Interview: Young Actors Seek Their Reward in ‘The Maze Runner’

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CHICAGO – What is wrong with our future? The Young Adult category of future fiction seems to think we’re all doomed, what with “The Hunger Games,” “Divergent” and now “The Maze Runner” film adaptations. The latest “Maze” take is pretty darn good, though, thanks to actors Dylan O’Brien, Kaya Scodelario and Will Poulter.

Will Poulter may be most familiar to audiences, having had his character suffer many indignities in last year’s “We’re the Millers.” The British actor’s career is heating up, as he is set to star in the upcoming war film, “The Yellow Birds.” Dylan O’Brien portrays the title character in “The Maze Runner,” and gets a “Beatles Scream” treatment when introduced because of his starring role on MTV’s “Teen Wolf.” The British actress Kaya Scodelario is known for the BBC-TV show, “Skins,” and has a memorable intensity in “The Maze Runner.”

Dylan O’Brien, Kaya Scodelario
Dylan O’Brien and Kaya Scodelario Share a Moment in ‘The Maze Runner’
Photo credit: 20th Century Fox

All three actors – in the early phases of their careers and in their early twenties – talked to about “The Maze Runner,” their careers, and representing a generation whose future is much brighter than what is written in their texts. ‘The Maze Runner’ has a different tone than most movies with this style of story. Since this was director Wes Ball’s first feature film, what did he want the cast to be most aware of in establishing the finished tone in the film?

Dylan O’Brien: The intensity of it all, the focus on the relationships and the focus on the kids in the insane circumstance. We were making a science fiction movie, and nothing else. There is no romance at the helm of it, it’s a sci-fi film surrounding these average, normal and relatable kids.

Kaya Scodelario: What Wes talked to me about was he didn’t want it to fit within that Young Adult category. He wants audiences to walk in and enjoy the film for what it is, and not have to be a ‘fangirl’ of the book series. It does work, and he set out to make a movie that he wanted to make, for himself and his heart. The-teenagers-in-a-dreadful-future-world is one of the hottest story subjects of the moment. Since you guys are recent teenagers, why do you think this type of story is so appealing to the young adult crowd?

Will Poulter: I feel like that young people of late – and the internet is probably responsible for it – feel as if they have more options in which to express themselves. They think their opinion matters more, because we’re in touch with the outside world through technology.

Our generation, I think, feels an opportunity to be influential. So when you project a world in which younger people are given an opportunity to make change, they are depicted as taking action. That is what the future feels like. Young people taking on more of a role. We’re going to be responsible for the change. What can you get from a film based on a source novel that is different from just doing a script that is new?

O’Brien: There are more source references, obviously, and it can’t hurt us. It helps in that it gives more ideas and more complete vision of a character. We read the script first before we read the books, and the spirit of the characters are in that script. So when we go to the books, there is more. It expands the consciousness of a character study.

Scodelario: The two times I’ve done book-to-film adaptations I’ve been told not to read the books first. I quite like that, because that’s how I like to work. As an actor, I try to put myself into that person, and be organic. So when I finally reach out to the book, there is so much more in that. For me, I have to have the script first.

O’Brien: I do like reading the script first, because then I can come at it with original instincts, and the book can fill those in. The instinct leads the way.

Will Poulter
Will Poulter Portrays Gally in ‘The Maze Runner’
Photo credit: 20th Century Fox Dylan, you are a producer of short films and a musician, besides being an actor. What fuels your interests in the arts in several different types of disciplines, and how does making your own films and being in a band make you a better actor?

O’Brien: One of the tools I used when I first started acting was coming at it from a technical standpoint. Since then, I’ve picked up skills from working, either with other actors or from the directors I’ve encountered. It’s useful to know how things are going to be cut in a film, and what the shot is, and it becomes instinctual as to how I approach a scene. There are other actors I’ve met who have no idea what goes on at the other side of the camera – in a way, that’s beautiful, because they go about it in a different way – but for me it’s better to be able to adapt to blocking and come at it with my ideas.

