MAZE RUNNER: THE DEATH CURE
About The Production
"Long way from the glade, aren't we?"
The Maze Runner, which was the first of a trilogy of stories based on the
James Dashner novels, started shooting on May 15, 2013 in Baton Rouge,
Louisiana. It brought together a diverse and talented group of young actors.
In the original Maze Runner the involuntary inhabitants of the mysterious
encampment knows as The Glade were surrounded by an ever-changing maze with 200
foot walls. They were a colony of young men with a singular goal; escape the
glade by solving the maze. When Thomas showed up and, shortly after, the glade's
first girl inhabitant Teresa, everything began to change. The way out led them
to the truth: they were members in an immense and cruel test.
In Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials the "gladers", as they were now known,
discovered that once out of the maze they were not the only participants forced
to endure tests. There were in fact other mazes, other survivors and they were
to learn of the organization that had selected them, WCKD. Thomas, who had
become the presumptive leader of the group, didn't trust the message he was
hearing that "WCKD is good." Breaking free from the compound where they'd been
housed after being "rescued" Thomas led the survivors of the original maze and
others he had encountered in the new facility out into "the scorch", a desert
wasteland that appeared to be all that was left of the world.
Looking for a rumored safe haven, the group became trapped when Teresa,
conflicted about WCKD and its true mission, gave up the hidden location of the
surviving assemblage and a WCKD resistance group known as The Right Arm. Having
been betrayed by Teresa, and vowing to save Minho, who has been abducted by
WCKD, Thomas concluded The Scorch Trials with a single declaration, "I'm going
to put a stop to them. I'm going to kill Ava Paige." The woman who had become
synonymous with the organization enigmatically named WCKD had now become his
Maze Runner: The Death Cure, picks up roughly six months after the Scorch
Trials ended. In the final battle of The Scorch the survivors of The Flare, a
disease that has devastated the world's population, have defined their purpose;
to find a safe haven away from the influence of WCKD. This exciting conclusion
of the Maze Runner trilogy reunites many of the original cast members from
2014's The Maze Runner; Dylan O'Brien as Thomas; Kaya Scodelario as Teresa; Ki
Hong Lee as Minho; Thomas Brodie-Sangster as Newt; Dexter Darden as Frypan and
Patricia Clarkson as Dr. Ava Paige along with newer cast members from Maze
Runner: The Scorch Trials; Giancarlo Esposito as Jorge, Rosa Salazar as Brenda,
Aidan Gillen as Janson, Barry Pepper as Vince and Walton Goggins as Lawrence.
The cast, along with many others from the original Maze Runner filmmaking team
came together for a three-month long shoot in Cape Town, South Africa where
cameras started rolling on March 6, 2017.
As the director of all three films Wes Ball describes the differences in the
worlds where each story takes place: "The first film, with the maze, was all
cement and decay. The second story was the sand and rust of the scorch and this
film, The Death Cure, is a world of glass and steel. They each have their own
tone and color palate." But it's the world of steel and glass, a world that the
gladers are not even certain exists that will become the target as they take the
battle to WCKD.
The battle against WKCD actually started at the end of Scorch Trials. As Ball
explains: "In the third book there's this whole idea of a resistance, a group
opposed to WCKD and I thought 'Wouldn't it be nice to bring that in early?'"
Having the warring factions show up at the end of the second movie is a slight
deviation from the book and Ball is grateful to have the latitude to make those
kinds of creative adjustments. "There are things that aren't exactly like the
book but they're inspired by the books and that's why we're fortunate that James
(Dashner) was on board for all of this stuff and the choices we're making. We
wanted to do what we could with respect to the fans and what they want to see."
James Dashner confirmed his approval, stating, "The fans of the books are
very loyal to the stories and very protective of them but some things just work
better in a cinematic universe. Wes Ball has been great in finding those things
that I think the fans have embraced as well."
To create this journey the production needed a location that would provide
all of the diversity of the scorch, to the city, to the safe haven and
everything in between. To achieve this they traveled to Cape Town, South Africa.
Named the World Design Capital in 2014 by the International Council of Societies
of Industrial Design, the southern cape provided the perfect backdrop for the
"last city" with its tall buildings and modern architecture.
