The Gladers may have escaped the Maze at the end of The Maze Runner, but they’ve still got a lot of ground to cover if they’re going to figure out what WCKD’s up to. Back in December, I visited the Albuquerque, New Mexico set of the sequel and got a little taste of what lies ahead in the next leg of their journey, the Scorch, a dangerous desert landscape overrun with infected individuals called Cranks. Check out some highlights from the roundtable interviews with Dylan O’Brien, Kaya Scodelario, Rosa Salazar, Ki Hong Lee, Thomas Brodie-Sangster, Dexter Darden, director Wes Ball and producer Wyck Godfrey in my main set visit report below.
Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials opens on September 18th and also stars Jacob Lofland, Giancarlo Esposito and Aidan Gillen.
Get ready for a much bigger movie. The first film was contained, only taking place within the Glade and the Maze. However, that’s very much not the case with The Scorch Trials. Godfrey explained, “It’s really about discovering the outside world. Everything they wanted to know in the first movie, they start to discover in this movie and it gets much bigger so, by its very nature, there are many more locations, there’s a bigger cast.”
They even go above and beyond what’s in the source material. Godfrey explained,“It’s ultimately gonna be a bigger movie than the second book because that’s just the way Wes dreams. He’s like, ‘If I wanna show the real world, I wanna show it,’ and so his version of traveling the Scorch is a much broader, bigger vision than we probably, in our minds, imagined what crossing the Scorch would be like, in the same way that his vision of the walls in the Glade were bigger probably than what most of us thought of when we read the book.”
The Scorch Trials will also be a more mature film. Ball began, “It’s cool because we get to have more adults in this movie, and they’re not all just the evil adults either. They’re adults that can actually help.” He continued, “It goes with that thing of just making the movie feel [like] more than just a kids movie now, you know? It’s becoming more and more mature, more sophisticated and all that stuff.”
The Scorch Trials is primarily an adaptation of the second book, but they’re pulling from The Death Cure as well. Ball didn’t want to reveal too many details, but he did tease, “It’s not as easy to take that second book and just do a straight adaptation. It won’t work basically. So what our approach is [is] basically to take the rest of his story, the rest of his saga and find the two movies in that. And that required basically some things to come from the third book into the second and the second into the third, and make that nice, linear trajectory of a nice, cohesive story that’s all building to one finale.” Godfrey got a little more specific and revealed two characters from The Death Cure who are popping up early in The Scorch Trials; “We’ve cast Barry Pepper who actually is a character from the third book that was sort of brought up early, Vince, and Mary also from the third book that we brought up, Lili Taylor.”
Goodbye Grievers, hello Cranks. Godfrey began, “Whereas in the first film the Grievers were the big thing, in this one the Cranks are.” Shortly after sun flares decimated the region between the two Tropics, a virus that eats away at the brain called the Flare ravaged the remaining population. Godfrey further explained, “Wes’ vision of what this disease does to you and how it takes over is sort of more visual and more exciting than what we might have expected reading the book. We have several stages of the Flare overtaking you and there are of course early versions of the Cranks where you see more of the humanity and then there are later versions of the Cranks where they’re gonna be fully CG and they’re truly terrifying.”
But the Grievers do have a little cameo. During a party scene, Thomas has a drugged drink and when it starts to take effect, he has a vision. Godfrey broke it down, “It’s a little thing but Wes had said, ‘When Thomas starts to trip out and starts to spin out and starts to see things, I want him to like turn and see like a Griever rearing out of the shadows because I feel like we just dropped it and we’re just on to a totally new thing.’ Is that in the book? No. Is it cool and is it gonna be additive to what the fans liked from the first book? Yes.”
Speaking of making changes to the source material, “it’s not sacrilege to say you can improve upon the book.” Godfrey admitted, “I think when I read the books I kind of go, ‘What was WCKD really doing with the Grievers? What did that have to do with anything?’ And the truth is, you can talk to James sometimes and he’s like, ‘Guys, I’m a writer. I spent 10 years on the first book and then I had a due date for the second and the third one.’” He continued, “I think most of the writers are having to kind of scramble and continue to invent and make things up, and that’s why a lot of times they’re all like, ‘Guys, it’s not sacrilege to say you can improve upon the book because I myself, had I taken 10 years to write each of the subsequent books, probably would have been able to write them better.’”
It’s time to learn more about Teresa! Scodelario noted, “They kept Teresa very much a mystery in the first one and, for me, the reason I wanted to do these movies was because I knew it would be a progression of her character. I wouldn’t have done it if it was just the first movie because she doesn’t really do anything, she’s just introduced. So I was very excited to be able to get into her a lot more this time, explore her having her own mind and her own instincts.”
Teresa will spend more time with the Gladers in the movie than she does in the book, but she’s also very alone. “I think for me to play her it’s been sadder this time. She’s very singular and very alone, but I like that. It would have been easy for us to just make her a follower and just make her agree with everything and go along with it.” Scodelario continued, “She’s on the journey with them, but her mind is elsewhere and her thought process and what she wants to do is very different from them all, and she doesn’t really have anyone to share that with, none of them do. These kids have been kind of thrust together. As an actor it’s been a lot lonelier, but I like to play with that, you know? Life isn’t rainbows and fairy tales.”