Music is just something I’ve done as a second hand to acting. I thought at first I was going to music school, until at the last second I went to film school. When the acting opportunity came along, it was just something to add to the storytelling aspect of what I wanted to do in film. It was a foot in the door. Will, you have reached that certain point in an actor’s career in which everything changes, and suddenly you have offers and auditions for films that you never expected. What was the role that changed that career landscape for you, and how do you personally decide what is best for the direction of your career?

Poulter: I have an amazing team, who are overqualified to look after me since I’ve signed with them. [laughs] It’s been a sweet experience, and made things a lot easier, especially for auditions, and I think I’ve progressed enough to earn my place in some of those rooms. As far as the breakout it was ‘We’re the Millers,’ just because I think it just helped introduce me to a wider audience, at least from a comedic standpoint. I am looking forward to this film coming out, because it’s a major platform, and a platform that we feel excited to be a part of – it’s been a great ride so far. Kaya, since you were the only female in the man group in this film, what did you learn about male bonding that you hadn’t observed before?

Scodelario: They were a lot more sensitive than I thought they’d be. [laughs] It was a group of boys with a bit a femininity in each of them, and they weren’t afraid to show it. For example, if I needed advice on shopping or fashion, there were people I could go to. There were little bits of women in all of them. Dylan, you were in a film called ‘The First Time,’ which was how characters who found each other connected and fell in love. What do you find different from a fictional portrayal of that phenomenon versus what happens in real life?

Dylan O’Brien, Will Poulter, Kaya Scodelario
Kaya Scodelario, Will Poulter and Dylan O’Brien of “The Maze Runner”.
Photo credit: Patrick McDonald for

O’Brien: It can be very much glamorized in a fictional tale. In reality, it’s scary when it’s real, and it can be awkward. When you’re in high school, when you first start having these feelings, you have no idea what to do with them, and both parties tend to make asses of themselves. [laughs] It’s like the guy thinks he’s embarrassed himself, and the girl can do no wrong. [Kaya laughs at this]

But in reality, the girl feels the same way on the other side. That’s what is so beautiful about that dance. Movies used to do that, but it’s become kind of lost. It’s something that is put on a pedestal in films, a kind of movie magic. The realness and the authenticity, has been kind of lost. Will, you have been cast in ‘The Yellow Birds,’ a story of a soldier in the Iraq War, and you’re currently in pre-production. What personally changed in your viewpoint about the military in your research of the character?

Poulter: I have background with family who were in the military, and I’ve always been interested in it. When I was younger, I hounded my uncle and grandfather for stories about it. What I learned very quickly was that my view of war was fueled by the movies, and in approaching the film I need to be more authentic. My relatives withheld information of course, and what I loved about the ‘Yellow Birds’ script is that it didn’t withhold the impression of conflict. I have far more respect for persons of service now than I ever had watching war movies when I was growing up. If you all were to run through a maze that represented your own lives, could you name a couple of obstacles that you think would be in the way to get you to the next level?

O’Brien: A ‘Confidence Wall.’

Scodelario: Wow, a metaphor and everything. [laughs] For me, it’s the element of not being trained. Everybody expects a British actor to be trained. I didn’t get that training, but I’ve become more okay with it.

Poulter: I love Dylan’s Confidence Wall, because so much of this business is wrestling with your own thoughts and psychological barriers. The wall I guess is my own psyche, and I just need to relax to get through it.

“The Maze Runner” opens everywhere on September 19th. Featuring Dylan O’Brien, Will Poulter, Kaya Scodelario, Thomas Brodie-Sangster and Patricia Clarkson. Screenplay adapted by Noah Oppenheim, Grant Pierce Meyers and T.S. Nowlin, from the novel by James Dashner. Directed by Wes Ball. Rated “PG-13” senior staff writer Patrick McDonald

Senior Staff Writer

© 2014 Patrick McDonald,

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