The location also afforded the production the chance to travel to the edge of
the Kalahari Desert to shoot the film's exciting opening train sequence. The
scene, shot over five days near the town of Upington makes for an exciting,
hit-the-ground-running, opening sequence.
"I think it's going to be one of the coolest sequences we've ever done," says
Dylan O'Brien. "It's a great way to kick off the film and absolutely sets the
tone. The whole movie's really a rescue mission and it's a special sequence in
this exciting trilogy."
O'Brien appreciated the scene because it allowed audiences to pick up
seamlessly from the last film. "Scorch Trials started at the exact moment that
the first film ended. With this film, it been about six months and you can see
that these guys have been busy. They've taken that time to get organized, to
come up with a plane and to go save Minho."
Wes Ball describes that instant at the end of Scorch Trials, when the others
turn to Thomas and asks if he has a plan, as a defining moment for the
character: "You see the leader emerge," he says simply.
When Death Cure opens, it is clear the team have had time to come up with
their plan. They are a different group, organized and on the offensive. It's a
plan so audacious it requires that they steal an entire moving train car in
their attempt to save Minho.
"The train heist was good fun," says Berry Pepper, who plays Vince, a leader
of the Right Arm resistance. "Definitely one of the highlights of filming. It's
amazing, it was so hot out in the Kalahari. I'd be doing an action sequence,
leaping from the car, climbing the train, and I'd be soaked to the bone, and
then I'd stand around for ten minutes and I'd be dry. The sun was just so baking
hot. I'd never experienced that before, that kind of heat. But it was also
equally stunning, just beautiful out there. I'd never been in a location like
that before, it was a great leg of the shoot, for sure."
Rosa Salazar, who plays Brenda described the location as a very good match
for the New Mexico location where Scorch Trials ended. "When you travel to
Upington, you think this could be Albuquerque. The terrain is extremely similar.
This could be wherevers'ville, Montana... then a group of villagers come, and you
realize very quickly, you're in Africa! There's a completely different thing
that happens in your brain when you realize you're in Africa. You aren't in
Albuquerque or wherevers'ville America. You're in a place where people still
band together and they rise up. Where people have an interest in what's going on
around them and they say it and they vocalize it and they fight. People here,
they will fight, they will rise up. And I love that because that's what this
movie is about."
Having rescued a train car full of young people, all immune to The Flare,
headed for the test labs of WCKD, the ultimate goal is get everyone to the safe
haven. Once again, it is a place that no one was sure really existed. First
introduced in The Scorch Trials when Brenda tells Thomas, "Jorge thinks you guys
are a ticket to the safe haven," it's a moment screenwriter T. S. Nowlin
describes as "the carrot at the end of the stick. The moment they hear there is
The one to shepherd the growing number of young people to this new place to
live is Vince. "He's just a survivor," says Pepper about his character. "I think
like everyone he's been forced to buck up or die. WCKD has the antidote and they
pretty much hold everyone's lives in the palm of their hands. So, he's trying to
survive and take as many people with him as he can."
For the spectacular beauty of the "safe haven" the filmmakers and cast
members went to the South African coastal park Koel Bay and the Kogel Bay Beach
Resort. With sheer mountains jutting up around the scenic beaches, it provided
production designer Daniel Dorrance with the perfect spot to create the camp
which in many ways mimics the look of the original gladers camp. The difference
being, instead of the steep walls of the maze being a prison, the mountains
Bringing an already spectacular location into the Maze Runner universe was a
perfect fit for Dorrance's talent. As Wes Ball explains, "Dan is really good at
taking a practical location and turning into something very cool, unique and
"Once we found this beautiful beach," notes Dorrance, "we knew we could erect
tent-like structures on them and have kind of the beginning of their world,
which has sort of gone full circle back to the maze, in that they lived off the
"I said I had a way in... I didn't say you were going to like it."
In creating the impenetrable WCKD headquarters and laboratory, production
used the sleek design of the Cape Town International Convention Center as the
exterior. The interior and the WCKD Lab on the 20th floor was a massive set
constructed in a converted warehouse just outside of Cape Town. Construction on
the sets began in November, 2016 to be ready for filming in March, 2017. The set
had many different rooms and multiple long corridors creating once again, the
feeling of being in a maze, only this time the gladers were trying to break in,
not out. The design also allowed filming to take place from one area to the next
in long, continuous shots without needing to cut.
