IAR INTERVIEW: Dylan O'Brien Talks 'The Maze Runner'

Friday, 19 September 2014 11:58 Written by  iamrogue
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IAR INTERVIEW: Dylan O'Brien Talks 'The Maze Runner'

Dylan O'Brien plays the title character in The Maze Runner, but he doesn't share his character's fondness for long-haul hoofing.

"I myself have particularly always hated long distance running," the actor revealed during a Q&A on the 20th Century Fox lot last month.

"I love sprinting, though, like for a short amount of time. I think if anything I’m way more of a sprinter," he said.  "And so this was perfect but also exhausting."

The 23-year-old is already a star thanks to his fan-favorite role as Stiles on MTV's hit Teen Wolf series, but The Maze Runner marks his first test as a leading man in the big screen.  The film, opening in theaters nationwide today, is based upon the bestselling young adult novel by James Dashner, and if it proves successful, O'Brien will headline a bona-fide franchise, since The Maze Runner is only the first in a trilogy of books.

When The Maze Runner kicks off, O'Brien's character, Thomas, wakes up with no memory in an industrial elevator speeding upwards.  When it reaches the top, Thomas finds himself in The Glade, a walled-in area populated by fellow young amnesiacs who have made a thriving, functional little community. The Glade is in the middle of a massive maze, the doors to which close every night, but any Gladers who don't make it back before nightfall never return.

As Thomas, a "greenie," becomes a Glader, his curiosity and determination to solve the mystery of his memories and the maze put him at odds with some of the makeshift community.  His discoveries running the maze deepen the rifts, and not long after Thomas's arrival, it's clear that The Glade will never be the same.

“I always looked at Thomas as very honest and heroic and a truthful character, especially one who has been re-birthed," said O'Brien. "He’s a fresh greenie having had his memory wiped and almost redeveloping as a person.”

Since the source material and its hero are already beloved by fans, O'Brien, said, “You want to bring everything you can to the character in the book. I felt like I needed to come from a really honest perspective.”

The role of Thomas is an exceedingly physical one.  As the title implies, the maze is explored by Gladers called Runners who spent their days mapping and exploring the complex, constantly on their feet and to avoid being stuck in the sprawling maze.  All the running required was no picnic. 

"None of us are marathon runners, you know?" O'Brien quipped.

Not only that, but the set wasn't necessarily designed or built with the convenience of the cast as a top priority.  "Dude, the maze was super slippery.  They’d hose it down, and it was real mud and stuff in there," the actor explained.  "You’d just, like, eat it.  We’d have to be full sprint around a turn.  Any time we had to slightly angle, we’d eat it.  And it wasn’t until like maybe the last week that they got special stuff to put on the ground."

While the maze as seen in the final film appears almost endless, O'Brien said, "We never had that much extra room. I think the largest green screen, the largest, highest percentage visual effects sequence in the film is that sequence where we’re in the parking lot.  And that was probably the largest blue screen we had.  It was literally maybe 100 meters in a giant abandoned parking lot.  We shot a lot on that for a week."

Thomas's first time in the maze marks the first big action sequence in The Maze Runner.  Thomas impulsively darts inside to help save a fellow Glader as the doors close for the night.  When the sun goes down, Thomas comes face to face with Grievers, spider-like mechanical monstrosities that stalk the corridors of the maze at night.  At one point in the breakneck sequence, Thomas evades Grievers by scaling the walls.

"Climbing on the vines and stuff on the wire, that was literally, like, a whole twelve-hour day where I was just hung up on a wire," O'Brien said.

"They would just bring me food.  They didn’t want to lower me because it would just take a lot more time," he explained.  "And [director Wes Ball] would literally come over because it was real ivy and stuff that they used on those walls. So we’d be doing a thing where the Griever is jumping on me, and it’s that part where I’m running away from the Griever and it jumps on the wall over me. So, they shake the wall and all this debris was shaking down.  And we just had a shot where I’m looking up, and it kept just getting in my eyes.  I’d be like, 'Oh, there’s something in my eye' and Wes would just be like, 'I got it, baby, don’t need a medic.'  And he’d come over, and he’d literally just take it out of my eye."

"Before that, I was never someone who was comfortable having someone touch their eyeball," he said.  "But now I am."

As rifts in The Glade's mini-civilization deepen, the all-male group of teens is shocked when the latest inductee to arrive via the elevator is, in fact, a girl.  Kaya Scodelario plays Teresa, who immediately recognizes Thomas from their mysterious shared past.  Despite becoming allies, Thomas and Theresa do not develop a romantic relationship in The Maze Runner.

"Me and Kaya have always loved that about our storyline," he said.  "It’s so realistic, and we just think it’s so appropriate for the circumstances.  It’s so cinematic to just kind of add a relationship to something where let’s stop and think for a second.  These kids would not just be like smooching and flirting in this situation.  They do have a connection."

"There was little stuff in the original script that we shot where we had little flirty scenes," the actor revealed.  "But as Wes did with every part in the film, he made the best part of the film come out.  He made such appropriate cuts and made the movie just never stop moving and just 90 minutes of just focus on exactly what it should be about.  Things like that didn’t make it.  Maybe you’ll see it on the DVD or something like that.  I hope not though."

One thing O'Brien does hope to share with audiences that didn't make the final cut is an earlier version of Thomas's first tour of The Glade, complete with more detail straight from the novel.  "Wes actually told me that the full introduction to The Glade would be on the DVD because apparently that had to just get chopped down a lot, and he really loves it."

As for other material that didn't translate from Dashner's bestseller to the screen, O'Brien specified a personal favorite."The Beetle Blade was something I always thought was cool in the book.  We even shot it for the movie, but it just didn't make the final cut, for whatever reason," he said. "I guess it derailed the story a little bit, where we had a scene that included those, but that was something I always thought was cool in the book, how Thomas sees these things scurrying through the woods with cameras."

"It’s just nice to get a chance to do something else," the star said of his first time leading a motion picture. 

"I was really nervous about it at first.  But I did feel right as Thomas, and I felt comfortable in that role. But I was nervous.  I had such an amazing cast around me, all guys who I’ve seen like do really good work in the past, both comedic and dramatic.  My first favorite things about the project were that these guys were attached already. And so, I was just wanting to basically do them justice and do the movie justice.  I knew Wes was going to kill it.  And I was kind of nervous about it but it felt good. It’s always good to get to do something different.  That’s one of the things I love or want to explore as an actor.  And I think I need to practice drama the most for sure. It was amazing to get to do this."

The Maze Runner opens nationwide on September 19th.

Be sure to check out IAR's exclusive video interview with O'Brien's co-star Will Poulter from WonderCon this year.

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