One of the movies under most people’s radar is director Wes Ball‘s The Maze Runner. Based on the James Dashner’s young adult novel of the same name, the story centers on a group of teens who appear in an area known as “The Glade” but have no memory when they wake up. The only way out appears to be through a shifting maze of massive walls that harbor dangerous creatures known as Grievers. Only one of the teens, Thomas (Dylan O’Brien), holds the secret to their escape. With the film hitting theaters February 14, 2014, you can expect a trailer in the coming months, and a lot more info on the film. Until then…you’ll just have to trust me when I say it’s a film that could be very cool.
While at Comic-Con, I landed an exclusive interview with O’Brien. He talked about being the lead in a movie for the first time, making Maze Runner, the tough shoot, what will surprise fans of the book, Comic-Con, the success of Teen Wolf, DreamWorks’ Glimmer, and more. Hit the jump for what he had to say.
DYLAN O’BRIEN: Yes. Four.
So, you’re like a seasoned pro.
O’BRIEN: Yeah. Cool, huh? I’m jaded at this point actually. I’m getting like sick about it — I’m just kidding.
Can you walk the convention floor?
O’BRIEN: No. Unless I have a mask on or something.
Have you worn the mask on the floor?
O’BRIEN: No, I haven’t done that. I think I might do it today.
I have a lot of friends that are actors, who really get off on wearing the mask because they’re surrounded by people that love their work but no one has any idea.
O’BRIEN: It must be cool, I want to try it. I hear it’s like being in another world — the convention floor. It’s crazy and you go into this land where people know who you are. Most people would know because everyone is here for this stuff and this is why they’re here — well, I guess not everyone but it’s definitely out of the ordinary.
How have things changed for you with the success of Teen Wolf? I know it’s bigger now than it’s ever been.
O’BRIEN: Yeah, it’s crazy how it just keeps growing and the fanbase just keeps getting stronger, it’s amazing. At one time this was literally the first job I ever had, the only job I had, my very first introduction into the business, my first experience with crew, with the set, with the cast, with anything. Literally, as an actor, it was my first experience at all. So, it’s really close to home and it’s really important to me, and I’m going to be so upset the day that it’s over. It’s going to be heartbreaking. But it’s mind-blowing to see something like that, something that’s actually just really personal to you kind of become — first off all, to still be going, we never thought it’d be going even three years, like we’re at right now. It’s crazy to see the success of something like that, that’s just kind of your little home base. It’s always been like that for me. As an actor now, when I’ve gone off and tried other things, it’s like my home base. It’s my school, it’s my home that I go back and — yeah, I don’t know. It’s weird. It’s really cool though.
O’BRIEN: Yeah. It’s a different thing, Atlanta was fantastic for so many ways. The first couple season we were out there. The first season, me and two of the guys from the show lived together and we got our apartment and the whole cast would hang there every night. With that set up, you go through so many scenarios that you would never like experience — you just have this experience that you would’ve never had otherwise. That’s why Atlanta was so great. I think the sense of camaraderie that we had as a cast and crew and everything started with us being secluded with each other. Something comes out of that. Being in L.A. is fine too, it’s great for other reasons. It’s a lot more of just kind of us coming and seeing each other every day at work and then going back to our respective homes and environments. We’re not so much all up on each other’s hair like constantly we are in Atlanta, in the best way possible. But it’s great being home, it’s nice to have stability, it’s nice.
There are better movie theaters in L.A., you can say it.
O’BRIEN: There are better movie theaters in L.A. It’s true.
The thing I learned from the Maze Runner set visit is that this was not an easy shoot. This was like, poisonous snakes on set, humidity, there was heat. This was, I’m imagining on your end, a challenging shoot. Was I wrong?
O’BRIEN: You’re so right, man. It’s amazing that you understand that.
This was not like sound stage work, where you’re like 9-5, everything’s chill. As an actor, you’re still dealing with performance but you’re also dealing with outside elements.
O’BRIEN: Yeah, as an actor, it’s interesting because so much was like what you’re focused on and a lot of what you need to focus on is story and your scenes, and telling this story in each scene, and literally being on it constantly while also balancing other things. In this case, it was a lot of other things. There was a lot of physical stuff I needed to do for the role as far as — I didn’t need to train or anything for it. But just as far as daily throwing myself into something or onto something or off of something, or running, hightailing it all day long for a hundred yard dashes. By the end of the first week, my arms were covered in these cuts and then makeup started kind of duplicating the cuts. The rest of the shoot when they went away, I would still have the scar of it, like the faint little line because we’re out on the sun all day too. Then it became my cuts they were actually kind of reviving every day for the movie. It’s just so funny, I’ve never done anything that physical, I’ve never worked the hours that I’ve worked in this movie, and I’ve never also shot this big of a film. So, it was a really interesting kind of combination of craziness.
