The cast of The Maze Runner is back in The Scorch Trials. After most of them escaped the maze, they end up someplace worse, trapped in a WICKED compound. When they escape, they have to traverse the scorch and evade cranks.
I got to speak with Ki Hong Li, who plays Minho in the films, by phone during his busy press schedule, and some of these questions come from the fans themselves via Twitter. Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials opens Friday in theaters.
Nerd Report: Which was more physically demanding, The Maze Runner or The Scorch Trials?
Ki Hong Lee: I think for me personally both have been very physically demanding. I think the difference is the first one, I was running the maze. I was running outdoors and also indoors in a maze-like stage where they built some of the walls. But the second one was sprinting up a sand dune with sand on an incline, so I guess that was a little bit harder, but I think just physically for both movies, I think it was pretty much the same. The second one for sure, for the rest of the group, I think there was a lot more action sequences where we all had to run together as a group. So in a way, mentally it was easy just because you were doing it with more people and you’re jus kind of there as a team and just kind of root each other on to push each other. The first one was just me and Dylan so we were just suffering a little bit more I think.
Nerd Report: How does Minho cope with the scorch versus the maze?
Ki Hong Lee: I’ve been telling a lot of people that Minho is out of his element a little bit because the maze is all he’s known for four years or so. So for him to get out of the maze is a relief for him but also now he’s stuck in a situation where he really has no direction. He’s kind of looking to Thomas to lead the group and he just brings up the rest of the crew, makes sure everyone’s okay and makes sure if there’s any threatening things going on, he takes care of it. i.e. the knee to the chest of the WICKED soldier.
Nerd Report: How do you get into character as Minho? Do you have a routine or some music you listen to?
Ki Hong Lee: I did this thing on the first movie where when I was training for the role, just to get hyped up, I would just clap my hands really loud when I was working out at the gym. That helped me for the first movie. For the second one, I did a little bit of that but I feel like after living in Minho’s skin for a year, it just came back to me. And also because this film literally picks up where the first one left off, I had time to get back into my old costume and that helped me a lot. I think because it’s the second movie and it’s the second time around playing this character that I feel like it was a little bit easier to get back in it.
Nerd Report: Given there’s such a fan base, do you think about whether you’re portraying Minho the way the fans expect you to?
Ki Hong Lee: Yeah, that’s always a thing that I constantly had in the back of my mind is that the books have such fandom. James Dashner has done an amazing job creating all these characters. I just want to do justice by it. The fans’ approval and support means so much to me. I just hope that I did a good job of portraying Minho the way that they remember him from the books. I hope they enjoy the movie because I try to put in as much of the sass and the attitude that Minho has. So I just hope that comes across pretty well.
Nerd Report: But you also don’t control the final cut.
Ki Hong Lee: Exactly. I always try to just put as much out there. I obviously trust Wes to keep what’s good and take out what’s bad.
Nerd Report: Now that you’ve seen the final cut, did all the Minho moments make it?
Ki Hong Lee: Yeah, I think so. There weren’t any moments that were just so jarring I was like, “Oh, I totally missed that moment.” I think most of it’s in there.
Nerd Report: Was it different going into The Scorch Trials with not only the fan base of the books, but all the new fans of the movies?
Ki Hong Lee: I know, everyone’s been talking about how we’ve been a dark horse for the first movie and it was a surprise hit. I guess the bar’s been raised a little bit but also it’s been another year of working together with the same people, so I feel like we’ve all improved. I feel like we’ve created another great action flick, os I’m just really excited to see how it does.
Nerd Report: What hair product do you use? Because Minho looks fabulous in the middle of the scorch, in the maze, no matter what.
Ki Hong Lee: Right, so for the first movie he used griever slime and now for the second movie, the griever slime just dried up in his hair because it was hot, so it just kind of permanently stuck like that.
Nerd Report: That’s a great answer. At this point do you get recognized more from the Maze Runner films or Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt?
Ki Hong Lee: You know what, it’s really weird because I get recognized from both, but I also get recognized from being in YouTube videos with Wong Fu Productions. They have a really big following and I was very fortunate enough to work with them before Maze Runner. My fans are pretty diverse in a way. We have YouTube fans, then we’ve got the Maze Runner fandom fans, and then we’ve got Kimmy Schmidt fans that come up to me and ask me, “Are you Dong?” So it’s been quite interesting.
Nerd Report: Are you going to be in season two of Kimmy?
Ki Hong Lee: Yes, I was just out there in New York shooting an episode. I just got back so hopefully I go back for more.
