Back in December, I got the opportunity to visit the set of Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials in Albuquerque, New Mexico. In the sequel, the Gladers have made their way out of the Maze, but they’re still not in the clear. WCKD is up to something and in order to find out what the mysterious organization has planned for them, the Gladers must make their way through the Scorch, a burnt landscape overrun with infected individuals known as Cranks.
Along the way, some of the characters wind up at a party of sorts and that’s what director Wes Ball and his team were busy shooting when we arrived at Gertrude Zachary’s castle located right in the heart of the city. The first shot focused on Thomas (Dylan O’Brien) and Brenda (Rosa Salazar). It was clear that their drinks had been spiked, but Thomas still desperately tries to find his friends while Brenda tries to convince him to, “Just relax. Just let go.” He does, they kiss, but then he looks at her and says, “You’re not her.” Meaning she’s not Teresa (Kaya Scodelario). Ouch.
It’s a pretty intense moment, but when O’Brien took a quick break to talk to us, he was in very good spirits, per usual. During our on-set roundtable he talked about on-screen kissing, the unique love triangle that forms between Thomas, Teresa and Brenda, if there’s more pressure to hit it big with the sequel than the first film, the cast’s Mario Kart skills and more. You can read about it all in this set visit interview.
And in case you missed it, you can also check out the latest Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials trailer below. The film is due in theaters on September 18th and also stars Ki Hong Lee, Thomas Brodie-Sangster and Giancarlo Esposito.
Question: Tough day kissing girls …
DYLAN O’BRIEN: I know. Two of them!
We got to talk to Kaya right after that so it was hilarious.
O’BRIEN: Did you really?
O’BRIEN: How’d it go? What was the report card?
Like kissing her brother, apparently.
O’BRIEN: Oh, nice. Cool.
O’BRIEN: Yeah. [Laughs] That’s like the worst review you can get.
Lots of new challenges on this movie. What’s been the most fun for you to explore?
O’BRIEN: Character-wise just figuring out this arc for myself. The way I look at it is like, in the first one Thomas is the reason, he kind of holds all the responsibility for them getting out and he thought that was the answer, he believed in it so hard and now that he’s gotten these guys out and they’ve lost more than they have, and Chuck especially, all that is weighing on him now that he’s not so sure that this was actually the better choice. Maybe this wasn’t the best thing. It’s kind of fighting that thought while having to still believe it himself and remain strong for these guys.
Physically I’m sure these guys have been telling you, we’re at a new place every week and that’s what’s really great and cool about the movie. I never thought this one would be more tiring than the first one but it is so far, which is really funny. But it’s great, it’s really cool because it’s like each week is a new energy. We started out in the sand dunes and that seems like a year ago to me, it’s so funny. Every week we’re at this really cool, new place and it’s almost like a new chapter. There’s like five movies almost in one. It’s really cool, physically challenging and cold as opposed to the heat on the first one.
How do the stunts compare to your stunts on Teen Wolf?
O’BRIEN: [Laughs] What’s funny on Teen Wolf is like, they’ll never get me a stunt double because, well, it’s a money thing and it’s not like I’m ever doing a wolf flip or anything, so they’ll just be like, ‘Just fall down the stairs,’ and on this one it’s similar. I have a stunt double but again, it’s never really anything extreme, it’s always something that would work better if I do it because it’s like, you want to see the kid doing it. We don’t want to look like action stars, you know? And I think that’s really important to the spirit of the book and the entire story. I believe in that so hard, so it’s no problem for me and I also love doing stunt stuff and action stuff. I’m not flipping off helicopters, that would be insane.
O’BRIEN: [Laughs] Yeah, right. Next week they’re like, ‘Hey, we’re gonna have you backflipping off a helicopter.’ But yeah, there’s a lot more of it here. Here, it’s like every day I’m doing something most likely. Teen Wolf it’s every now and then I’ll have something to do, but we won’t even realize or plan for it. On the day they’ll just be like, ‘Oh, I guess you fall here.’
Can you talk about this scene and the importance of it in the movie? You guys really focused on that line, ‘You’re not her.’
O’BRIEN: It’s not a love triangle and everything I love about this story line is that it’s sort of so unromantic and that’s what makes it so romantic. 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. I always like to cultivate that stuff myself as a viewer, you know, like I want, ‘Oh, they’re amazing together.’
In the first one, Thomas and Teresa, what I love about their relationship is that it’s a connection. It’s familiar in a world that’s completely unfamiliar to these kids, literally just being like rebirthed essentially. They to one another are the one piece of memory that they have and it makes me feel safe, and I think that’s beautiful. It’s not necessarily like stop and kissing in the woods. That never happens and that’s what I love, too. It’s so authentic. We really want to make it real because these kids are in this situation where they’ll never be just like making out. [Laughs] They’re trying to survive and that’s the other beauty of the story. It gets tossed aside without being tossed aside. It’s still really present, it’s still really there, again, something for the audience to grab on to and root for and love.
