WonderCon 2014: The Maze Runner Cast & Crew Answer Fan Questions

The Maze Runner

When I tweeted that I was interviewing the stars, author and director of The Maze Runner movie at WonderCon, I got a lot of readers and fans tweeting me questions to ask them. It was a great way for me to approach The Maze Runner from a different perspective, especially since I hadn’t read the book. “Teen Wolf”‘s Dylan O’Brien plays Thomas, a teenager who wakes up in The Glade with no memory, and has to figure out how to escape a maze that keeps changing. Will Poulter plays Gally and Wes Ball directs the film of James Dashner’s book. I spoke with the four at WonderCon, with screenwriter T.S. Nowlin sitting on the side, and we got really specific. Spoiler alert for people who haven’t read the books yet, but especially the second question is something every reader asked. Even though I put [SPOILER] in place of all the specifics, you could still figure it out, but if you read my Twitter feed you’d see all the readers asking already.

CraveOnline: When the MTV Movie Awards nominated Best Character, fandoms between Divergent and Hunger Games were fighting. How can all the fandoms get along?

Dylan O’Brien: Oh God, yeah, what the hell?

Wes Ball: They can. They just need to.

James Dashner: I honestly think my book fandom, the Dashner Army what we call them, they take a lot of pride that they don’t go the route of always complaining, always being negative and putting down.

Wes Ball: I’ve got to say, our fans are really positive. They’re really supportive and positive.

Dylan O’Brien: They’re sweet.

Wes Ball: I think I’m getting spoiled now from this fandom.

James Dashner: There’s something special about them.

Will Poulter: And they’ve been that way.

Wes Ball: So maybe it’ll be the Maze Runner fans that join the Factions and the Arena from Hunger Games.

They can be the change we want to see in fandom.

Will Poulter: Quite possibly, but I think they’ve been that way and they’ve been that supportive since before preproduction.

Wes Ball: Casting announcements.

Will Poulter: That’s of course part from the book, and then they were so supportive of it becoming a film. Never for a second were they questioning it or doubting. They were just fully behind us and it meant that we of course had a pressure when we were making it but we also had their support which was vital and it spurred us on every day.

Wes Ball: You know what was so fun, watching  the trailer reaction videos, people record themselves watching the trailer, almost all of them say, “Oh, oh, Dylan is perfect casting. Oh, Will is the perfect guy. He’s the perfect Gally. Oh, Minho, oh, that’s exactly how I pictured him.” So we’ve tapped into exactly what I think they were all hoping for.

And James, this is a SPOILER for the books but of course everyone was asking me why did you kill [SPOILER]? Why the [SPOILER]? Why didn’t you make everyone [SPOILER]?

Wes Ball: Don’t spoil that yet. That’s in movie three.

I’ll say [SPOILER] and all the readers will still know what I’m talking about because it’s the question they all have.

James Dashner: Major SPOILER but to me…

Dylan O’Brien: Oh, hate it.

James Dashner: Did you not know that?

Dylan O’Brien: No, I just hate it.

Wes Ball: Oh, it’s going to be fantastic.

Dylan O’Brien: I know it’s going to be an epic scene.

Wes Ball: I have an idea for the second movie where, I don’t want to ruin it but it’s going to be fantastic.

James Dashner: Well, two things. Number one, it means the world to me, Newt having a limp in the first book was such a small detail but it was so important just to his background.

Wes Ball: And he has it in the movie too.

James Dashner: In the movie, the fact that they gave him a limp was just such a good example of let’s stay true to this story. But, I knew from the very beginning that was his fate. I knew that he wasn’t [SPOILER] like the others. The fact that it has emotionally affected so many readers means I did my job I guess.

Wes Ball: Life is loss.

James Dashner: Not everyone lives happily ever after.

How much sleep did you all get making this movie?

Dylan O’Brien: A total of 30 hours.

Will Poulter: Zero and zero. I actually got a little bit of sleep. We were okay, right?

