Last December Screen Rant was part of a small group of outlets selected visit the Albuquerque, New Mexico set of Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials. At long last we are able to share that experience with you today (Aug. 12), beginning with our interviews with the film's key players. Check back later in the week for a full report of what we saw on set.
And now we turn to a conversation with Ki Hong Lee, a.k.a. Minho, the former leader of the Runners, who you may also recognize from the Netflix show Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. In our interview with Hong Lee, we walk through the challenges of the more physically-demanding sequel, the pros and cons of reading The Maze Runner books and Minho's Scorch style secrets.
We’ve been hearing that there have been a ton of stunts on this film, have you done your own?
Ki Hong Lee: I have. [Laughs]
How is that going?
Not easy. It’s really tough. This movie is definitely a lot more physically demanding than the first one. The first one we were sprinting which was, you know, exhausting in its own right but we were sprinting on like flat ground, but this one we are sprinting on like steep inclines like this, and in sand too. So its like extra hard, and with this altitude too, so it’s very physically demanding.
Is there any pressure of you having to be the fastest?
The fastest, the strongest, the most badass, all of it.
No big deal.
No big deal, yeah. No big deal. I’m just doing my best trying to keep up physically but it has been tough.
Actually we haven’t asked anyone else, did they carry on the tattoo thing... from the book?
Oh from the book. You will have to wait and see…
I was just wondering if that was like a daily application thing?
Oh, yeah yeah yeah.
How has it been interacting with the new people on set?
It’s been good. I mean I think for them, if I were in their shoes, like I would be pretty intimidated to come into a group where everybody gets along and they have worked you know on a movie already and now we’re even closer so I would be intimidated if I were them, but we are always open to accepting new people and stuff like that. So it has been really good.
No hazing, but that would’ve been cool if we had a little hazing thing. We didn’t think that through. Maybe for next time. But it has been good I mean um, Rose has been great and Giancarlo [Esposito], Aidan [Gillen] have been good. We have Alan Tudyk on set, and he is amazing in everything that he is in so we’ve been very very fortunate to have all these amazing actors come in and do these, you know, almost like guest appearances, in a way. Its been really fun to like work with them and kinda see how they approach the work to because we as a group we have our own process, you know. We like to have fun on set and stuff and to see like how some of the other guys, how they approach it and things like that, it is very interesting to observe. I am learning a lot from them.
Coming back for the second time, what were you excited about developing with the character?
You know the first one I think was more about establishing Minho as the runner, the leader of the runners and things like that but this time around it’s sort of...well, the first one you know Minho is kind of like one of the leaders but he takes his cue off of Alby, but now Alby is gone and now he is taking his cue from Newt and Thomas. So it’s interesting to kind of see that shift in his focus of leadership so his role now is more sort of just making sure everyone is okay and protecting everybody.Making sure, you know, there is always a way out of a situation because you know we, we always get stuck in these bad situations, and so you’ll see a different side of him. In the first one we all tried to kind of input as much sassiness and kind of a sarcastic attitude because that is what is so good about the books and about what James has written, so we tried to do that but some of it got cut. So this time I am trying to put in as much of it as I can, so hopefully some of that ends up being in the final.
Have you talked to James at all? Has he given you any insight?
Yeah, he in the first one visited set a couple of times and every time I would thank him first of all for writing Minho, thank him that like he has written in an Asian-American character that I can play so I thank him for that foremost. And then I always ask, “How are you liking set? Is everything look cool?” He’s been very generous and has always approved of what we are doing here and what we are trying to do. He visited set two or three weeks back and I talked to him and he said “yeah man, you guys are doing a great job” and that means a lot to us because, I mean, he is the one that created this whole series, he’s the one that originated these characters so for him to give us a stamp of approval it’s the greatest compliment you can get.
Can you tell us a little bit about what you’re shooting today?
Today, um, this. And then pretty much what happens after this. Pretty much, Thomas is going through this whole thing and then we kind of group and continue the journey on from there.
