“The Maze Runner” is the next hit YA novel series hoping to translate its success on the page to the big screen. As we know, this is a daunting task as there are more “Beautiful Creatures” than there are “Hunger Games” out there.
To promote its upcoming fall release, director Wes Ball, the novels’ writer James Dashner and two of the stars of the adaptation, Dylan O’Brien (“Teen Wolf”) and Will Poulter (“We’re the Millers”) talked to the press at WonderCon all about their film.
Below, the interview, followed by some exclusive photos of the filmmakers at the press event and the panel afterwards.
Dylan, I know a lot of your work on “Teen Wolf” is comedic. What was it like being in this film which was really action packed, and with the running, the CGI, green screen, etc?
Dylan O’Brien: It was a challenge. But as an actor it’s a role you absolutely would kill for. It’s the unsung hero, the ordinary person in extraordinary situations, that’s the kind of movie I loved growing up, it’s the kind of role I look for as an actor. I see Stiles that way but you’re right, it’s a different thing physically. His energy is different, it’s much slower, it’s much more dramatic. It’s just a challenge for me, honestly, but it’s something I really want to work on and continue to do.
Wes Ball: He rose to the challenge.
James Dashner: You nailed it.
O’Brien: I hope I did okay.
What do you think is driving the current fascination with young adult post-apocalyptic novels and movies?
O’Brien: Jennifer Lawrence. How could that not spawn a franchise? I don’t know, it’s interesting…
Ball: I think, basically, young people like being treated like adults and don’t like being pandered to. The post-apocalyptic thing is a separate issue I think. And our movie is not really post-apocalyptic, you couldn’t really even describe it as that. It’s more “Lord of the Flies” than it is end of the world. Spoiler: The second movie is more that. That’s the approach we took. Honestly I tried to make something outside of the YA thing, I didn’t want to box myself in with that. It’s just a movie with young people in it, dealing with very adult situations, and taking it as seriously as possible. Make sure there’s a lot of honesty and truth there, and at the same time having a lot of fun doing it. So that’s what we set out to do.
Will Poulter: I just want to say, speaking on behalf of the acting department, I sort of reject the term “young adult” for two reasons. One, I feel like it’s slightly patronizing to young audiences to suggest they’re confined to watching sci-fi drama. I don’t think that’s fair. Secondly and more particularly to “Maze Runner,” I feel like other films in the same kind of bracket – that you’d consider “YA” – slightly have the balance different to “The Maze Runner.” They put action, adventure and the visuals at the forefront and character and the emotion kind of takes a back seat. With this, there’s a real kind of integrity to the characters. Dylan heads up what is just an awesome list of performances from the cast. The integrity of the characters and their emotional relationships really sort of form the core of this movie and I think people are going to be surprised by that.
Dylan, I really liked your performance in “The First Time.” Seeing this as your first leading blockbuster movie, was there a certain mindset going into this and what do you think about being positioned as the Katniss for the male audience?
O’Brien: I never though about it like that, but holy crap. Honestly, I never thought about it like that. These things always get blown up, it seems, after we’ve done the movie. Our movie, it was such a small movie, especially for a film like this. We had the smallest scale, budget, time, we were constrained by so many things, so it never felt like this was the next “Hunger Games.” We weren’t doing it like, like I’m the next Katniss. I never felt the weight of that at all, and I still don’t, I don’t think. That’s not –
Poulter: You’re a dude, too.
O’Brien: I’m also a man. A boy. A guy. But with all that said, I’m very excited to have this one be mine. I really feel close to it, we all do, we love this story. We fell in with James’ book and then the entire process, it was insane what we went through out there together, just battling conditions and just like, the budget like I was talking about, like time, and we just made it happen. And now the first question I get, funnily enough, is “how does it feel to be in such a big movie?” I’m like, cool we made it seem that way. Awesome.
Dashner: We are planning a Thomas vs Katniss film a few years down the line.
Poulter: Kind of a grudge match situation.
O’Brien: She would kick my ass!
Poulter: Yeah, she would.
Will, after the MTV Movie Awards and the success of “We’re the Millers,” how does your career feel like it’s in a different place than it did even a year ago?