And then in this movie I know book readers will know that the Thomas and Teresa relationship in this movie is very interesting. They kind of butt heads in a sense. They kind of have a disagreement. There’s book readers and then there’s people who just watch the movie and have no idea what’s coming. For me, in the book, what I noticed, the spirit, we’re not doing it entirely because we don’t have the telepathy thing, but they’re distant. All of a sudden that connection isn’t there. In the book, Thomas spends the first act not even trying to call for her and they’re separated and she’s not even responding and that’s the first time that that’s happened. So we’re doing that here definitely without the telepathy thing. It’s still the spirit of like – there’s a disconnect and there’s a reason why and you find out, and it’s gonna be a really interesting thing for the two characters to experience together.
And then at the same time, Brenda comes into Thomas’ life and they’re such a team and they kind of get thrown into this situation together and I think, again, that just brings people together in a way, not necessarily like in your face, like how we were saying, you know? Again, that’s what I love about it. She’s almost kind of mean to him. It’s such a different dynamic and I love that, but again, I feel like that’s my favorite kind of stuff. She’s like really sassy with him and at first he kind of hates her too [laughs], and I love that. They go out on this adventure together and they save one another and start to understand one another and I think that’s really cool.
Do you encounter the Crank that wants your nose? We’re all dying to know.
O’BRIEN: Yeah, we tried to put that in and I know Wes was saying he’s not sure if it’s gonna work or make it but we do – there’s a bunch of things that we do try to at least – I think this is gonna be great for the book fans. This, at least, is gonna be really, really f*cking cool. I always curse during these things. [Laughs]
How do you like Rosa [Salazar]?
O’BRIEN: Oh, she’s great!
Every cast member that’s come in, everyone gels so well.
O’BRIEN: Yeah, and she fit right in immediately, and Jacob [Lofland] too. I just feel like we keep getting so lucky. I don’t know what it is, I don’t know if it’s us or what, but we just have a great group. Rosa is hilarious, she’ll keep you laughing all day long, she’s got boundless energy and she’s a fantastic actress. I don’t know how we keep getting these talented people with also great personalities. I hear that it’s rare, but I feel like we just keep striking gold. It’s great. And she’s gonna be so killer as Brenda. I could never really picture Brenda, I don’t know why I always had a really hard time picturing that character and visualizing that and having it come to life for myself, and as soon as I read with Rosa I was just like, ‘Wow, there it is.’ And the hair and everything, I just love it. I think it’s perfect.
Did you read ahead in the books? Do you know what ultimately happens?
A couple of people were saying they didn’t want to know.
O’BRIEN: Yeah. Funny enough, now it’s getting to the point where I only remember specific big things because I read them over a year ago now. I’m really bad with reading comprehension. [Laughs]
But you read the whole series at once?
O’BRIEN: Yeah, in a span of four months, I guess.
That’s pretty good.
O’BRIEN: It was literally like the only piece of homework I’ve had in the last five years. [Laughs] You know what I mean? Like, in high school you would have read 100 books by then and done like papers on them and everything.
Is there anything about the fan reaction to the first film that you took to heart and incorporated here?
O’BRIEN: That’s really interesting. I guess it’s no [laughs], because I’ve never thought of that. I don’t know. I’ve always loved what we’ve been doing and I love our cast, I love our crew and just the essentials of that crew, too. The guys that we carry over to this movie, Wes, our producers, I feel like I’ve always really, really been in love with what we’ve been doing for the fans and then also it kind of expanded a bit when the film came out. I think we got a lot more fans who didn’t necessarily know what the books were and kind of just loved the movie for what it was. It just made me feel proud, I guess, and I guess fueled me into going into this one. I guess it’s just the passion that I and we all have for this story. I think even if the movie bombs, it will still be a piece of work that we’re all so proud of and that we’d all remember the experience of so well.
That did not matter to us at that point. Obviously it did because we wanted to round up again and do the second and third movies. If you’re proud of something and if you’re proud of your work, at the end of the day the experience walking away you can feel good about it, that’s what you have to focus on. You can’t let box office numbers be like, ‘Oh man, how shitty.’ That would just take everything that we experienced on the first one out of it.
Is there any pressure coming back for a sequel? The first one you had the pressure of pleasing book fans and you guys just wanted to make a great movie. Now you have the sequel, a studio giving more money, there’s already a release date …
O’BRIEN: Funny enough, the only additive is now I kind of get asked that all the time. [Laughs] On the first one it was a lot more under the radar and that’s kind of the way I always prefer it to be too because we weren’t that movie that was kind of really pent up for success, and I really believe that the success that we have netted from it, the success the movie has experienced is all of our hard work put into it from every angle and everyone’s passion for it and just how much we put into it. I’ve always been really proud of that.
