Dylan O’Brien couldn’t be considered “chubby” by anyone’s standards.
Yet when he sees himself in The Maze Runner, the new film in theaters Friday and based on James Dashner’s young-adult book, the fit 23-year-old actor is honestly taken aback by how thin he looks compared to now.
“I see my face and I can’t believe I was that skinny,” O’Brien says. “Clearly I was sprinting in a hot box for eight weeks straight.”
The title is definitely honest with its descriptors — there is a maze and lots and lots of running for O’Brien and his co-stars, but there’s also an intriguing prospect for those who love dystopian tales.
Equal parts The Hunger Games and Lord of the Flies, The Maze Runner stars O’Brien as Thomas, a young amnesiac who wakes up surrounded by other boys in a strange village called The Glade.
They don’t have a clue about who put them there or why — all they know is they’re surrounded by stone walls so high they seem to touch the sky, and beyond them lies a dangerous maze that changes nightly and contains monstrous creatures called Grievers.
Some of the kids, like Gally (Will Poulter of We’re the Millers fame), are just fine with society they’ve built in The Glade and don’t agree with Thomas’ wish to escape and find out who did this to them. The drama comes to a boil, however, when Thomas seizes the role “runner” to map the maze, and Teresa (Kaya Scodelario), a mysterious girl with a connection to Thomas, inexplicably shows up in The Glade.
Most young actors in Hollywood would love to be a part of the next big young-adult movie franchise and the chance to be the next Jennifer Lawrence (The Hunger Games) or Robert Pattinson (Twilight). They have become a lucrative cottage industry in Hollywood — Lawrence’s two Hunger Games movies have grossed nearly $1 billion just in the USA.
All that didn’t occur to O’Brien, however. The New York City-born actor says he sawMaze Runner as another chance to develop an intriguing role over time, like his character Stiles — human best friend to a werewolf — on the MTV series Teen Wolf.
“With a possible potential trilogy like this, it’s sort of a blessing for us as actors to be in a film but also get to keep expanding our characters,” says O’Brien, running his fingers through his unruly hair during a group interview at July’s Comic-Con.
When casting the Gladers, Maze Runner director Wes Ball concentrated on “finding actors, not faces,” he says. “Fortunately they all look very good, too.
“They’ve brought the characters out from the page, and I was just here to steer it in the proper direction.”
The acting was only part of their jobs. They had to beat the Louisiana heat while filming outside in Baton Rouge for two months in summer 2013 — Poulter, 21, describes it as “like working out in a sauna.”
In addition to heading south so he could capture real sweat on film, Ball found a field sparse enough for the huts and makeshift village of The Glade. And in the remains of an old hotel with concrete scattered around, Bell’s team created a maze for his actors, with real-world hazards such as walls with prickly vines and muddy grounds for running.
“We’ve gotta be going full-tilt, always,” O’Brien says, “and we’d be turning corners and just eat it, man.”
At least it wasn’t long-distance running — sprinting is much more his forte, he says. “There’s just something awesome about going all-out for 20 seconds and then stopping and getting to guzzle Pedialyte.”
O’Brien and Poulter say they became really good buddies, even though their characters are anything but. Their friendship made fight scenes awkward, because they’d keep checking on each other after their tussles, says Poulter, a British actor who made his debut in the 2007 movie Son of Rambow.
“It was pathetic to watch, basically, these two actors being really prissy around each other,” Poulter says with a laugh. “Wes is like, ‘Just throw each other. Let’s get this over with.’ “
Scodelario lived for the physical scenes, since she says she doesn’t work out at all in her regular life and isn’t athletic in the least.
“I didn’t like the running part, but the getting-angry part was great,” she says. “I love that about this job is you can take yourself to that point and then your body just takes over. The adrenaline goes and you feel like you can do anything.”
The 22-year-old London native, who has appeared in Moon, Clash of the Titans and the TV series Skins, also enjoyed being pretty much the only girl around.
There was “no pussyfooting,” and the guys weren’t careful about what they said around her, Scodelario says. “I don’t think it would have been as nice an experience if it was eight females. That would have been a totally different vibe.”
O’Brien says lifelong friendships were formed and the sense of family bodes well for the franchise’s future. (Pre-production already has begun for a sequel based on Dashner’s second Maze Runner novel, The Scorch Trials.)
“We made a good enough movie to keep it going. It’s just going to be a lot of fun over the next four or five years,” O’Brien says.
“Or maybe just two,” Poulter says. “We might just spit them out.”