Poulter: You make me sound a lot cooler than I am. All that stuff is really lovely and still feels like some administrative errors went down, but I’m very grateful. You know what was coolest for me, and the kind of thing that I try to keep as my focus, is working with great people – like the ones I’m sat with right now. Being involved in projects that have heart and a sense of realness about them. I think, on face value, on paper, people might not expect that that’s what this project is, but it fully is. I’m very, very grateful to have been involved in that and to have been a part of making it happen. But yeah. Off of the back of the things you’re talking about, nothing’s really changed. The term “Hollywood” I just don’t think it applies to me, because I still live in West London with my mom, so nothing’s really changed from that perspective. But I’m excited to carry on with this “Maze Runner” journey with these guys and I hope it’s a long journey as well. This guy [Ball] has a lot of thoughts and a lot more in him.
Ball: I have to say I’m really excited about seeing people see Will now, especially after “We’re the Millers.” Just to see Will’s range. This is a very different character for Will, much more serious, much more kind of with a hard edge to him as well. People are gonna like him.
Dashner: Oscar or nothing, this time.
This question is for Wes. What’s the pressure been like to make not only a successful movie and adaptation, but especially in terms of the fans, what’s the pressure been like?
Ball: It’s actually been a really good pressure, because I had something to aim for, essentially. People like the book and I was a fan, I was a fan of that book. So I just looked at it from that point of view, I tried to be true to the spirit in which James created it, that sort of sense of adventure and a sense of truth to the world itself. The only pressure really was just trying to execute the perfect movie I had in my head, on screen. Like Dylan was saying, we had a lot of challenges but it was all – it was a fantastic experience, actually. Dylan, Will, all the rest of the cast, all my crew, everybody, we were all in it 100% trying to make a cool movie together. It’s not easy. Making a movie in general is not easy but because we were all in it together and had a really unique kind of bonding experience, we really had a really great time making it. I think that shows up inside the movie. So all in all, it’s been the best kind of pressure. It’s pressure that drives you to make something really good.
My question is for Wes and James. The Grievers are a really big part of this first book. What was it like bringing them to screen?
Dashner: All I will say is their vision perfectly matched mine. It was like they took the Grievers from the book and made them even better. It’s gonna be a big hit with my readers.
Ball: I think it’s a unique design. I’m hoping that it’ll be one of those unique movie monsters that stands out from all the rest. I took what James described in the book – bio-mechanical, nasty and scary and metallic and all these things, and came up with this design with some of my artists that would be really fun to animate, basically.
Dashner: It’s freakin’ awesome.
Ball: And a great bunch of people worked on it. They brought Erik De Boer on, who was the guy behind the “Life of Pi” tiger. So we got some really serious guys working on making this thing absolutely believable and cool, so fingers crossed that people like it.
My question is for the author. Who do you write for? Did you set out to write a young adult novel or did it just turn out that way, what’s your thought process?
Dashner: Well, I guess for me, when I was a teenager, that’s when I fell in love with reading. Stephen King was my Young Adult section, and it’s always stayed magical to me, just that time period of my life in terms of storytelling. So when I write, I think I just naturally go to what I would have loved at that age. But I never, ever think about the age of my audience. I don’t ever write down, I don’t ever think “Oh, this is too much for them, this is too big of a word.” I think that’s why it has crossed over to so many adults. I just write the coolest thing I can write.
Ball: Same thing with the movie, actually. You make the movie for the kid in everybody, you don’t make it for kids. We tried to treat it from a very serious point of view just like James did. Young people dealing with adult situations.
You mentioned that the movie is going to be incredibly emotional and so often emotion comes with music. Is there a role music played, whether it was like the creation of it, getting into your characters and/or is there going to be a banging soundtrack?
Ball: I’m a big soundtrack buff. I love soundtracks, it’s all I listen to since I was 16 years old. John Pisano is one of my composers. He’s a guy that got his training from John Williams, then went off to work for Hans Zimmer for a while and then he was hand picked by John Powell to do the TV show version of “How to Train Your Dragon.” So this guy’s got an eclectic mix of old-school, classic film sound where music becomes a character in the movie, more than just the emotion. But he also has this modern edge that’s hip and cool and sweet, so I’m excited for people, especially soundtrack buffs, to check out the score. There’s some really cool tracks in there.
Dashner: One of my happiest moments during this process has been when I told Wes – I write to soundtracks, everything from “Lord of the Rings” to “Aliens” to you name it – and I said, “We’re not gonna have one of those typical pop song soundtracks, are we?” and he said, “No, we’re going full epic orchestral score.” I was lucky to go to the studio when they filmed they music, or score, and it blew me away. It’s awesome.
“The Maze Runner” will be released on September 19th. Be sure to read our recap of the new footage from the film shown at the panel as well.