Get ready for Brenda. Salazar began, “I sort of like to describe her as a rescue dog because she was thrust out into this terrible world, the Scorch, and fending for herself at a very young age, and Jorge finds her and sort of takes her under his wing and she becomes like a protégé.” She continued, “She’s very armored. She’s very, you’re not getting in here. There are no chinks in her armor. She’s impenetrable. Throughout the course of the movie, it’s just like stuff’s getting pulled out of her and she’s sort of learning, I’m vulnerable right now and what does this mean, and she breaks her own rules with Thomas and sort of lets him in in this really beautiful way and is sort of messed up by it because she’s so used to doing this, so to do this is very awkward.”
Salazar has a strong personal connection to what Brenda’s going through. “I myself am sort of like that. I had a storied past and been on my own since I was 15 and I know what she’s doing. I know her tricks because you’ve spent so long white-knuckling it through the world and now when you’re in a position of like, someone’s in front of you asking you to trust them, you have to learn to do it.”
There’s a reason Ball wanted Brenda to have short hair, even though she doesn’t in the book. Ball laughed and noted, “That was a big drama thing.” He added, “It was really important to me that we just didn’t cast another Kaya. She’s someone that has to be distinct and different and that just meant going with, one, an actress that could really bring something, a new kind of flavor to this thing, but also there’s just something kind of cool and cute about her hair, and she’s this character that lives with a bunch of scavengers and lives like the survivalist out in this kind of abandoned building. It just kind of fits.”
There’s a love triangle, but it’s not a traditional love triangle. Ball explained, “Obviously there’s a special connection between Thomas and Teresa, and then this third person starts coming into things.” He continued, “There is a little bit of that, I don’t know what you would call it, that competition I guess you’d say. But never heavy handed and we’re never kind of like focusing on it.” O’Brien added, “There really is no romance going on. There’s kind of just something there, connections there for the audience to root for and I think that’s stronger without just throwing it in your face.”
It isn’t easy keeping spirits up in the Scorch, but Newt’s going to give it his best shot. Brodie-Sangster began, “Yeah, [Newt] doesn’t have Alby and I think when Alby went in the Glade, I think Newt struggled quite a bit to take the shoes off him. He is a leader in some ways, but I think he’s better as a support unit.” He further explained, “He’s a moral booster for everyone. He’s the guy that encourages people, that keeps people moving forward, that keeps Thomas moving forward, keeps everyone else’s morale boosted and makes sure that everyone has their role to play and feels worthy and has a place within the group and doesn’t get too depressed.”
Minho isn’t the leader of the runners anymore, but he’s got important new responsibilities. Lee explained, “In the first one Minho’s kind of like one of the leaders, but he takes his cue off of Alby, but now Alby’s gone and now he’s kind of taking his cue from Newt and Thomas, and so it’s interesting to see that kind of shift in his focus of leadership.” He continued, “His role now is more of making sure everyone’s okay and protecting everybody and making sure there’s always a way out of a certain situation [laughs], because we always get stuck in these bad situations.” Lee’s also hoping to highlight Minho’s sassiness more this time around. “In the first one, we all tried to input as much sassiness and his sarcastic attitude because that’s what’s so good about the books and about what James has written. We tried to do that, but some of it got cut so this time I’m trying to put [in] as much of it as I can, so hopefully some of that ends up being in the final product.”
But really, the most important question is, how does Minho keep his hair looking so damn good? Where does he get hair gel? Lee joked, “In the Maze I’d say Minho finds it in the griever slime. In the Scorch, it’s so hot that his hair kind of flares up just because he’s worn it like this for so long. He hasn’t taken a shower in a while, too.”
Frypan will have a bigger presence this time around. Darden told us, “He grows a lot in this movie. As people who have read the book or book series know, Frypan kind of gains a little bit more of an identity in the group and kind of assumes a new position and role.” He added, “It’s easy for us as a group to get down and we need to find somebody who can kind of keep the spirits up and kind of keep the humor alive in certain situations and I think Frypan kind of is that guy.”
Frypan doesn’t cook in The Scorch Trials, but the cast of the film cooks quite a bit and apparently they’re all pretty good. When asked who’s the best, Scodelario immediately replied, “Me! My mom’s Brazilian. Got her cooking gene.” But she also admitted, “Actually, all the boys do cook. All of them are really good. Jacob we’re trying to wean off just frozen chicken nuggets. We’re trying to teach him what food is, but he’s 18 so, you know, it’s okay.” Darden broke down everyone’s specialty; “Kaya, she’s Brazilian so she’s got those Brazilian roots. She can make rice and all that kind of stuff, and rice is my favorite food so I eat it all the time. Dylan can make a mean chicken parm, breaded chicken cutlets, broccoli, all those kinds of things. Me, I really like to take pride in my grilling. I love to grill, but I can also do kind of the soul food-esque things like baked macaroni and cheese and fried chicken.”