Dylan O’Brien: Honestly, me and Wes probably slept the least but I at least got my 20 hour sleep Saturdays. Wes kept going, man. He was scouting.

Wes Ball: Seriously, you’re constantly making the movie. You can’t.

Dylan O’Brien: I would hibernate on Saturday at least but this dude was just not. I think still to this day he’s been nonstop.

Why was the release of The Maze Runner postponed from February?

Wes Ball: Simple.

James Dashner: Greatest thing that ever happened.

Wes Ball: There was no way that was going to happen. I mean, basically that would’ve been from the start of shooting to release, eight months. War of the Worlds barely got that done with Spielberg so there was just no way it was going to happen. I think what happened is essentially that I showed them my first cut of the movie and we all saw wow, it was actually a really great move on Fox’s part because they saw this could be really cool. We need to give this the time that it needs to continue to develop and make the effects as good as they possibly could. To me, it was their show of confidence in the movie. I wish it didn’t have to get pushed so far, but hey.

Dylan O’Brien: February’s also kind of a dead zone.

Wes Ball: It’s kind of where movies go to die and I think they realized we don’t have to do that.

That’s January but there’s some bleed over.

Dylan O’Brien: September also too is like school’s starting, it’s the fall.

Wes Ball: That’s the other thing, we have enough time after summer where everyone’s kind of exhausted from movies. There’s a little bit of time for things to kind of calm down and then we’re ready to get back into it in September.

James Dashner: And last year Gravity proved that it’s kind of a good time.

Wes Ball: I also think that now there’s no dead times in movies anyway. If it’s a good movie, people will go see it.

Summer movies start in March now. All right, what is your favorite Glader slang, and did you use it off camera too, shuckfaces?

James Dashner: [Laughs]

Wes Ball: We must have, for sure.

James Dashner: That sounds like something one of my readers would say.

Yes, it is.

Dylan O’Brien: Either shank or shuck.

Will Poulter: I like shank.

James Dashner: I like the phrase “good that.”

Wes Ball: Me too.

James Dashner: Because it sounds like something you could genuinely use.

Dylan O’Brien: That one would be absolutely amazing.

Will Poulter: Good that. I like that.

Dylan O’Brien: It almost sounds like an English person.

James Dashner: I love the “good that.” You want to go, “Good that, let’s do it.”

Wes Ball: I always love “good that” too. We never found a place for it in the movie.

James Dashner: That’s okay.

Wes Ball: I wanted to use that one. That was my favorite one too actually.

Who do you imagine as Chancellor Paige or Brenda?

James Dashner: Well, we know who Chancellor Paige is.

Wes Ball: That’s Patty Clarkson, Academy Award nominated Patricia Clarkson. She’s in it.

James Dashner: They basically took the epilogue of the book and turned it into a scene.

Wes Ball: Then for Brenda, I don’t know yet.

Will Poulter: A little cameo, Wes?

Wes Ball: No. I do have a cameo in the movie. I die from a Griever.

Will Poulter: Do you?

Wes Ball: But you would never know. It’s a silhouette.

Do you have a cameo, James?

James Dashner: I do. We’re keeping it secret what it is but I think people will be able to spot it very easily.

Dylan O’Brien: Yeah, it holds on it pretty long.

James Dashner: I really command a presence on screen.

Will Poulter: But it’s just under the Griever costume, it’s difficult to tell.

This was an interesting question. All of the characters were leaders, but who is your favorite kind of leader: Newt, Alby, Minho or Thomas?

Will Poulter: Ouch. Where’s Gally on the spectrum?

We have a specific Gally question coming.

Will Poulter: Oh no, brother, I’m joking, I’m joking.

Wes Ball: Yeah, they’re very different types of leaders, your right.

James Dashner: I’m thinking of the book series, they do all have their moment where they’re a leader. I’m biased towards Thomas.

Wes Ball: Thomas is the one that’s the leader without being a dictator. He basically leverages all the other strong aspects of all the rest of the crew like Newt and Minho and channels it all into one goal in mind. I think that’s the one for me.