"Wes shot a lot of stuff in the lab," confirms Dorrance. "Which was great:
you feel like you've done a good job designing a set when the director wants to
shoot more there; when they're finding new angles they like, and wanting to
Playing the part of Janson, the man responsible rounding up the immunes and
for keeping the facility secure, Aidan Gillen credits the production design of
the facility for bringing a lot to all the performances. "The design is
fantastic. It's very easy to act on those sets, you know. It's not like, 'Oh
here's a white wall and over there it just stops and there's a bunch of people
standing around'. It really feels like a world that you can inhabit, like the
real thing, because it's all there. You know you can walk down that corridor and
there's another corridor and you can walk into that corridor and there's a lab
and then it brings you back to the other corridor. It's quite easy to feel it.
So, I think the production design plays a big role in this film."
"I was a stranger to you once. Now we're family. And so are they."
-Brenda to Jorge
Family. It's something that each of the cast members agree on. After nearly
five years working together on three films they have unquestionably become a
"We're going to miss each other," acknowledges Dylan O'Brien. "We'll still be
in touch obviously, but there's something special about the set time, spending
ridiculous amounts of hours with each other and living in apartments next to one
another. Now, we're trying to just soak it up as it's going to be done after
this. We want to go out with a bang and hopefully make the best movie of the
three. That's what we're trying to do. And, yeah, we genuinely love one another
so it's fun to come to work every day."
Rosa Salazar believes that being given the opportunity to be together off set
as well as on truly contributes to the chemistry. "It's almost like improv.
Improvisers spend every second with each other, because they have to become one
brain. When they get on stage there is no like, 'Here's what I'm doing...', there
are no cues. The cue is in being. It's just a flick of the eye, it's in micro
expressions and that's the level to which that Jorge and I have gotten." She
smiles: "We don't have to over verbalize anything. Because we know each other in
and out. We're one brain."
As somebody who joined the story in the second film, Giancarlo Esposito says
family is something that defines the story: "That's what this film is about,
family. I think it's very unique. When you're working with people that you like,
you want to be around them because you're doing things creatively on camera that
allow you to know them a little better. So when you hang out with them and play
pool, maybe have a beer, you know, play foosball afterhours, you learn more
about who they are as real people, and that tends to translate to the screen."
Bringing these relationships to the story, Esposito explains, "Jorge's a
mercenary. He's been out there so long that you find out things about him within
this Death Cure movie. Maybe you start to wonder about what allegiance he had
before you've seen this movie. So for me in a way, it's watching your children
grow up. You have to let them make decisions all on their own, and you have to
support those decisions or not. But Jorge starts to change. He starts to have
somewhat of a heart and he starts to trust. Trust is a big thing within the
family. If you can trust your instincts first and then your offspring second,
you may learn something. So I think Jorge's journey is a bit special in this
movie cause he is forced to stand back and really watch these young people make
decisions that affect their own lives and that's what we do with our children."
Dexter Darden describes the family component as one of the key elements both
on screen and off. "We've been together now for five years so when you hear that
term or that word family, it's like you know you've seen people grow up, get
married, have kids, go through breakups, go through highs and lows of
relationships. At the end of the day no matter what we've been through we've all
still been there for each other. And we've had our high moments for sure and
we've all had our low moments, and that's part of what growing up is. As long as
you can grow up together and you can be there for the highs and lows, that's
what makes it special. And so that's what we still have now."
Kaya Scoldelario agrees, pointing out it's the commonalities that cement
their bond. "Ki-Hong and I talk about things that we never would have five years
ago. We both have babies that were born ten days apart so we talk about diapers,
spit-up, baby things that none of the other guys have any interest in but that's
what makes it exactly like a family."
"That city was WCKD's base of operations. If it's still standing it's the
last place you want to be. It's the lion's den."