When you look back on the project, being the first time you’re front-and-center, big movie, is there any advice you wish you could’ve given yourself at the beginning that you’ve taken with you for the next thing?
O’BRIEN: Yeah, I wish I — and I always do this — I always wish this about myself, I think. I’m a very anxiety-ridden person, I definitely anticipate situations a lot. I wish I could’ve just say to myself, “Just relax.” If I could have the mentality that I have at the end of the shoot at the beginning, it’d make my job a lot easier.
I know a lot of actors and they all say that, “The first three-four days, I can still be fired.”
O’BRIEN: That’s the thing yeah, what’s funny is that I never even think about that.
I don’t wanna make any more shit go in your head.
O’BRIEN: Yeah, right, you’re just adding to it. I don’t know for some reason that never crossed my mind but just in general doing the job and hoping you’re doing well. My biggest fear is that I wouldn’t be fired and I should’ve been like day one. I had to go through the whole movie being like, “Oh, what? What? Why didn’t anyone say I was terrible?” I don’t know. It’s just a thing that — what’s funny is that all that stuff disappears when you go and you actually shoot in your set everyday and it becomes an entirely different world. It becomes like this whole thing, you almost forget that you’re shooting a movie sometimes. It’s great.
What do you think is going to surprise people about the film? People that are fans of the book, people that don’t know the book…
O’BRIEN: I think everything. I can’t say how the movie’s going to come out or anything but I think [director] Wes [Ball] is going to kill it. It’s really gritty, it’s a lot grittier than I think people are going to expect it to be. What’s funny is that, in terms of subject matter, something like The Hunger Games is much more viciously violent than this story is but when you see the movies though, it’s interesting how — I think this is going to surprise people with how dirty and dark it is.
O’BRIEN: Yeah, I think it has to be PG-13.
Yeah, I’m sure it’s PG-13.
O’BRIEN: Oh yeah, no way it’s going to be R. We’re very much geared for that audience and very much accept that and our movie is that, and our story is that, definitely. But I think what’s going to surprise people is actually how kind of brutal it is and maybe scary too, and just dirty, like I said — real dirty.
I know you just wrapped on it so it’s hard to sort of distance–
O’BRIEN: Yeah, it’s weird. I’m trying to find the best way to say it. It’s not coming up with huge, crazy hype, it never was, you know? Maybe now it’s more so than it was when we first started. When we first started I felt like nobody even knew this was coming, let alone was expecting anything from it. I think when it does come, it’s going to be cool. I think people will actually be like, “Oh! The movie’s actually pretty cool.” The acting, I think the actors are great, that’s going to surprise people.
Don’t you think it’s a little better to be under the radar?
O’BRIEN: Absolutely. I always rather be that way. I always rather be that way, absolutely.
It’s a lot less pressure. Now, you can come out and impress and all of a sudden people are like–
O’BRIEN: Yeah, rather come out and have everyone be like, “That was an amazing–” I feel ya, dude. I’m so that way.
If I’m not mistaken, you have signed on — you might be doing something called Glimmer? Am I wrong about that?
O’BRIEN: No, you’re right.
What is that about and what’s going on with you in terms of when you start shooting Teen Wolf?
O’BRIEN: Next Monday.
How long is that shoot for?
O’BRIEN: Five months, ’til the end of the year, December.
Basically, during your hiatus is when you can make Glimmer?
O’BRIEN: We’re trying to figure out when to do that, which is one of the coolest things that’s ever happened to me, really.
O’BRIEN: Yeah. It was a movie that I followed around for a while, auditioning-wise. I loved when I first went out for it a while ago and it sort of happened, and now they’re making it happen and that’s like the coolest thing that’s ever happened to me. But I don’t know when — it’ll either be in the winter or spring sometime, or summer.
Is it weird for you to realize that you’re filming all the rest of the year and then you’ll probably have a week off and then you’re going to start filming again? Or is it sort of like strike while the iron is hot?
O’BRIEN: Well, yeah, strike while the iron is hot, for sure. It has occurred to me for the first time that I’ve worked as an actor that I might need to take my own break kind of thing. Because usually I’m always just fighting for jobs as much as I can because with the general way that things work you’re going to have a lot of downtime and off time. I always just want to get anything I can to fill up the time that I can. Now I might need to take a week or something.
Hugh Jackman just did like four projects in a row and he did–
O’BRIEN: That guy works hard, ridiculously hard.
He even said to me, “Yeah, I’m taking the next little bit off and developing this musical. But I’m taking up a short break because I gotta recharge.” And that’s him, everyone has to do that.
O’BRIEN: I can’t imagine, dude. I can’t imagine doing what that guy does too, like physically, transforming in between those projects, it’s crazy.
Teen Wolf airs on Monday nights on MTV and The Maze Runner will be in theaters February 14, 2014.