Will Poulter: He’s the leader that welcomes teamwork, don’t you think? And collaboration. Even Alby at times, “Let’s call it a night.”

Wes Ball: Exactly, Alby has his flaws too because he’s the one that fosters this idea of staying in the Glade.

Will, you’re involved with an anti-bullying campaign in the U.K., so what would you say to Gally?

Will Poulter: “Stop being a dick.” Probably something along those lines. Yeah, I am which is really cool. I’d love to mention that.

Wes Ball: I don’t think you come off as a bully necessarily in the movie though.

Will Poulter: I think the script and talking to both James and Wes and the other actors as well, we had a lot of discussion amongst ourselves about character. What we tried to do with the characters of course, and it’s the classic challenge when translating the book into film, is keep that spirit like every other aspect in the movie. Keep that spirit but stay true to the script and trust it.

Wes Ball: And give it some depth and moral dilemmas in there.

Will Poulter: And Gally to me was more of a conflicted character than a bully, but I would say exactly, to watch that because he does stray and he does slightly at times cross the line into bully.

Wes Ball: I would say he’s not a bully, he’s not a villain. He’s just an antagonist based on his views. Actually, I always thought in the book that Gally was probably the most interesting character to play because of his arc through the series and the saga. Some big stuff happens with that character. SPOILER, he comes back, but there’s really fun stuff to play there. Someone who actually does do harm and might see the error in his ways and have to atone for that.

James Dashner: No matter what medium of storytelling, to me the most fascinating character is a villain that you have empathy for.

Dylan, did you have a unique experience reading the book where you could imagine yourself as Thomas?

Dylan O’Brien: Yeah, it was hard. It was hard I guess. It’s definitely taken me a long time to feel like…

Wes Ball: That’s you. You’re now forever going to be Thomas.

Dylan O’Brien: Yeah, I think it takes a while for that to set in. When I first read the book, it was in preproduction when we were just getting started. At that point I didn’t really go through the experience as him yet. It was almost hard for me to see myself. I pictured a little version of myself. Interestingly enough, I read younger in the book. I pictured them all younger in the book for some reason.

Wes Ball: That was actually my thing too. I initially was going to cast 16-year-olds. It wouldn’t happen. There was no way that would’ve happened, so basically I found you guys with young faces.

Dylan O’Brien: Right, right, it works, it works.

Which are your favorite books in the series?

James Dashner: The first one.

Dylan O’Brien: Maze Runner.

Will Poulter: Yeah, my favorite is The Maze Runner.

Wes Ball: The one that started it all.

Dylan O’Brien: I’ve only done Maze and Scorched but Maze. And I feel like that’ll remain the same just because it’s the O.G.

James Dashner: Maze is so special to me because I spent years on it, but the most fun I had was writing The Death Cure, the third book, because so many things I had known for years, I was actually writing them. I’m finally writing So and So’s death scene. This is awesome!

What piece of advice could you give up and coming writers?

James Dashner: To go to Writers’ Conferences, which a lot of people don’t know about them but they’re all over the place. They’re extremely valuable both for connections and for learning your craft. And just to write every day.

Wes Ball: T.S., what would you say?

T.S. Nowlin: Screenwriters or regular writers? Real writers?

James Dashner: Yeah, real writers.

Wes Ball: Screenwriters.

T.S. Nowlin: Team up with somebody like Wes. Team up with someone who has a vision, who can visually interpret ideas, who can animate, come up with actors. Put on a play, make something. Don’t just send off scripts and have it be in a pile on somebody’s desk.

Wes Ball: If you ask the question for how to do it for making movies, it’s go make something.

Dylan O’Brien: That’s really good advice.

Will Poulter: That’s awesome advice.

I would say that in journalism too. Write something or make something.

Wes Ball: Do it. Get off your butt. Don’t wait for permission, or someone to tell you what to do. Just go do it.

James Dashner: The act of doing it makes you better. Even if you’re not technically taking lessons or anything, just the act of doing it makes you better.

10,000 hours of practice.