Want to win O’Brien over? Just make him stuffed shells. Salazar recalled, “Dylan was like really hyped up. The place we’re staying [at] cooks a dinner and they cooked stuffed shells one night and he was really, really, really excited. All he could talk about all day was like, ‘Stuffed shells, stuffed shells, stuffed shells! Man, I can’t wait to get those stuffed shells!’ We went back and he’s like, ‘These are the worst stuff shells I’ve ever had in my life,’ and so the next night I went out, bought groceries and made him stuffed shells. He was just like, ‘Oh my god,’ the whole time. ‘These are so good! Thank you!’”
Thomas Brodie-Sangster? More like Thomas Brodie-Gangster. When the group noticed that everyone on set calls Thomas by his full name, Darden told us, “Yeah, Thomas Brodie-Sangster or TBS. And we kinda formed this thing Thomas Brodie-Gangster for a while.” He explained, “Thomas is definitely the cool one. And he will never admit to it either, but he’s the coolest of all of us. He’s the guy who walks out of his trailer and you look at him and you’re like, ‘Why can’t I be him?’”
The day we were on set, the cast and crew were shooting a party scene in Gertrude Zachary’s castle in downtown Albuquerque.
While trekking across the Scorch, Thomas and the Gladers spot a dilapidated city and that’s where they meet Brenda and Jorge. Eventually, Thomas and Brenda get separated from the group and wind up at an unusual party. Here’s how Godfrey described it, “I like to think of it as our kind of Pinocchio scene, where Pinocchio goes into the pool house and starts to grow ears and a tail and almost never wants to leave, and I think that’s kind of thematically what happens here.”
The first few shots we saw filmed happen after Thomas and Brenda drink Blondie’s (Alan Tudyk) mystery drink and it’s taken effect. While in the middle of a packed crowd swaying to the music, Brenda tells Thomas, “They’re not here, Thomas.” He insists, “Okay, we should keep looking.” Brenda replies, “Why? Even if they were here, we can’t find the right arm anyway. Not without Marcus. It’s over. Your friends are gone. Jorge’s gone. It’s just us now. Don’t fight it. Just relax. Just let go. I’ll show you.” And that’s when she leans in for a kiss. He seems receptive at first, but soon pulls back and tells her, “You’re not her,” meaning she’s not Teresa. That’s when Brenda splits and disappears into the crowd. A little later on in the day, Scodelario stepped into Salazar’s position to share a similar kiss with O’Brien, which will wind up being used as a vision of sorts that’s sparked by the spiked drink Blondie requires his party guests to consume.
Towards the tail end of the day we got to watch what happens when Jorge and the Gladers arrive to rescue Thomas and Brenda. Blondie is tied to a chair and Jorge is giving him a serious beating. Thomas walks into the room and gets a warm welcome before asking, “Why’s he tied up?” They explain that Blondie’s being difficult while Jorge tries to reason with him; “I’ll make you a deal. You tell me where they are and I’ll take you with us.” Blondie replies, “I burned that bridge a long time ago. Besides, I’ve got my own deal.” That’s when Blondie explains the operation he’s got going on in the mansion. “It’s supply and demand, kid! You think I run this place for my health? The kids come in, they drink, they have a good time. Then WCKD comes in.” After more threats from Jorge, Blondie finally caves; “I’ll tell you what you want to know! But I’m not making any promises. These guys like to stay mobile. They have an outpost. Up in the mountains.”
Clearly we were seeing all of this completely out of context, but the performances and atmosphere were so strong, you really couldn’t help but to get completely consumed by the material. Between the crowd swaying and Brenda’s soothing voice, the party almost had a hypnotic quality to it and when Thomas burst that bubble by telling Brenda, “You’re not her,” it really felt like an especially hurtful punch to the gut. And if you’ve read the book you know that Blondie is a fairly small role, but based on what we saw, I get the sense that Tudyk is going to turn him into an especially memorable element of the film. The whole look of the party really does have a Pinocchio-like vibe and Blondie’s theatrics enhance that sensation big time.
I walked away from this set with all the confidence in the world that Ball and co. were making a strong sequel, but at Comic-Con I had the opportunity to catch the first 30 minutes of the film so can now confirm that they really did nail some of it. As for what goes down after the Gladers leave the WCKD facility and head out into the Scorch, if what we saw on set is any indication, this world is going to be especially rich and treacherous.
Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials is due in theaters on September 18th. In case you missed it, you can check out some of the full set visit interviews using the links below:
- ‘Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials’: Wyck Godfrey Reveals Book Changes, Easter Eggs and More
- ‘Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials’: Dylan O’Brien Talks Stunts, Unromantic Romance and More
- ‘Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials': Wes Ball on New Locations, Book Changes and More
- ‘Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials’ Set Visit Interview: Surprise! Alan Tudyk is Blondie