The Maze Runner screenwriter James Dashner and star Dylan O’Brien, who plays Thomas in the upcoming film based on Dashner’s trilogy of young adult novels, stopped by the CBR Tiki Room at WonderCon 2014 in Anaheim to chat about bringing the book to life. After spending so much time with the characters in his head, Dashner talks about what it’s like to see them become real and whether the reality lives up to his imagination, as well as what he was most interested in the film getting right. O’Brien then talks about how his future filmmaking inclinations and how that affects the roles he takes and people he works with. Things wrap up with O’Brien divulging just how much of himself he brought to the role of Thomas and whether seeing Thomas played in a certain way will affect how Dashner plans to write him if the book series continues.
On whether the film version matches up to the vision Dashner had in his head when writing the novels: “Honest, total truth, is I cannot believe how much they matched my vision,” said Dashner. “I’ve just been pleasantly surprised, shocked, over and over how spot-on they’ve been with the script, the maze itself, the blade — I just could not be more thrilled, and I’m not just blowing smoke. It’s awesome.”
On what one thing was most important for Dashner that the film get right: “For me it was always that they captured the spirit of the book. I am totally fine with making the changes because a book is not the same as a film,” said Dashner. “But I wanted them to capture the spirit of it, which was the relationships of the characters, the mystery of it — just the ‘what the hell’s going on’ feel to it — and, man, I think they just nailed it.”
On what O’Brien, who wanted to be a cinematographer before becoming an actor, learned about filmmaking from working on the movie: “A lot that goes into my decision-making and where my heart goes is obviously the story and the role, but also the filmmaker I’d be working with,” said O’Brien. “Wes [Ball], this is his first movie, and literally all it took was me having a lunch with him, a couple hours one day before I even had the part, and he just completely sold me on the movie and made me want to work with him because he was insanely smart and he gets movies and really gets storytelling. And also, he’s just like a talented genius with visual effects and, you know, he’s an artists. I really wanted to work with him because as much as the acting is important to me, the other side, the technical aspect, is important as well. I want to direct one day and I always want to be working with guys who I’m learning from everyday on set. Wes entirely that guy for me on this movie. I think one day I’ll be, ‘I was lucky to be in Wes Ball’s first film.’”
On how much of himself O’Brien brought to the character of Thomas: “A lot. Like you said, as an actor you’re always going to be pouring a lot of yourself into your roles. Whether intentionally or unintentionally, that’s a beautiful thing, that’s just what should be happening. Thomas, the things I relate to with him is he’s a thinker. He’s constantly considering things and curious about things and he’s not just content not knowing,” said O’Brien. “There’s a bravery, there’s a courage inside of him, it’s a passion it’s a fire. It’s something not many people have and I feel like in areas of my life — you go back and forth about feeling that way. You’ve got something inside you that’s good, and then it’s all about trying to stay passionate and stay fiery. But Thomas it just comes so naturally. He’s a born leader, and that’s what I love about him. Watching him realize it is my favorite thing about the story and about the role and the character. I like to think that I have some of that [Laughs] in my bones in real life, but if I go toe-to-toe with Thomas I lose.”
“I wrote the book and envisioned it years before I met Dylan,” said Dashner, “but even in my mind he has become Thomas. Even when I think retroactively about the books I feel like I pictured him.”
On whether seeing a specific vision of a character or a world in real life affects what can be done as a writer: “The series is pretty much done. I may write another prequel, but it’s all positive,” said Dashner. “I love film so much — and Harry Potter is such a good example, I love the books with all my heart and I love the movies with all my heart, but two me they’re two different things. And I think it’s the same with Maze Runner, it’s a new way to experience this story.”