Wes Ball: I like not being on camera. We can just kind of talk and ramble. It’s real. Are you recording this?

Yes, and I can hear all your overlapping comments and put them in order too. I’ve had 10,000 hours of practice at that.

Wes Ball: Nice.

Will Poulter: Thank you.

Dylan, what advice would you give people for improving their improv skills?

Dylan O’Brien: It’s like anything else, you’ve got to get up and do it. And also, don’t think about it too much. Don’t think like you’re improv’ing. People forget that the most basic form of improv is just listening and responding, or not responding. You also don’t have to say anything if you don’t want to. Sometimes they’re so pressured to talk in improv to fill the air, but honestly some of the best improv is when it’s just so alive and you’re maybe just trading looks back and forth and then a word here and there and then you go off on something and then go on a tangent.

Will Poulter: How much did we do it on this where we just stripped it back.

Wes Ball: We constantly threw out all of T.S.’s lines. Sorry, T.S.

Will Poulter: We had a scene where I put you in the pit. I think there was a bunch of dialogue after we put you in the pit. We just didn’t write it.

Dylan O’Brien: Yeah, we did a take with that in there.

Will Poulter: Sometimes it’s adding looks but you have to return to the basic fundamentals of what you have as a human when you communicate and employ that as an actor.

Wes Ball: When we’re doing the scenes, we do a little rehearsal run through and you can feel where it falls away from being truthful or honest. We’ll make adjustments and then boom, let’s do a take.

Will Poulter: Wes was sick about letting us do that.

Dylan O’Brien: That’s what improv is so useful for because that honesty, it’s so raw, it is the rawest form of acting and being a person. So it really helps feel those moments too. Me and Will would love in our scenes together, and Wes would always let us, we’d add something if we felt like there’s something missing, a moment that we could just go on, not one that’s written necessarily but one that we were just feeling and just let us go and try to put words into it. We got to do that a lot and it made some of the movie too. It helps just connect the scenes.

Wes Ball: As a director, you love those scenes where you can convey an idea with just a look. We have a couple of those actually I think, especially between you two actually. There was one in particular that I loved.

James Dashner: The best evidence of that is I saw a lot of the footage without audio and it still blew me away. You guys were acting with your eyes, your face, your mannerisms.

Will Poulter: The tricky thing is I feel like I have to apologize for everyone who goes and sees this film. It was so bright and it was so hot and I spend so much of the movie like this [squinting] and there’s a bit where I’m looking up at Kaya [Scodelario] in the treehouse.

Dylan O’Brien: He’s talking about that treehouse scene.

Wes Ball: Oh, I love that shot of you.

Will Poulter: But weirdly, this [squint] makes sense but why is my mouth like this?

Wes Ball: I love that scene of you because it’s another softer side of you. That’s why I love that scene of you. It got a huge reaction in our screenings.

Dylan O’Brien: My 360?

Will Poulter: No, no, you’re not as bad as me.

Dylan O’Brien: I swear, man.

If you had to choose between having a flare or being stung by a Griever, what would you choose?

Wes Ball: I guess the thing is it’s kind of both. It’s kind of the same.

Dylan O’Brien: Isn’t that what the Grievers do? Don’t they send you into the flare?

Wes Ball: Kind of turns you into that.

So those are the same two choices? That’s a trick question they gave me.

Wes Ball: In the movie that’s kind of what it is. I don’t know. I don’t think I’d take either. I’d take option C.

Dylan O’Brien: I’d take dying or leaving.

If you were in the Glade, which task would you do?

Wes Ball: I’d be a builder.

Dylan O’Brien: We talked about this.

Will Poulter: Yeah, I’d be a builder too. Actually I might work in the kitchen. I might roll with Frypan.

Wes Ball: All right, sweet .Yeah, I’d be a builder.

James Dashner: I’d be a runner because you can just tell my physique, how fit I am. 

Fred Topel is a staff writer at CraveOnline and the man behind Best Episode Ever and The Shelf Space Awards. Follow him on Twitter at @FredTopel.