS: What really attracted me to it is, I’m really into social experiments and how humans behave in certain situations—the Big Brother idea. And I liked the thought of sticking all these people in this place where they can survive themselves, and they can live off the land, they have supplies. There’s no real need for them to escape. And there are the settlers, the people that like that and enjoy that routine. But there are also the masses that feel like that’s just it and are looking for someone to inspire them, and that represents Thomas to me. He ignites that in everyone else, and it’s not that they weren’t as brave as him, or that they didn’t have the same ideas as him. They just needed that little push, that inspiration from the world to then find that within themselves, and that’s why so many of us go with him into the maze in the end, and I think that’s why that works.
It’s not something like, “Now they’re just going to follow him and go along.” I think they had that within their hearts anyway, and if you look at the jobs within the Glade, it represents that as well. There’s Winston, who’s chopping chickens all day, so he’s quite used to the gruesomeness of all of that. You can look into each person, and I find that interesting to discuss wether in life we’re happy to settle down, or whether we’re the ones that are going to do something about it, or if we just need a little bit of inspirations first.
WP: I think it also represents young people as being a little bit more pragmatic and influential than they have been in the past. I think the movies we’ve been compared to slightly paved the way for movies like ourselves. We’re not necessarily like them as much as people think, but they certainly shed light on the fact that young people can be at the forefront of a film and be represented as being heroic and leading, in many senses. I feel like young people genuinely are more influential these days and empowered by social media and technology, and we’ve embraced it and used it to our advantage. There are younger and younger millionaires and billionaires every year because of how they’ve adapted to technology and society, and how they’ve used it to their advantage. The number of start-ups and businesses that have grown out of university these days is growing. So this film reflects that young people have a lot of talent, and if we invest in them, that they can cause mass change.
Capone: The word I wrote down was “resourceful.” That's what we’re learning from this is that young people are far more resourceful because they're picking things up that maybe they couldn’t just pick up even 20 years ago. Let’s talk about your Comic Con experience [the film premiered at San Diego Comic Con], because that’s the gauntlet that a lot of people have to go through, depending on when their movie opens. You guys said you went through the halls with masks on?
KS: We didn't get to go to the convention floor, but when we were walking from place to place, we just wanted to look around, because to me that’s like something I’ve grown up seeing on films and TV shows and thought, “America’s got this crazy thing.” So to get to see it was cool.
Capone: Do you remember what masks you had on?
KS: Oh, it was V FOR VENDETTA [Guy Fawkes’ mask].
DO: It was like V FOR VENDETTA, but they weren’t. It was something else. But we all called them that.
KS: You were terrified, because your hair popped out the top of it.
DO: Yeah, I was scared too. It was nice to be able to take it in without being walked around with a wall of security and having people taking pictures with us. For a second, just to walk around amongst them and to take it in like that, to see the real energy of it, instead of just seeing the energy that’s pointed at us.
KS: We almost didn’t get to go, remember? Because we were meant to release in February, so we would have never gotten the opportunity.
DO: Yeah, yeah, yeah. Which would have been crazy, by the way.
KS: Yeah, I can’t even imagine.
DO: It would have been six months after we wrapped the movie.
KS: That’s so crazy.
DO: And in February, on Valentines Day, what?! It’s not a Valentines Day movie.
WP: There’s no romance in it.
Capone: That’s true. Let’s talk about what this film isn’t, because in a lot of ways that makes it what it is, like not having a romance. Was that discussed to the point where someone said, “We’re not going to do this. We’re not going to set someone up as a superhero. We’re not going to have some goofball character as comic relief. No kissing.”
KS: Oh yes. Wes [Ball, director] was very passionate about it.
WP: Right. And James was also very keen that we didn’t do that. I think that was one of his biggest concerns with the adaptation was like, “For god’s sake, don’t turn this into a romantic story, or at least make that a sub-plot.” What’s amazing, like Kaya was talking about yesterday, about what her character represents and how awesome Teresa is as a character is how she didn’t feel like she needed to engage in a romantic relationship, because that would soften her. And all of the girls last night were cheering that.
KS: They cheered every time I’ve said that.
Capone: Oh yeah. It would soften the whole movie, I think.
KS: The whole movie. It’s amazing to see the response. I’m surprised by it, every time I’ve spoken about it at Q&As, every girl in the room has cheered. They’re happy with that. They don’t feel like they need a romantic storyline, and I think the whole “Young Adult” box, with these people that sit behind desks and go, “Let’s make a movie. Let’s make money, and take that and take that from these other films,” think that’s what makes money, and it doesn’t.
WP: They think that they have absolutely nailed it. The blueprint is faultless. If we have a moment where Thomas and Teresa lean in and kiss each other having had no romantic connection previously, then the audience is going to burst into rapturous applause.
DO: In the midst of this all happening, too.
WP: Quick kiss!