Uncertain if this "last city" had even survived, the "Gladers" knew that
somehow gaining entry would be difficult. To then break in to the WKCD
headquarters where Minho was being held, that was impossible. For Thomas,
setting difficult goals was not unusual. As Dylan O'Brien says of his character,
"In the first movie the challenge was to solve the maze, to break out of the
glade. A big part of the group, led by Gally, wanted no part of that. They
looked at the glade as their home and they were safe. In Scorch Trials we were
out of the maze, had a building to live in and were taken care of but there was
a price to pay. In this film, in Death Cure, Thomas wants to break in to the
place that caused all of this to save his friend Minho, which he promised he'd
do. Most thought it was a crazy plan."
It is Thomas' fearless approach to any situation that originally attracted
director Wes Ball to the trilogy from the start, "The Thomas character is
someone that takes that step forward into the unknown when everyone else takes a
Giancarlo Esposito spoke about his character's conflicted perspective on the
audacity of Thomas' plan. "It's a film about not leaving a man behind. You know
we're really trying to find Minho. And that is Thomas' journey. Jorge is
skeptical of it, so are some of the other Gladers. You have a big choice to make
when you're going after one man who has been captured - what do you do with all
of those other young people who you're trying to save? How does that balance
out? So it's a conundrum of sorts. I believe, being a father of four, that you
never leave a man behind. And so that really poses a big problem, and also quite
a bit of excitement in this film."
Salazar, whose character Brenda joined the group alongside Jorge agrees, "
Thomas is the catalyst. He's the hero for many, many changes and many, many
As the target of Thomas' mission, Dr. Ava Paige, played by Patricia Clarkson,
sees the WCKD agenda as a very challenging moral dilemma. She describes her
character as someone who truly cares for the immunes but she has a drive to
succeed that is above all else. "It's an almost heartbreaking relationship with
Thomas. If there's someone who can deeply affect and touch Ava, it's Thomas."
Clarkson says. She goes on to explain how failure is not something her character
handles easily, "I don't think she ever thought it would be a part of her life
to fail. And she has that very powerful line to Janson when she says 'it's not
about giving up, it's actually knowing when you've lost.'"
As much as all the characters have maintained the family bond through the
first two films, this time with a direct assault on WCKD the strategy has become
one of divide and conquer, requiring the group to split into teams to become
Dylan O'Brien talks about Thomas' newest mission, "In the first movies we
were all always together, on screen and off. We're all still working together
but it's different parts of the same mission so I end up doing a lot of scenes
with Will and Thomas. It's more mission oriented so we're all working to get
"They can't hide behind their walls forever. Day's gonna come, WCKD's gonna
pay for everything they've done."
In the first film, the gladers primary goal was to escape. In the second
film, they were on the run, staying barely a step ahead of WCKD. Now, as they
turn the tables and are on the offensive they find help from an unlikely source:
Gally. Thought to have been killed while turning against the others in the last
moments before escaping the maze, their old companion and Thomas' adversary is
on the forefront of the war against WKCD.
As many fans of the Maze Runner novels know, Gally makes his surprise return
in the third book but as author James Dashner describes it, "Gally was the one
who, when back in the maze, never wanted to rock the boat. Now, he's back and
he's a soldier leading the war against WCKD. The others, especially Thomas,
don't trust him but now Gally wants to defeat WCKD, he wants to bring them
For Will Poulter the chance to return to the story as Gally was a great
opportunity. "They had left me to die, they saw Gally kill Chuck but Gally was
infected. He has this whole new life that has happened since they were together
in the maze and he's a soldier with the Right Arm and he has the opportunity to
make amends, if that's possible so it's great to be back."
Welcome to the safe haven.
As the gladers pursue their mission to rescue Minho, they also have a chance
to save many of the other immune children captured by WCKD and to be used as
test subjects. The tests WKCD is conducting are their attempt to see if the
immunes might have what is needed to make a serum to cure the flare.
Playing WCKD's authoritative, mysterious executive director, Patricia
Clarkson explains that Dr. Ava Paige's mission is an important one. "There was a
line in the script that we could be responsible for wiping the human race clean
from this planet. I think to her, she's saving the world. It's that big in her
Clarkson also acknowledges that the method may be less than compassionate but
that it's simply the nature of her character. "I think she has a very strong
agenda, obviously, and people's feelings, thoughts, emotion are not a large part
of her life. They're not particularly important to her. What is important to her
is survival. I think as we moved through the three episodes, through the three
installments, in this third one you see a slightly more personal side to Ava.
