Last fall, Fangirlish had the pleasure of visiting the set of Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials in beautiful Albuquerque, New Mexico. We spent the day at I-25 Studios, watching several scenes be filmed and sitting down with the cast, director Wes Ball, and more key figures to get the inside scoop on The Scorch Trials.
Now that the film has officially hit theaters, we're sharing a fun list of what we learned on set - from what Dylan O'Brien brought to set with him and the Gladers' new looks to the hardcore stunts of The Scorch Trials and what the cast learned from author James Dashner. Stay tuned and get ready for Scorch.
1. The altitude in Albuquerque is no joke.
Even spending one day on the Albuquerque, New Mexico set of The Scorch Trials, we were feeling the altitude - and we didn't have to do any running. The cast, being the gems that they are, reminded us to stay hydrated as they filled us in on exactly how challenging filming such a physical film at a high altitude can be.
"The last one, we had the heat and humidity [in Louisiana], which - well, me coming from London - felt very different, so there was getting used to that," Thomas Brodie-Sangster said. "But up here, we have the altitude, which I didn't think was gonna be a problem. But since we've started running sand dunes and things like that and doing training, you realize that you run out of breath very quickly and it's quite hard to catch it back again."
2. Look forward to some incredible stunts.
The Scorch Trials team took full advantage of the locations offered in Albuquerque, which stunt coordinator George Cottle compared to "a kid's playground," to plan some jaw-dropping stunts. "It's been great because Wes [Ball] has been really, really gracious with giving me quite a free range," he said. "I was at the location this morning with the guys and I'm like, yes, let's go nuts. Let's think of everything we can here, and we can reign it back if it's too much or not enough."
3. Speaking of stunts, Dylan O'Brien is a natural.
Is there anything Dylan O'Brien can't do? The Scorch Trials star was very excited about his signature baseball slide stunt in the film, and Cottle had only positive things to say about his execution. "Dylan is a natural athlete, he really is. We did a thing the other day where we are trying to work out this slide under a door, and it's funny - you sit there and you're trying to explain it to him and he's like, 'Oh, you mean like this?' and just kind of did it. And I was like, 'Yeah that's it, you've got it,'" he said. "He's just a naturally fit guy that's grown up playing a lot of sports. He loves watching sports, playing sports... He's super capable. It really, really helps us when someone brings that to the table already."
4. There was one stunt the actors were not looking forward to.
As cool as it looks on screen, there was one stunt that the usually gung-ho cast were not fans of at all. "There's one that they are not particularly excited about, which is one that Wes wanted to do," George Cottle revealed. "We have them hanging upside down, and it's going to suck, really. There's no other way to do it. Everyone is trying to talk Wes out of it, but he was like, 'Nope, I want to do it!'" In all fairness, Cottle did give Wes a taste of his own medicine before putting the cast through their paces. "We ended up actually hanging Wes upside down - and he did great. He was like, 'It's fine.'"
5. The cast did the vast majority of their own stunts.
Hanging upside down, sliding down sand dunes, battling Cranks... That was all Dylan O'Brien and his fellow cast mates, not stunt doubles, at least for the vast majority of the movie. "With what we can do now with wires and stunt rigging, there aren't many situations where we need to use a double," Cottle said. "It will purely come down to how much the actors want to do it and how much the production company wants to put them in that place. There's nothing in this that I don't think any of the cast would be incapable of doing."
Cottle even surprised Wes Ball with what kind of sequences the cast would be able to do themselves. "We have some pretty cool stuff to do. Initially, Wes was like, 'Obviously when we do this, we are going to have to use doubles,' and I'm like, 'No,' and he's like, 'Really? The actors are alright?' I'm like, 'Yup, they'll be fine.' I've spoken to them about it, and they're so excited. We run through every test, every single aspect of what we're doing with the doubles and show the actors with the doubles, and then it's over to them."
6. As the resident Runners, Dylan and Ki Hong Lee gave the others some tips for running.
"Yeah, 'Move your ass, Greenie' is what Ki Hong says to all of us," Dexter Darden said, laughing. Though running seems simple, there's more to making it look natural on camera than you might think. "Ki Hong is a machine. He trains a lot and he works hard, and Dylan's just a freak athlete. I love playing sports - I love playing basketball - so it's nothing new to me to get up and start running, but running six, seven times in a cut is a different story. I guess they just kind of said the way to breathe and the way to kind of look the hero run - like, there's a way that you can run and not look corny on camera, so that's what I took from Ki Hong and Dylan."
7. Running on sand dunes is on another level than running the Maze.
The Gladers are all Greenies of sorts in the Scorch. Even their most basic objective - keep moving - is made more difficult by the rough terrain of the desert wasteland of our world. In order to make those intense desert running scenes happen, the cast had to endure similarly challenging conditions. "The sand dunes have been the most physically draining, just because we had to sprint up those inclines," Ki Hong said. "Once you put your feet in the sand dunes, the sand eats your feet. There's this funny moment where Kaya [Scodelario] was running, and she would just run and run in place for like twenty seconds because she can't get anywhere - but we all did that."
