‘Maze Runner’ director talks Dylan O’Brien, James Dashner, real grime

Sept. 17, 2014 | 2:15 p.m.
apphoto film review the maze runner 5 Maze Runner director talks Dylan OBrien, James Dashner, real grime

Dylan O'Brien, left, and Will Poulter, right, in a scene from "The Maze Runner." (Ben Rothstein/20th Century Fox)

apphoto film review the maze runner 4 Maze Runner director talks Dylan OBrien, James Dashner, real grime

From foreground left, Kaya Scoderlario, Dylan O’Brien, Aml Ameen and Jacob Latimore in a scene from "The Maze Runner." (Ben Rothstein/20th Century Fox)

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Dylan O'Brien and Kaya Scoderlario in a scene from "The Maze Runner." (Ben Rothstein/20th Century Fox)

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Dylan O'Brien attends a screening of "The Maze Runner" on Aug. 28, 2014 in Miami, Fla. (Aaron Davidson/Getty Images for Allied)

In the new film “The Maze Runner,” a teen named Thomas is suddenly deposited into the Glade, a pastoral enclave surrounded by a massive maze that is home to a community of boys, none of whom has any memory of his past. During daylight hours, the doors to the labyrinth stand open and the boys are free to explore its pathways — but at night, danger threatens anyone who ventures inside.

In adapting James Dashner’s wildly popular young adult novel, first-time feature filmmaker Wes Ball had some reason to identify with Thomas’ dilemma. He, too, was thrust into an unheralded new world filled with challenges while shooting the movie, which arrives in theaters Friday — namely, staving off snakes and horseflies while directing an ensemble cast composed almost entirely of young men in the sweltering summer climes of rural Louisiana last year.

Dylan O'Brien, in the foreground, in a scene from "The Maze Runner." (Ben Rothstein/20th Century Fox)

Dylan O’Brien, in the foreground, in a scene from “The Maze Runner.” (Ben Rothstein/20th Century Fox)

“When you see people in the movie looking sweaty and dirty, it’s real,” Ball said in an interview with Hero Complex earlier this year. “We didn’t want anything that was too polished or bubble gum. We wanted something that was real and edgy and hard.”

Ball was selected to direct the new film — the latest in a series of movies adapted from popular dystopian novels, namely “The Hunger Games” series and the “Divergent” franchise — based in part on his background as a visual effects professional and a pair of shorts he made, “Ruin” and “A Work in Progress,” the latter of which won a Student Academy Awards medal.

He said his small-town childhood turned out to be an asset too.

“I grew up in the middle of nowhere Florida, which served me well on this movie, which is very much about kids living off the land and doing their own thing in this other world.”

The film opens with Thomas (“Teen Wolf” actor Dylan O’Brien) forming alliances and making friends after he turns up in the Glade. But his arrival heralds unanticipated changes — before long, a girl, Teresa (Kaya Scodelario), unexpectedly appears, and the rules that have governed the maze no longer appear to apply.

Dylan O'Brien and Kaya Scoderlario in a scene from "The Maze Runner." (Ben Rothstein/20th Century Fox)

Dylan O’Brien and Kaya Scodelario in a scene from “The Maze Runner.” (Ben Rothstein/20th Century Fox)

“The movie is very much from Thomas’ point of view,” Ball said. “We never break that. You feel like you are Thomas; I always saw it that way.”

What Ball didn’t immediately see, however, is O’Brien in the lead role.

“I had seen Dylan’s [audition] tape – it was one of the first tapes I ever saw – and I immediately disregarded it because he had this hair, the ‘Teen Wolf’ hair. At some point Dylan’s name popped up again, and I searched for pictures of this guy, and I saw one picture where he had a shaved head. I was like, ‘Oh, this could totally be Thomas.’ I thought it was important he was kind of an everyman, he wasn’t a bad-ass hero character. He’s someone who has vulnerability to him but also could lead the group. I went back to his tape and I watched it again with different eyes and I was like, ‘Oh, he’s pretty good.’ I just couldn’t see past my bias, his hair.”

Together, Ball and the young cast, which also includes Will Poulter, Thomas Brodie-Sangster, Ki Hong Lee and Blake Cooper, among others, found their way through the dark sci-fi tale — possibly the first in a new series of movies.

“There was a bliss in the naive approach to things,” Ball said. “Sometimes we would do things a little differently and it would work and be fine. We were all trying to prove ourselves a little bit too.”

The director points out that with Dashner serving as an integral part of the creative team, fans can expect a faithful take on the source material.

“I was like, there’s a reason this book is so popular with kids. Let’s not lose the spirit,” Ball said. “Throughout the process I reached out to James and just kept him in the loop, kind of invited him into the process really early on. He’s a cheerleader for us.”

— Gina McIntyre | @LATHeroComplex

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