Is it action-oriented? Are there weapons involved?
A little bit, but, you guys have seen the whole thing right? You’re staying the whole day right? (everybody: yes) Okay. A little bit of action but it’s not like crazy running today, which is great in my opinion. Yeah, I just need a breather.
And you guys remind me, do you use the lingo that’s in the books in the movies too? The shuck and stuff like that?
Is that hard to integrate?
No because I kind of really bought into it when I read the books as well. So I kind of tried to do it as much as I could in the first movie so now it doesn’t feel weird at all. I’m so used to it and like my mind is just programmed to think like Minho. It's part of my lingo, and I think you might see some of it today, if I am not mistaken and we don’t change it around. Because sometimes you can’t have too much of it because it takes...you want to walk a fine line of doing too much of that and not doing it at all.
Do you ever accidentally slip and say it outside of the set and your friends are like “what the fuck are you talking about?” What the shuck are you talking about?
Yeah, what the shuck are you talking about. No, because I have my own lingo with my friends so it wouldn’t make sense but, yeah.
Do you miss the glade and the maze?
I don’t miss the maze. I do miss the glade though because it was hot and humid and there were a lot of bugs and it was painful. But at the same time looking back, it really set the tone for the environment and it really worked for us. The fact that the temperatures and the climate were perfect for what the Glade would be like. So, for us as actors we kind of use that. The Scorch this time around is supposed to be the Scorch but it’s really cold so it doesn’t really work, but yeah, I do miss the glade in that respect.
What’s it like to go from a place that’s so hot and humid to a place that’s just cold and dry?
Well, luckily we didn’t have to go from the Glade to this climate right away. Well I guess in the story it is, you know in the story it is the scorch so it’s really hot. It hasn’t been too bad. I mean I am from LA and we don’t get these kind of winters. It started snowing and I had a kind of freak out and was like “Oh my god it is snowing! I haven’t seen snow since I was a little kid! It is snowing like actually snow is coming down.” It felt so weird to see like a blanket of snow, like a fresh blanket of snow but also the next day it was all gone. I guess in Albuquerque it happens a lot, like it snows one day and it’s gone the next. So it’s been kind of fascinating.
What kind of green screen work are you doing here compared to the last one?
Oh the blades were just an abandoned parking lot and on some of the wide shots, Dylan and I would be running and the camera would pan up and at the edge of the parking lot you would just see the local parking lot just going during lunch hour, stopped at a red light. That was all just the maze, they just paint out all that stuff. In the glade too, just walls and everything else was painted out. This one there’s still a fair amount of green screen I would say but yeah maybe not as much, or maybe I am not noticing as much because I spent like a week in that parking lot running. We spent like half the time in the glade you know and we are constantly surrounded by blue screen stuff and so yeah. I don’t know if it’s me or I am not noticing, it doesn’t seem like as much.
What’s the moment you think, or a couple of scenes where fans who love your character will want to watch out for?
Yeah cool yeah. Definitely... That bathroom that happens in the book might still happen in the movie.
How was it to shoot?
It was cool, it was cold. Because we are outside and we’re running, but that was a cool stunt to see. It should look pretty cool. And all the special effects and stuff with the light coming down. Wink, wink.
Have you read ahead in the books?
People tell me stuff like, "Oh your character does this," but I try not to just because I wanna be where my character is at in terms of mindset. Say we will do the third one, then I will read it right before I read the script so I know similarities, differences, because usually there are. Because if I get so set on what the book has and I read the script and it’s just a little different it messes me up. So I like to use what I read in the book and read the script right away so I can pick these things from the book and use it to enhance the story and if not I will just trash it. If I get set it messes me up.
Your hair looks awesome. How does Minho find hair product in the Scorch?
In the maze I would say that Minho finds it in the Griever’s slime and just kind of takes it and…
Because this is a lot of volume…
Well in the Scorch it’s so dry it just sort of flares up because he’s worn it like this for so long.
Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials opens on September 18, 2015.