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WonderCon 2014: ‘The Maze Runner’ Panel

Warning: Mild spoilers for The Maze Runner.

Every month there’s a new YA sensation turned movie franchise, and most end up a bust, like The Mortal Instruments or Divergent (though those will likely spawn sequels anyway). Others, like The Hunger Games, prove worthy of all the attention and praise. FOX’s The Maze Runner aims to join Katniss in the upper echelon, and solely because it stars Teen Wolf‘s Dylan O’Brien, I’m optimistic.

The panel kicks off with the moderator asking the audience: “Any grievers in the building?” Cue squealing.

The Maze Runner comes from a trilogy of books by James Dashner, about a group of teenagers dropped in a remote location, arriving via elevator, with their memories wiped clean, surrounded by a massive maze. Mysteriousness abound.

Then we get the same trailer that you’ve all likely seen, which is an excuse for everyone in the audience to yell about Stiles… right before they’re about to see him.

The guests for the panel include author James Dashner, director Wes Ball, star Will Poulter (who just won an MTV Movie Award for We Are The Millers) and the aforementioned and fan-favorite Dylan O’Brien, who might’ve skipped from being the next big thing to just being a big thing.

How does it feel to have your book being made into a movie?
Dashner: It’s surreal, exciting, and “unbelievable how much they’ve matched the vision for my book.”

Were Dylan and Will fans of the book before getting the part?
O’Brien didn’t know the book until he was brought in to audition, then he found it, researched it and loved it. It “would’ve been my favorite book as a kid, straight up.” Poulter’s experience was much the same, and relished discovering its amazing group of fans.

Was their pressure to do it right?
Ball: Yes, but it’s the best kind of pressure, to please the fans and capture the spirit of book and make the best movie out of it.

Then, it became time to see an all new scene, one that wasn’t in the book, a sequence where the maze changes. The scene involves Thomas (Dylan O’Brien’s character) and Minho (Ki Hong Lee), getting caught in the maze when it’s changing. It’s freaking intense and cool, and certainly lives up to the title of the film (there’s a lot of running). It looks much better than most YA films.

“You guys must be in great shape. A lot of running.” As I observed, it is called Maze Runner, after all.

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What’s it like playing someone with no memories/blank slate?
O’Brien: “Less work.” He thought it was great to learn about the character through their instincts and discover his identity organically as the movie goes along.

Poulter is proud to be a part of such a great young cast, with emotional relationships as the core, a rarity in films like this. Memory loss, the notion that these characters might have families somewhere, that they must’ve come from somewhere, all these questions you’d naturally wrestle with are all in the movie. According to Poulter, there’s a great exploration of character, which is unique to the genre.

Where did the idea for this concept and world come from?
Dashner was heavily influenced by Lord of the Flies, Ender’s Game, and the concept of a teenage boy being sent somewhere strange. He also wrote the book while LOST was on, which is one of his favorite shows. To top it off, mazes have always creeped him out, ever since The Shining. Put all those elements together, and you have The Maze Runner.

How do you make us care about characters with the maze as such a distraction? Put characters first. The maze is one of the monsters in the movie.

What are the similarities and differences between Stiles and Thomas?
Well, they are both “characters I play.” Ball remarks that “Thomas is better looking than Stiles,” to which Dylan asks hypothetically: “Who would you do?” Then he admitted: “I was gonna not say that, and I did anyways.” In all seriousness, “Thomas is more stoic, calmer, more introverted, quieter…More like me.” Stiles is O’Brien’s goofy side, which apparently is his off-camera side.

What were the differences between shooting Teen Wolf and working on TV than on a movie?
According to Dylan, it was actually very similar to his experience on Teen Wolf. It shoots fast, and doesn’t have the luxury of time and a lot of money, and The Maze Runner was very much the same way. It’s a smaller budgeted movie, but had to make it big. “It looks like a 100 million dollar movie, and it’s not.”

What’s it like working with Kaya Scodelario?
Kaya plays Teresa, the only girl in a sea of men. O’Brien: “You would love Kaya. She’s amazing.” Being the only girl in the movie could be intimidating, but she was apparently the perfect girl to have. According to Poulter, when she first arrived on set, the guys were all playing a dumb game that involved throwing sports equipment at each other, and she comes in, catches a ball and throws it straight back, with a cigarette in her mouth. It doesn’t get cooler than that, and both O’Brien and Poulter admit how badass she is.

Did the movie fulfill Dashner’s imagination for how it would be adapted?
Dashner: “It’s hard to talk about it…” “when they’re sitting right next to me,” Ball finishes for him. In reality, it’s hard for Dashner to reveal his thoughts without sounding insincere or cheesy, because he loves it. He’s “utterly thrilled with each casting decision…matched my vision perfectly.” He loved being on set, feeling the family vibe, and “cannot believe what good actors they were.” He thinks these actors are special, and that people will look back at this film and see it as where their careers took off. O’Brien and Poulter are cool with that assessment.

RE: Dylan O’Brien: How was it like going from comedy and romantic roles like The Internship and The First Time to an action flick The Maze Runner?
O’Brien: It’s “great to be able to try different things.” It was far more “physically demanding…a lot more tiring.” He didn’t have to run during the audition, and O’Brien has often wondered…what if he had a weird run? At this point, most of the panel each do a version of a ridiculous run, that totally would’ve ruined the movie. Or made it a camp classic. It’s a great point though, something I wouldn’t have thought of. Thankfully it was not an issue.

In book, Teresa and Thomas communicate telepathically, do they in film?
Ball: “Sadly no.” It’s a “difficult thing to portray in film.” Apparently that connection is kind of there, if you look for it. Dashner fully endorses any changes in the movie, noting that telepathy normally looks cheesy in the movies.

It’s time to move on, but not before a selfie with the audience. As the talented quartet wander off, moderator Ralph Garman remarks: “It’s a shame that Dylan kid isn’t good looking…he could have a career.” Har har har!

The Maze Runner hits theaters September 19, 2014.