Nerd Report: So is there hope for Kimmy and Dong?
Ki Hong Lee: I hope so. It certainly looks like that in the beginning of season two.
Nerd Report: Was there a part of the Scorch Trials book that you couldn’t wait to shoot or see how it looked in the film?
Ki Hong Lee: Definitely personally for me and my character, Minho gets unfortunately struck by lightning. I think that was a big moment for the fans. They wanted to see it and I’m so glad that we kept it in the movie. I saw the movie and it looked pretty cool, so we’ll see what the fans think.
Nerd Report: That’s not necessarily sci-fi. People have been hit by lightning in real life and lived so did you have any real life research you could do?
Ki Hong Lee: When I read about people getting hit by lightning, it just seems like such a freak of nature that it would happen. And also I think literally every hair on your body is burned, so you’re just out of it for, it ranges, you could be out for hours or even days. Luckily my character wasn’t out for days. It was a matter of minutes. I guess it was a little bolt of lightning, even though any little bolt of lightning would be electrifying.
Nerd Report: Was there anything on set for you, or was it completely visual effects?
Ki Hong Lee: No, it was a big rig where they just pull your whole body at a certain time. They jus time it so that you’re wearing this rig and they just pull you. Then when they pull you, you just land on a mountain full of pads. It was pretty intense.
Nerd Report: What scenes are you really looking forward to doing in The Death Cure?
Ki Hong Lee: I’m interested to see what Minho is like in the third movie because of what happens in the second movie. I don’t know how to answer this question without giving anything away. I’m just interested in seeing the character change in Minho. I’ll just put it that way.
Nerd Report: How did you relate to the new cast members like Rosa Salazar, Aiden Gillen and Giancarlo Esposito?
Ki Hong Lee: The casting process has been amazing. We’ve cast really, really great actors and perfect people for the roles. I think for anybody coming into a situation where you know that the group has already filmed the first movie and you know that they’re so close to each other, even as an actor for me personally, if I was in their shoes, I’d be very intimidated but they handled it with grace. It just speaks volumes of how professional they are because they’re very giving, very open to our group. Likewise for us too. It was just kin of like extending our family in a way for the newcomers. It was good. It was good to work with them and it’ll be good to see them for the third one too.
Nerd Report: Would you rather be stuck in the maze with grievers or cranks?
Ki Hong Lee: Oh man. To be honest, the cranks freaked me out more than the grievers. Something about the cranks because you know they were human before, because the cranks are like the full manifestation of the flare, right? Yeah, I’d rather be trying to kill grievers instead.
Nerd Report: What has this year been like for you, making movies, shows and doing all the press?
Ki Hong Lee: Honestly, I can’t complain. This is what I live for. I get to get paid to do a job that I love to do, and to promote a movie that I’m passionate about, a project that I really care about and I had such a great time working on and worked really hard on it. You can’t really complain.
Nerd Report: Do you and the cast have much time to hang out when you’re not working?
Ki Hong Lee: Oh, definitely. I’m sure the other guys have mentioned this, after work every day we’d go to someone’s hotel room because we all stay at the same place. Kind of unwind with some Mario Kart epic battles between some of us. Whenever someone comes from out of town, because we have a lot of English actors, so whenever they come over to L.A., I try to take them out to Korean barbecue and make sure they have a good time.
Nerd Report: What’s a good Korean barbecue spot?
Ki Hong Lee: There’s a place called Star Barbecue. That’s an all you can eat place. There’s also Kang Ho Dong, which is a la carte.
Nerd Report: Besides the knee to the chest and getting struck by lightning, what other physical challenges were in The Scorch Trials?
Ki Hong Lee: I don’t know if you heard, but we were hung upside down for the scene in Jorge’s layer and that was pretty interesting. That was a challenge for us because who can say that they’ve hung upside down for more than three minutes in their lives? That was a unique challenge for us but I think the scene played out so well and it was such a cool image to see, so it was worth the pain.
Nerd Report: Was it different seeing Wes work out in real locations versus mostly the glade and the maze in the first movie?
Ki Hong Lee: No, not really. The great thing about Wes is he hasn’t really changed from the first movie to the second movie, regardless of all the success he’s had. Wes is a cool, calm, collected dude. He never loses his cool towards anybody which is what makes him great. You want a director who respects you, respects your craft and also is able to direct you in an effective way. It also helps that he’s so enthusiastic and so passionate about the project which kind of rubs off on all of us. It was great to work with him.