'Maze Runner' stars come to OPRF

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By Ashley Lisenby

Digital Editor

Hundreds of Oak Park and River Forest High School students crammed into the school's Little Theatre Thursday afternoon for a Q & A session with three lead cast members of the sci-fi thriller "Maze Runner," set to premiere Sept. 19.

Before Dylan O'Brien, Kaya Scodelario and Will Poulter arrived on stage the excitement in the room was palpable. The theatre buzzed with students chattering, standing at a distance, pointing to find the best seat and then making their way hurriedly to the seat of their choice, or any seat not already occupied by another excited teen.

"I'm obsessed with him," said 17-year-old senior Zaynah Habibi, referring to "Teen Wolf" heartthrob Dylan O'Brien while excitedly bopping her knee as she spoke. "He's such an amazing actor."

Habibi, who has read the "Maze Runner" trilogy as well as the prequel, said she was at the event because she received permission from her English teacher.

"For some reason administration made it that only your English teacher could let you come," said Habibi before dashing to find a seat across the aisle after a teacher requested the whole row move to make room for her English class.

Senior Yohana Ansari-Thomas said students from the yearbook committee, school newspaper and editorial magazine were also present.

As droves of students filed down the aisles, both male and female students were represented—confirming suggestions that the Young Adult book by John Dashner has a wide appeal with teens in general, gender aside.

"#TheMazeRunner doesn't have a romantic plot in its bones," said Ashley DeJesus, publicity and promotions intern at Allied Integrated Marketing via Twitter. "That's what makes it great for all teens -- a coming of age story."

DeJesus graduated from OPRF in 2010 and her position at Allied Integrated Marketing made it possible for the three "Maze Runner" stars to visit the high school.

The moderator for the Q&A, theater teacher Michelle Bayer, made sure to thank DeJesus for being a major part of the process in making the event happen.

As faculty made sure no one was sitting in the aisles and the moment for the event to begin neared, the feeling of exclusivity mixed with anticipation in the small, humid school theatre.

The lights on stage dimmed. As the audience, still bathed in soft house lighting, sat watching an extended trailer of "Maze Runner," screams and whoops escaped the mouths of onlookers before the actors took their places on stage.

When they did, the cheers grew louder, combined with clapping, laughing and, what I pictured to be, a collective reach for cellphones.

During the Q & A, all three actors admitted that they struggled academically, and socially in the case of O'Brien and Scodelario in the way of shyness, but found drama and acting to be an area in which they shined.

"I didn't have much going on for me in school," said Poulter, "but drama built confidence […] I'm grateful I can do this for a living."

Poulter, who plays Gally in the "Maze Runner," started his career in comedy, including his role as Kenny Rossmore in the 2013 film "We're the Millers."

He said he learned his American accent from watching the sitcom "Friends" growing up. That statement was almost immediately followed with, "can you say something in an American accent?"

A request he gracefully declined.

O'Brien plays the protagonist Thomas who finds himself in The Glade with no recollection of who he is or how he got there but tries to make it out of the maze. O'Brien said his favorite part of working on the film was being a part of a story he loved and becoming friends with the cast.

The combination of the two is "rare in the industry," said O'Brien.

For Scodelario part of the fun in her role as Teresa was using her imagination and being in an action packed film. A departure from her role as Effy in the UK series "Skins."

The breathtaking stunts, by the way, are mostly done by the actors. Which means little to no training and little stunt double work.

"The characters are so heroic because they are relatable," said O'Brien explaining why it was better for the characters to perform physically trying tasks themselves. "If I'm running like a grandma then, yes!"

You be the judge, but it's doubtful that 23-year-old O'Brien runs like a grandma.

When asked by one student how similar or different each actor saw themselves compared to their characters, all admitted to admiring some aspect of the person they play.

"I wish I was a little bit more like her," said Scodelario noting her character's strength and focus. "She isn't very intimidated or scared. She knows that the world is bigger."

Two seniors, Steven Copher and Aghia Washington, said they saw the 20th Century Fox film, produced by Wyck Godfrey and Marty Bowen (the same duo who produced "The Fault in Our Stars") at a special premiere on Aug. 26 at AMC River East 21 in Chicago.

The two friends received the opportunity to see the advanced screening because of Washington's entertainment blog "Popcorn Not Included."

"There were a lot of emotional scenes," said Copher. "[The moderator] didn't call on me, but I wanted to know what was the most intense scene for them. And I wanted to tell [Kaya] she was gorgeous."

Even though Copher, Washington and their two other friends left the theatre feeling excited about seeing movie stars, they also expressed appreciation for their school and an admiration for DeJesus.

"It was awesome for them to come," said senior Karina Donayse in reference to O'Brien, Scodelario and Poulter's visit.

Both Donayse and her friend, another senior Wyatt Ashby, agreed that seeing DeJesus and hearing about her involvement with film marketing gave them hope and inspired them.

"It's good to know you actually make it after you leave here," said Donayse.

Pending the success of "Maze Runner," expected to have a $30 million opening, the second book in Dashner's series could make it to the big screen.

Variety reports that one of the film's screenwriters, T.S. Nolan, was asked by the studio to work on a script for "The Scorch Trials."

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