As of this writing, it’s been less than a year, and indeed less than 11 months, since The Maze Runner film came out and I for one was surprised by how much I enjoyed it. I hadn’t read the books by James Dashner (or even heard of them, if I’m honest) and sort of assumed the franchise wouldn’t be for me. But a lot of people did enjoy it, and that made Fox ready to get going on the sequel, Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials; quickly, too. The second film is going to be released one year and a day after the first one.
Back in December of 2014, mere days before Christmas, production on The Scorch Trials had found itself in Albuquerque, NM, away from the sweltering Atlanta heat of the first movie. I and a group of other journalists joined director Wes Ball and returning stars Dylan O’Brien (Thomas), Kaya Scodelario (Teresa), Thomas Brodie-Sangster (Newt), and Ki Hong Lee (Minho) in a weird mansion close to downtown that had been turned into a haven for youth debauchery in the post-apocalyptic world. We watched as a scene was filmed where an unintentionally drugged Thomas makes his way through a mass of people and finds Teresa, or is it Brenda (Rosa Salazar)?
Director Ball told us he’s “trying to not make it a rave,” of the hazy, dancer-filled din. “We’re just trying to make something interesting and kind of creepy, but sexual in some strange way. And a little bit more fitting with the vibe of [this] movie in general — just a little bit more mature and sophisticated and growing up a little bit with these kids. Doing something that hopefully we haven’t quite seen before. So the challenge really is just to make something kind of new and different.”
Ball and the cast from the first movie did see what they were filming as something different, but there hadn’t been a whole lot of time to decompress before moving on. “It hasn’t really changed, honestly,” Ball told us. “I thought we just wrapped the last one. I mean, we were just doing publicity on the other one a few months ago. So nothing’s really changed in that sense, it’s just the vibe of [The Scorch Trials is so different really. It’s really been a lot of fun to stretch your legs and do new stuff with the same cast and same story.”
O’Brien has stepped into his role as Thomas, the hero of the series, with both feet, but he’s also stepped into being the lead of a now-massive franchise. He approaches it very much like it’s still the first movie, when the pressure wasn’t on. “It was a lot more under the radar and that’s kinda the way I always prefer it,” he said of The Maze Runner. “I really believe that the success that we have netted from it, the success the movie has experienced, is [from] all of our hard work put into it from every angle and everyone’s passion for it and just how much we put into it.”
“To be honest, speaking frankly, we don’t have the budget of Divergent or Hunger Games,” O’Brien continued. “We don’t have the marketing of that; it’s not in everyone’s face like that. I think the only reason we caught some people’s attention was because it’s cool. I still feel like we’re under the radar. To even be mentioned with those other movies just means that we’ve done a really good job with it, so I just focus on that and be proud of that rather than feeling pressure.”
Scodelario likewise thinks of it as a smaller affair, and was mostly happy to return for another round because of her cast mates. “It sounds so cheesy,” she began, “but honestly just being back with my mates again because we had so much fun shooting the first one. And we have stayed in touch, it’s like we haven’t disappeared from each other’s lives at all. Whenever we’re all in LA we hang out, we hung out at Comic-Con together and in New York and in London so it was just like ‘Oh, we’re all going to be together in the same place again.'”
Brodie-Sangster is a veteran of film and television at only 25 years old, and it’s clear the other cast use his coolness as a model. Even when he talks about being excited, he’s very measured. He had nothing but good things to say about Ball as a director and the energy he brings to the set. “He’s like a little kid, it’s great,” Brodie-Sangster said. “You can see the passion sort of exploding out of him. He’s not the most talkative, necessarily, but when you get him going about something that he is passionate about or ask him any questions about the character or the story or whatever, he just then kind of gets lost in his own world. And you watch him go and he will just start explaining everything with all the sound effects and the explosions and everything.” He then made some explosion noises that Ball would make. “The best way to understand is to just watch him and the way he expresses himself is a great way of understanding exactly what he means.”
Ki Hong Lee assays the role of Minho in the films and his character in The Maze Runner was of, well, a maze runner. Now for The Scorch Trials there’s no maze and there’s no glade, but still a lot of running. “This movie is definitely a lot more physically demanding than the first one,” Lee told us. “[In] the first one we were sprinting which was, you know, exhausting in its own right but we were sprinting on like flat ground, but this one we are sprinting on like steep inclines like this, and in sand too. So its like extra hard, and with this altitude too, so it’s very physically demanding.”
He also told us it’s been more difficult just from a climate perspective. “I do miss the Glade because it was hot and humid and there were a lot of bugs and it was painful. But at the same time looking back, it really set the tone for the environment and it really worked for us. The fact that like the temperatures and the climate were perfect for what the Glade would be like. So, for us as actors we kind of use that. The Scorch this time around is supposed to be “The Scorch” but it’s really cold so it doesn’t really work.
Returning to the scene being shot – Thomas staggers through a sweaty group of people and comes upon a girl. He then kisses that girl but pulls away, saying “You’re not her.” The scene was shot both with Scodelario and Salazar, surely with one of them being an hallucination. But that also meant O’Brien had to kiss both actresses (hard life) and was less than pleased when we told him Scodelario had said it was like kissing her brother. “That’s like the worst review you can get,” he laughed. “‘It was like kissing my blood relative.’ No, it’s not like kissing your *sister* because she’s not my sister, but she’s my good friend.”
And good friends are really what The Scorch Trials feels like, even when you’re on set, and even in the trailer with a lot of horrible things going on. It’s clear from talking to everyone that it truly is a big family unit, with Ball as the guiding older brother. He concluded our talk by saying of his time on the film, “While it still feels like a completely different movie, it’s fun to kind of be in there with the same family you started with. And just continue; continue pushing all of that forward and exploring those characters and putting them in the bad places, and just milking them for all they’re worth.”
Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials hits theaters September 18th, 2015. Don’t miss our interview with the cast from this year’s San Diego Comic-Con, and let us know what you’re looking forward to in the sequel in the comments below.