Enthusiastic The Maze Runner fans made cast members Dylan O’Brien and Will Poulter, director Wes Ball, and author James Dashner feel right at home at the 2014 WonderCon in Anaheim where they took part in a panel to discuss the upcoming film adaptation of the first book in Dashner’s bestselling series. But before doing a Q&A with the fans, The Maze Runner group sat down for a press conference where they answered questions about bringing the book to the big screen, the design of the Grievers, and how this film stacks up to other young adult adaptations.
Dylan O’Brien, Will Poulter, Wes Ball, and James Dashner Interview
What was it like starring in this action-packed film?
Dylan O’Brien: “It was a challenge but as an actor, it’s a role that 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 many times, but this is a different thing physically. Its energy, it’s way slower, it’s more dramatic. I mean, it’s just a challenge for me honestly but something I really want to work on and continue to do.”
What do you think is driving the current fascination with young adult post-apocalyptic novels and movies?
Dylan O’Brien: “Jennifer Lawrence. How could that not spawn a franchise? I don’t know. It’s interesting.”
Wes Ball: “I think basically young people like being treated like adults and not being pandered to. The post-apocalyptic thing is a separate issue, I think. I think our movie, The Maze Runner, even though it’s post-apocalyptic – you couldn’t even describe it like that. It’s really more Lord of the Flies than it is, say, the end of the world. Spoiler alert! The second movie is more like that. That’s the approach we took. Honestly, I tried to make something outside of the YA thing; I didn’t try to box myself in like that. It’s just a movie that has young people in it dealing with very adult situations and taking it as seriously as possible, and making sure there’s a lot of honesty and truth there and, at the same time, having a lot of fun doing it. That’s what we set out to do.”
Will Poulter: “I was just going to say speaking on behalf of the acting department, I sort of reject the term ‘young adult’ for two reasons. One, because I feel like it’s slightly patronizing to young audiences to suggest that they’re confined to watching sci-fi/drama. I don’t think that’s fair. Secondly and more particularly to The Maze Runner, I feel like other films in the same kind of bracket that you would consider YA slightly have the balance different to The Maze Runner. They put action and adventure and visuals to the forefront, and character and the emotion takes a backseat. With this, there’s an integrity to the characters. Dylan heads up what is an awesome list of performances from the cast. The integrity of the characters and their emotional relationships form the core of this movie. I think people are going to be surprised by that.”
This is your first leading role in a major blockbuster type of movie. Was there a certain mindset going into this and what do you think about being positioned as the Katniss for the male audience?
Dylan O’Brien: “Luckily I haven’t thought about it like that, because holy crap. Honestly, I never thought about it like that. These things get blown up 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 restrained by a lot of things. We never felt like this was the next Hunger Games, like I’m the next Katniss. I never felt the weight of that at all. I still don’t. That’s not how I look at it.”
Will Poulter: “You’re a dude, too.”
Dylan O’Brien: “I also am a man. A boy. A guy. 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 the story. We fell in love with James’ book. The entire process, it was insane what we all went through out there together, just battling conditions, and things like the budget and time. We just made it happen. The first question I always get now is, funny enough, ‘How does it feel to be in such a big movie?’ and I’m like, ‘Cool, we made it seem that way. That’s awesome.'”
James Dashner: “We are planning a Thomas versus Katniss film a few years down the road.”
Dylan O’Brien: “I think she would kick my ass!”
Will, given the success of We’re the Millers, the awards, and your acceptance by Hollywood, can you talk about how your career has changed from even a year ago?
Will Poulter: “You make me sound a lot cooler than I am. All of that stuff is really lovely. It still feels like some administrative error went down, but I’m very grateful. You know what was coolest for me and the kind of thing that I sort of try and keep as my focus is working with great people. I’m sitting with three of them right now. Being involved in projects that have heart and have a sense of real about them, I think on face value, on paper might not expect that’s what this project is but it fully is. I’m very, very grateful to be involved in that and in playing a part in making it happen. But as to what you were talking about, nothing’s really changed. The term Hollywood I just don’t think 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 on this Maze Runner journey with these guys, and I hope it’s a long journey as well. This man’s got a lot of thoughts and a lot more in him.”
Wes Ball: “I’m really excited for people to see Will now, especially after We’re the Millers, to see Will’s range. This is a very different character for Will, much more serious, much more of a hard edge to him. I think people are going to like it.”Wes, what’s the pressure been like for you to make a successful movie adaptation for the fans?
Wes Ball: “It’s actually been a really good pressure, because I have something to aim for essentially. People like the book, and I was a fan of that book, so I just attacked it from that point of view, trying to make sure that we were true to that spirit that James created, and that sort of sense of adventure, and a sense of truth to the world itself. The only pressure was trying to execute the perfect movie I had in my head onscreen. Like Dylan was saying, we had a lot of challenges but it was a fantastic experience actually because Dylan, Will, all the rest of the cast, all my crew, everybody, we were just all in it, 100% trying to just make a cool movie together. It was not easy. Making a movie in general is not easy, but because we were all in it together and had a really unique bonding experience, we had a really great time making it. I think that shows up in the movie. So, it’s been the best kind of pressure. It’s the pressure that drives you to make something really good.”
The Grievers are a really big part of the first book and so what was it like bringing them to life on the screen?
James Dashner: “All I will say is their vision perfectly matched mine. I feel like they took the Grievers from the book and made them even better. It’s going to be a big hit with my readers.”
Wes Ball: “It is a unique design. I’m hoping it will 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, scary, metallic, and all these things and came up with a design with some of my artists that would be really fun to animate.”
James Dashner: “It’s freaking awesome.”
Wes Ball: “We’ve got some really great people working on it, too. There’s a guy named Erik De Boer, our VFX studio, Method Studios, brought Erik De Boer on who was the guy behind the Life of Pi tiger. So we’ve got some really serious guys working on making this thing absolutely believable and cool. So fingers crossed people like it.”
Who do you write for? Do you set out to do a young adult novel?
James Dashner: “When I was a teenager, that’s when I feel in love with reading. Stephen King was my young adult section. It’s always stayed magical to me, just that time period in 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.”
Wes Ball: “It’s the same thing with the movie, actually. You make the movie for the kid in everybody. You don’t make it for kids. We try to treat it in a very serious point of view, just like James did. Young people dealing with adult situations.”
Is there a role that music plays in the movie?
Wes Ball: “I’m a big soundtrack buff. I love soundtracks, that’s all I’ve listened to since I was 16 years old. That’s really all I listen to in the car. John Paesano is one of our composers. He’s a guy who kind of got his training with John Williams, then he went off and worked with Hans Zimmer for a while, then was hand-picked by John Powell to do the TV show version of How to Train Your Dragon. He’s got a really eclectic mix of that old-school classic film sound where music becomes a character in the movie and supports the emotion, but it also has this kind of modern edge to it that’s hip and cool and sweet. I’m excited for people, especially soundtrack buffs, to check out the score. There are some really cool tracks in there.”
James Dashner: “One of my happiest moments during this process has been when I told Wes…because I write to soundtracks, everything from Lord of the Rings to Aliens to you name it…and I said, ‘We’re not going to have one of those typical pop song soundtracks, are we?’ And he said, ‘No. We’re going full, epic orchestra score.’ I was lucky enough to go to the studio when they filmed the score and it blew me away. It’s awesome.”