Dylan O’Brien on conquering his demons to film Maze Runner: The Death Cure after 11 months recovering from on-set injury
Franchise star of young-adult series still won’t talk about injury on set that brought filming to a halt, but having found it ‘difficult, even putting the clothes back on’ when shoot resumed, he is proud he was able to complete the film
For Dylan O’Brien, Maze Runner: The Death Cure is much more than the third and final film in a popular young-adult film series.
Even finishing Death Cure is a triumph for the cast, crew and franchise star O’Brien, 26, who was injured in March 2016 when a set stunt went grievously wrong. His head injuries were serious enough to require the rare move of shutting down production after just three days of filming.
Eleven months later, after dealing with trauma and fear that made him question if he’d ever fully recover, O’Brien walked onto the Death Cure set to complete his movie.
“It does flood me with this prideful kind of feeling, like I conquered something. It just feels so right,” says O’Brien. “I would never have been OK with how we left off. This is how I would have felt best, actually finishing it.”
O’Brien, who still has difficulty discussing the injury and its trying aftermath, explains that the ordeal threatened to overtake his overwhelmingly positive Maze Runner life – two previous career-changing films that attracted an audience beyond the passionate fan base for James Dashner’s novels about a dystopian future.
“What happened, it tainted that for a while, and it wasn’t right,” says O’Brien. “So it’s amazing, two years later almost, we’ve completed it. It’s a trip.”
Director Wes Ball says that after the emotionally trying period (“It was an awful time, really terrible”) of O’Brien’s full recovery, it was clear that making the final film in the US$660 million franchise, essentially from scratch, would be a priority for the star, cast and studio.
“It would have been very easy for the studio or a number of people to say, ‘Nah, let’s move on and not do this.’ But they didn’t,” says Ball. “Dylan went through what he had to go through. He came back and wanted to finish this.”
It took intense schedule juggling for the key cast members – including Thomas Brodie-Sangster, Ki Hong Lee and Kaya Scodelario (who gave birth to her first child just before filming) – to reassemble for action in sunny South Africa last February.
O’Brien says he struggled with stepping into wardrobe to don rebellion leader Thomas’ faded bush jacket and T-shirt, which he wore during the accident. “It was still difficult, even putting the clothes back on,” says O’Brien.
“He had to face those demons. But he got up and did it. And it’s a testament to him,” says Ball, who went fully safe, switching entirely to CGI effects to shoot scenes like Death Cure’s high-speed opening scenes rather than physical stunts for the actors.
Brodie-Sangster, O’Brien’s friend on-screen and off for all three films, says a small group shot the final scenes late into the night before Ball called it a wrap on production. Champagne bottles popped.
“We stayed up until the sunrise,” says Brodie-Sangster. “We went back to Dylan’s apartment with more champagne. We watched everyone going off to work, but we had done our work. It was all very positive.”