You see how she lives in a way. You see she's more affected by human contact or
human interaction. I think ultimately you find out in the end she really thought
she was doing the right thing."
Director Wes Ball confirms that compassionate side saying, "I've always said
that Janson is the real villain of the series."
Aidan Gillen attributes Janson's villainy to simply being devious and a bit
power hungry. "Janson, the character that I play is an employee if you like, of
the WCKD corporation. But a very ambitious employee, and I'm not just talking
about a drone. He's almost like a secret policeman or something. I mean I didn't
give too much away when we were starting off the last film because Janson was
initially introduced into the story, or to the kids, if we can call them that,
as providing a potential way out or maybe a good guy within this corporate
prison environment. But it turns out he wasn't that. We got to see that through
the course of the film. At this stage in the story he is even more driven and
ruthless and reckless and ambitious you know, with an eye to, I guess, running
Though Ava Paige is behind the ever-repeating message "WCKD is good" there's
plenty of doubt about that in Rosa Salazar's mind. Her character Brenda doesn't
believe for a moment that WKCD is the altruistic organization they present
themselves to be. "I don't believe WCKD is good and here's why. They're
trampling on the people in order to make money while at the same time telling
people we're trying to help. They're harvesting the serum from innocent
children. They're trying to capitalize on a very devastating epidemic. They're
not doing it for us, and they're not doing it for the good of the people, and
they're not doing it to save lives, which is the bulls**t that they hock,
they're doing it so that they can make a coin."
At the end of the adventure Giancarlo Esposito credits the filmmakers for
doing exactly what needed to be done when creating the scope and scale of this
final film in the Maze Runner series. "I love it." he says. "It's not only giant
but it's also very specific in that it reflects a modern day dystopian western.
We've been in some really remote locations out in the Kalahari and we've been
out in Saint Helena Bay by the ocean. You really get taken away by the geography
of where we're shooting this film in South Africa. The trains that were shipped
in and loaded off of trucks and put onto the train tracks and actually ran back
and forth, it's unimaginable, the scale of the film. It allows me as an actor to
feel like there's really been not only thought put into things, but money
invested, real vision to be able to play on a big grand scale and that's what
movies are. We want to be taken away when we go to the movies. And I certainly
as an actor in the movie have been taken away by just shooting this one. I can't
wait to see what it looks like on film."
The artist whose vision first brought the story to the screen five years ago
is the same one who will bring it to its conclusion in The Death Cure, director
Wes Ball. The fact that there's a single vision, one director for the entire
franchise, is very much appreciated by the cast.
Thomas Brodie-Sangster smiles as he relates that Ball's enthusiasm has never
faltered. "He'll often be describing the way he sees a scene playing out, being
very animated with lots of sound effects and then before you know it he's
actually playing all the characters. It's great fun in getting in to the story."
Patricia Clarkson whose role has grown significantly with each installment says,
"I don't think any of these films would work without Wes. It's a singular vision
that he has. I don't think it's like a franchise. I think it is just one very
long movie. Wes has a very specific style, a very specific vision. His tone is
uniquely his and nobody else. It just wouldn't work, these films, without Wes.
They're so personal to him, and they're so specific, he's really a dreamboat. I
mean he's so lovely to work with because he's so enthusiastic - he's still a
kid. I mean he's not, but he is! I think that's why people love the films.
Because he's in them."