8. Teresa has a whole new look for The Scorch Trials.
Speaking of Kaya, Costume Designer Sanja Milković Hays revealed that while all of the Gladers will be donning new gear for The Scorch Trials, Teresa's outfit is particularly special. "In the first one, she was given the clothes. Here she's given the clothes in the bunker, but she escapes from the operation table - so when they get to the mall, the guys just grab jackets to protect themselves, but she's in a hospital outfit of sorts. She actually gets a chance to change and choose the clothes, so we consciously made her look like a girl - a little softer. Rather than having boys' pants and a boys' shirt, she has much softer clothes and colors."
9. The Gladers' new wardrobe is based in the story.
Teresa may get to choose her own outfit, but all of the Gladers' new threads are significant in the way they are tied to the story. "We went a little bit different [this time] because the first movie was all about the group - the characters making and adjusting costumes themselves, since spending the few years [in the Maze]," Sanja said. "This time, they stumbled across the store and just picked up the clothes that were already made. It's not the old clothes that somebody else wore before. They're just like, 'Okay, let me grab something to wear in the cold and protect me.' It was a story-based, different approach to the process."
10. Prepare to be awed - and horrified - by the Cranks.
The Cranks - victims of the Flare virus reduced to a murderous, zombie-like state - are one new addition sure to shake things up for the Gladers in The Scorch Trials. The actors responded to them in the same way they hope that the fans will - with horror and awe in equal measure. "They're awesome," Alex Flores said. "Wes is really good about showing us stuff ahead of time and seeing what we're going to be working with, and when he showed us one of the Cranks, it was really cool. And then you get to see how they progress... It's a little sick, but it's really cool."
Creating a distinctive look for the Cranks, down to the very way they move, was one of the biggest challenges for Stunt Coordinator George Cottle. "Wes really wanted to come up with something that was different, that was new. We've seen so many zombie movies, and we kind of wanted to take a little piece from everything but still come up with something completely original," he said. "We spent a lot of time with movements. A couple of the stunt guys I have here are ex-Cirque du Soleil performers, so their body movements and the positions they can put their bodies into are crazy. It's kind of like a really contorted zombie - it's really twisted, all of their arms are bent round and their head's to one side."
11. James Dashner is incredibly supportive and has offered the cast some great insight on their characters.
Author involvement can be a tricky thing on YA adaptations, but according to the Scorch Trials cast, James Dashner has been nothing but supportive. "James is very hands-on with the process, and that's one thing I love about 20th Century Fox and our producers, allowing him the opportunity to be involved with us," Dexter Darden said.
Dexter in particular spoke about some awesome insight James gave him about his character, Frypan. "One thing that I talked to him about was Frypan is the only person who doesn't quite get his name. The one thing that we say we get in the Glade is our name, and Frypan is the only character who doesn't get it in the first two books. So that's kind of interesting about that creative process, as to why and what he thinks Frypan was going through and what I think Frypan was going through."
In addition to specific character insight, Dylan O'Brien appreciated James just being a source of positive feedback and support. "Literally all that guy does is instill confidence. He's just the nicest guy ever, and he's so supportive of everything that we do. He's our biggest fan, you know, of the movie that we're making of his book," Dylan said. "He's just kind of so excited that this is even happening, so the only conversations we even have are just like, 'This is so great,' you know? He's just like, 'Yeah, every time I picture Thomas then I just picture you.' He's just the greatest."
Thomas Brodie-Sangster has also been able to add nuance to his portrayal of Newt through reading James' original work. "I enjoy the whole backstory of Newt, and I think that adds a kind of darkness to his character - which, you know, he's normally considered to be an upbeat, lively, great, fun guy," he said. "He's got this kind of slightly darker past, which I really enjoyed playing. Even though it's never really explained in the films - yet, anyway - I enjoyed just kind of playing that in my mind. [James] is the original source - without him, we wouldn't even be making the film."
12. The cast took over the floor of a hotel during filming - and it sounded like a crazy fun time.
Staying on the same hotel floor as The Scorch Trials cast would be a dream come true for many. Though then again, if you aren't in on the shenanigans, possibly not. "We're all staying in the same hotel - we managed to take over one floor - and it was me, Dylan right across, Jacob [Lofland] right next to me, and some poor lady was stuck in our little quadrant," Ki Hong said. "We hang out and laugh a lot and get kind of loud. I don't think she had fun, but she moved out and we got Thomas Brodie in there. Now we control a quadrant, and it's like our little safe haven place where we can go and hang out without worrying about noise or anything like that."
13. If you're planning an outing, Dexter Darden is your guy.
In The Scorch Trials novel, the characters receive mysterious tattoos marking them with titles such as "The Glue" and "The Leader." If they received such markings in real life, Dexter Darden would be "The Organizer" (according to himself) or "The Publicist" (according to Dylan O'Brien). "When we go places, he's so funny," Dylan said. "He'll literally call, pretend to be a publicist, and fool them."