And it still feels really intimate. To be honest, you’re speaking frankly, we don’t have the budget of a Divergent or a Hunger Games. We don’t have the marketing of that. It’s not in everyone’s face like that. I think the only reason we caught some people’s attention is because it’s cool. We made it really special, I think, I hope, you know? I still feel like we’re kind of under the radar. To even be mentioned with those other movies just means that we’ve done a really good job with it, so I just focus on that and be proud of that rather than feeling pressure of being like, ‘Oh no, now there’s eyes on it.’ That can get into your head sometimes but you have to fight to not let that happen because it’s human nature for that to enter your mind, I guess, especially if you’re asked about it a lot, and you just don’t. You just focus on your work and the people around you and really soaking up the experience too, because I’m gonna be really sad when all this is over.
Is there a scene in the book that you loved reading and that you’re really proud of?
O’BRIEN: Yeah, I was really scared for the Chuck’s death scene. I’m so glad I can say that now without getting yelled at at Comic-Con by a crowd of people. [Laughs] Yeah, that was horrible. What are my most shining moments? That was always one. That one I was really, A, from reading the book into then going to shot the movie, it was always in the back of my mind. I’ve never done something like that before and also I really knew how it needed to be right because I’m such a fun of the story too and I think that helps as an actor because I felt that death so hard when I first read it. And then the fact that you have to perform that and you have to do that justice can make you nervous a little bit, especially [because] I’ve never done that before. I remember the first time I saw it I couldn’t even look at it. It was really weird. It’s like my heart’s just racing and you feel really weird watching it. But going back and seeing it a couple of times, I am proud of how that came out. I think it worked out really well and obviously there’s always things you think you can do better.
What about in this movie?
O’BRIEN: I can only feel good walking away, I guess. But while we’re on the topic, this stuff was something that I was really concerned about. I had no idea how it was gonna look and didn’t really have a clear vision of how we were going to be doing it and I’ve walked away completely in love with how they’ve shot it, how it’s kind of formulated. They played the song at the top of the day yesterday and it’s really weird, it zapped everyone into the kind of – everyone’s been thinking they were shooting on 48 frames or something like that, and we’re not. It’s really just like this really slow, kind of sexy vibe and creepy, and then it gets horrifying. I think this is gonna be amazing for the fans. I had no idea how this was gonna go. And again, I can’t wait to see it cut together. I haven’t seen the final product, but at least walking away I can be confident that the fans of the books are going to be like, ‘Yah, there’s the party!’ And that’s great and it looks f*cking cool, man.
Going back to when Kaya was joking about your kiss. Was it like kissing your sister for you?
O’BRIEN: No, it’s not like kissing your sister because she’s not my sister, but she’s my good friend. I mean, no, I don’t know. Kissing on screen is just, funny enough you’re just acting so you’re distracted by that more than anything. Or at least I am. I’m actually always coming away from those things going like, ‘I wonder how I kissed just now.’ Because I have no idea! I’m just thinking about what’s happening. It was more of that. I wasn’t like, weird.
You guys are a really fun cast. What’s something fun that’s happened while filming?
O’BRIEN: I don’t know, we do a lot. It’s just being with each other every day and our chemistry is so effortless. We’re literally just a big group of buddies, good, good buddies, like lifelong friendships and it’s really cool. It’s like we’re family. What have we done? Early on we went to a fun little hayride, haunted house-type thing, went paint-balling a while ago. They all went to the college basketball game this weekend, I slept through it. Chick-fil-A Saturday, something that we started on the first one because Chick-fil-A is closed on Sundays, it rhymes.
Mario Kart’s been a huge thing this year. We all do the Wii Mario Kart and it’s actually really funny because we play it so concerningly much that we’re all so good now that among our group, it’s like we’re all in this elite level of Mario Kart-ing and then it gets divided from there and it’s always mixed up like who’s at the top of the standings. I feel like now when we go back to our lives, if any one of us plays Mario Kart in a group of people we’re just gonna be like amazing at it. People are just like, ‘What?!’ We notice it anytime we have someone come in, like a boyfriend or girlfriend comes in and they play with us and they have no idea what we’re doing and we’re just experts at it. It’s really funny. [Laughs]
Who’s your character?
O’BRIEN: We do our own characters, which is what’s great about it, too. We literally created all of ourselves. Like there’s Dex, there’s me, everyone. And we went through specifically as a group saying how they should look and stuff. My guy, weirdly enough, ended up seven feet tall and fat with a huge beard because when we made it, I had just gotten rid of my facial hair for the movie and I missed it so much so I was like, ‘Gimme the beard.’ But I looked like Matisyahu on the video game. Like a fat Santa Matisyahu.
DEXTER DARDEN: They did the Zelda download.
O’BRIEN: Really, is it awesome?
DARDEN: That’s the new one.
O’BRIEN: Doesn’t Thomas Brodie-Sangster really look like [Link]?
O’BRIEN: Isn’t that great? There should be a Wes Ball Zelda film starring Thomas.