Giancarlo Esposito appreciates the rhythm the actor/director relationship has
found after three films: "You're always in a place where you're loose and
creative. Some actors don't like that, they don't want to come up with anything,
but with Wes, with this being the third film that he's done of this series, it's
a tribute to him because he could be onto much larger films. I'm sure he's had
those offers and he could duck out of this. But instead he really wants to cut
his teeth and finish what he started. His vision is so linked to so many
different pieces of this. We shoot things, but a lot of this is green screen and
visual effects that he has to put in later. So he knows that and remembers what
screen directions he wants and where he wants you to look and what moments he
needs you not to talk at all, but just to look and he knows how he's going cut
it together. So I applaud him for keeping all of those pieces in his head. He
guides you through shots which are very important because it takes an
imagination, a very big imagination, to cultivate that kind of filmmaking. He's
gentle, graceful, calm, he listens, and he's excited. What else could you ask
Esposito also acknowledges that at this stage, Ball knows when to step aside
and let the actors figure out what comes naturally. "I love what Dylan does
because when we get into a situation where we have to stop for a minute and slow
it down and talk about what motivates character, Dylan is at the forefront of
that. You know we have scenes where you could buy what he's saying, then he
realizes 'Oh, I said something like this three scenes ago. So let me figure out
what I can say that's a little bit different. Let me figure out how to have a
little bit of a different attitude,' and he's very thorough in his work. I
really love working with Dylan because he has the ability to think out of the
box. We had a scene with Dylan and Barry Pepper, who plays Vince, and myself and
Rosa and Dexter, where we're all standing around a table. It's interrupted, the
whole scene gets interrupted by Bergs [flying vehicles] coming in and WCKD
flying over us and we've got to turn all the lights out and sort of duck out and
hide. It was really very interesting because I found that Dylan was trying to
figure out right where he supposed to be. Everyone was interjecting other
suggestions, and it was lovely. All were valid, all could have worked. Dylan was
like you know, 'Maybe we do a piece of this, a piece of that', and then he went
back and he went 'No, I think this is it, thanks guys, I think I got, it let's
try this'. He was very appreciative of everyone's suggestions because he
realized all we want to do is be helpful and make a great film. In the end he
also realized that he had to find the balance of the character, which he's lived
with for so long, on his own. And when he finally said 'Hey thanks guys, I think
I got it', he was very confident, he appreciated it, and he knocked it out of
the park. That's someone who is thinking about what he does. Equally so, Rosa
Salazar, same way. Very thorough. And we have actors here who really do look at
the script. Who really do take in what they've said from day one, like Dylan.
How do you keep that in your head? It's the third film, but he knows the
trajectory of his character and he wants to honor that."
Dylan O'Brien can't help but get a little sentimental thinking back from the
very first film working with Ball, "He's the most even-keeled human being I've
ever seen in my life," smiles O'Brien. "He won't go up or down. He's always just
this very supportive, very positive, very stoically kind of confident guy.
Nothing arrogant about him, though, like nothing off-putting, he's the most
likable, infectious energy that you can have around, as a director. He's got
this balance of being insanely intelligent, and a genius for visual effects, for
storytelling, for filmmaking, and also like have this amazing human and
little-kid quality, where he's very normal and a very humble dude. Which is
insane, I mean, I don't know, he did something the other day, he does this
amazing thing where like no matter what mood you're in, if you get yourself in
any place he can always pick you back up, man, like that dude always picks me
As the director of the entire series, Wes Ball is appreciative of the cast
member's dedication to each other, their devotion to the series and the
camaraderie they've maintained. Reflecting back to the first film, Ball says,
"When I first came on, I wanted to get all of them into a group together. I
wanted them to spend like a whole week out in the glade, out on their own, just
learning how to survive. And we brought out this awesome guy that, you know, um,
kind of trained them with, in survival, and they learned how to like get their
fingernails dirty, all these city boys, you know, make them feel like they
belonged in this place."
He continues, "At the same time that connected these guys in a way that has
just been really, really special, because like they'll pick themselves up when
they're tired or something's not working right. It's just a really awesome
little family of these guys that have just become, I think, friends for life.
It's been a lot of fun kind of helping them, making it real for them, you know
what I mean? So I'm happy about that."
As someone who wasn't isn't involved from the beginning, but has very much
become a part of the group, Barry Pepper assures that they are all on the same
mission, which is to live up to the fans' expectations for the story, "They
don't need me to get them all pumped up. These fans are hardcore, man, they're
going to love The Death Cure. The locations are absolutely stunning and unique
and you're getting a little bit of a throwback to the maze, the 'Grievers' might
make an appearance... you get sort of everything. It's a culmination of all three
books and The Death Cure really brings it all together. It's going to be an
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