DO: Because from the moment Kaya comes up, that’s the huge turning point in the film. It’s the most unusual thing that has happened. It’s a sign that it’s coming to an end. We’re not going to be able to survive here for much longer. Here’s that moment. We are going to be tested now. And it’s like why would we then just stop to be like, “Hey, so, you’re kinda cute.”
KS: “What’s up?”
DO: You know what I mean? It’s just so nice to be a part of something that’s just taking all that and being realistic with it, where as usually you’re on a set sometimes and everyone just goes, “But it’s a movie.” It’s like, “Ok, yeah, yeah, yeah. We’re making a movie here, let’s go. It’s just so nice to be a part of something where everyone’s there, and we’re all just like, “No, that’s not what would happen. No one would stop to kiss in this moment right now. This is life or death.” It’s great.
Capone: When you were shooting, because it was such a tight shooting schedule, I’m wondering how practical things could be in terms of the effects. Obviously, the Grievers are not really there, but was anything there?
DO: Actually, we plucked some from the zoo and we brought them on set.
Capone: Well the scene where you’re pulling one out of the wall, though, that looks real.
DO: That was real. That was the one that they had made for us.
Capone: And that’s a really effective scene, because you’re putting your hands on it, and we’re wondering, is it metal? Is it organic? Is it both?
DO: Yeah, it’s both. It’s interesting.
Capone: But like in terms of how tall the walls were, what was there?
DO: Everything was just expanded with visual effects, and it would surprise you how much was practical and how much we had there. First of all, the Glade—entirely practical. Every piece there, the box, everything is there. When Will jumps down to pull me out of the box for the first time, we are actually in that box in the middle of that glade with the DP right down here, he’s got the camera on his shoulders, tucked into the corner right next to me.
DO: It’s really funny, because it’s so believable that people might assume that it’s a visual effect or like assume that that opening shot when those doors open up and you see all those Gladers for the first time coming in, seeing Thomas, that is in that box, in the ground, in that glade. That’s not on a set. But then, there are sequences that are obviously full of visual effects. Whenever the maze is changing, that whole sequence, all the walls caving in and shifting, the blades changing. That’s all visual effects, and the only thing real there is the ground and me and Ki Hong [Lee, who plays Minho]. But a lot of it was really, really practical and built there and all there, which made it so real.
Capone: We talked last night about when you realized what a big-deal story this was for some people, just the book. What is it you think people are responding to in this story?
DO: All these elements we were talking about, first of all.
KS: I think it’s for the kids that, when they saw these other movies, felt a little bit like, “I don’t get it. I don’t understand.” And then this has come along and they’re like, “This is more me, this is more real, this is more intense. I’m a bit darker, maybe.” I think it’s for that section of young people that maybe felt a bit left out with the other romantic, sappy stuff and wanted something a bit tougher. I would have, at that age, been so much more attracted to this, and the other stuff would have made me feel weird. I would have felt like, I’m not like this, I can’t relate to this, I don’t get this. Whereas this for me would have been a bit more tough and interesting.
WP: And this isn’t a comment on the characterization of the actors involved in those other films, but I think we’re just more relatable. We’re more ordinary in this movie. We’re not a star-studded cast. We don’t look like athletes. We are all covered in mud and sweat the whole way through movie, and I think the movie is more accessible because the characters are a bit more real.
Capone: We talked about that last night, too, that these are not meant to be special people necessarily, with special skills.
DO: No, none of it is glamorized.
Capone: It has to be grounded to work.
WP: We’re not chosen. They allude to Thomas being like “the favorite,” but that’s it. Really, you’re just another kid. You just have this natural instinct. It’s like a natural human thing. It’s that innate good thing inside you that James draws out in his work.
Capone: Speaking of being dirty, was there someone on the crew that just kept you muddy and dirty?
DO: We were so dirty no matter what, it didn’t even matter.
WP: Yeah, it was more prevalent taking take sweat and dirty off of us.
KS: I stopped showering in the last like couple of weeks. I really did. I was like, “I give up.”
DO: Yeah. I can’t talk about it, but I don’t want to tell you how many times I showered over the course of it. These guys know, and they’re my close friends. Honestly the whole time I was just so tired, and genuinely felt like it didn’t matter. Why would I show up to shoot a scene for this movie showered? It’s so wrong. That’s what I love about our movie and love about our story. When I watch DIVERGENT, and I’m sorry, but one of the things that drove me crazy was, why are they so clean and pretty? Why is everybody so pretty and clean and with makeup on? A guy beats the shit out of you, and then you wake up with a little bruise or cut. That’s just not real. It’s not what happens.
Capone: Kaya, did you say something earlier that had to CGI sweat on or off?
KS: Off, because I had so many sweat patches.
DO: “Off” pit stains.
KS: That bit where I’m getting tied up [with her arms over her head], it just kept growing and growing and growing.
DO: It’s so funny. They had to take away everything. It was just so much, you couldn’t help it.
KS: They had do it because of the continuity. They just had to take it out all together.