This technique definitely benefited the cast while they were filming The Maze Runner in Louisiana. "He got us into this place in New Orleans once last year. We went to this famous breakfast spot, and there was a line out the block, you know, just literally around the corner. We were just like, 'Oh my god, we're never gonna get in.' And Dex gets on the phone, says that he's from some PR company - I swear to god - says, 'Uh, you know, I got a cast here, we're shooting The Maze Runner in Baton Rouge while we're down here. I got...' You know, he starts naming us. And five minutes later, a waitress comes out and walks us in to this table. It was so funny," O'Brien said. Sounds like a useful talent to have, if you ask us.
14. Dylan O'Brien brought his car - and, of course, his pillow - to set.
It takes a long time to make a movie, so we spoke to several of the cast members about what they brought to set to make it more homey. "I drove out, actually, so I brought my car," Dylan O'Brien said. "I always bring my pillow. A lot of jackets because it's gonna be cold."
Why bring his car? "I wanted to drive out because I heard it was a really beautiful drive - and it was. It was so awesome. I took the 40, you know, did it in two nights, six hours apiece. It was beautiful. Right when I crossed into New Mexico - which is when it starts getting very, like, canyon-y - the sun was setting, so it was awesome. And I like having my car, it's just a familiar thing."
15. Maze Runner family dinners are totally a thing.
Albuquerque, like the Glade in Baton Rouge, is a relatively isolated location - meaning that the cast spent a lot of time together. One of the ways they bonded was through Maze Runner family dinners. Though Dexter Darden lives up to Frypan's talent in the kitchen, he said that his fellow Gladers are just as skilled. "I've been cooking since I was young - since I was like ten years old - so I love to cook," he said. "I've always been in the kitchen. My mom taught me when I was very young how to cook, so like recently we had a big Memorial Day barbecue and [the cast] all came over to my house. I grilled up some food and made some sides, like macaroni and cheese, collard greens, that kind of stuff. I am the cook, but really we all can cook. Thomas Brodie-Sangster can throw down for real, and Will [Poulter, from The Maze Runner] is a slammin' cook. Kaya's got that whole Brazilian thing going on, and if you need chicken fingers, Dylan is the guy to talk to."
16. The cast also bonded over their love of music.
Whether the cast are just hanging out or heading to set, music has also been a huge part of the Gladers' bonding process. "I sing and I write music - and I write for other artists, too, which is really cool - and I play a little piano. Dylan's a beast on the drums. He's a monster, and he loves all kinds of music. Thomas also sings and plays the bass, and he's very musical as well, so surprisingly we have a very music-surrounded cast," Dexter said. "One of the things that we all look forward to in the morning when we have those 5 AM calls is getting in the van and hearing what song is on now. Music is around everything that we do. Even if we are playing Mario Kart, we've got music in the background. If we're cooking dinner, we've got music playing in the background. Music is a big part of the entertainment business in itself, and it's a big part of movies and a big part of who I am as a human."
17. The cast had some interesting fan encounters in Albuquerque (Chipotle, anyone?).
Albuqerque may not be a major city in the same way as New Orleans or Los Angeles, but that didn't mean the cast were exempt from some interesting fan encounters - most notably, one that occurred at a local Chipotle. Dexter Darden told us the story:
"There was one time when we got a quick lunch break and Dylan, Thomas, Ki Hong, and I drove to Chipotle. We go in, we're in line, and I see people looking at us outside the windows. One girl comes up and asks Dylan for a picture, and then she starts recognizing the rest of us. We eat, we leave, [and] there are probably about 15 people outside waiting for us because they had Instagrammed the picture telling them were we were."
Thankfully, the fans were very respectful, so the actors were quite gracious about the whole situation. "The fans here are so supportive, because they actually love the movies or they love the books, so they're never too overbearing, never too rude, never too anything," Dexter said. "We love our fans because if it wasn't for them, we wouldn't be here shooting The Scorch Trials. So we're very appreciative of all the fan support that we get - and we're very appreciative of the Chipotle we got that day, too."
18. Watch for the "Bunk Room Rules" sign in the bunker.
Finally, we wanted to share a cool little detail we noticed on set that you can watch for in The Scorch Trials. We had the chance to walk through many areas of the bunker the Gladers stay in during the beginning of the film, including the cafeteria, various hallways, and even the showers (a row of functional stalls built in the middle of a bigger room in the studio). One of the coolest areas we got to check out was the bunk room. When the Gladers enter the room, keep an eye out for a little sign on the wall next to the door. You may just be able to make out the "Bunk Room Rules" printed on it, which include things like "Conserve Water" and "Lights Out: 10." It's just one of those small details that helps flesh out the location and story, and we thought it was pretty awesome.
What will you learn from the Scorch? Find out in Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials, in theaters now.
Interviews have been edited for clarity.