Boys Puzzle Through Twists And Turns In 'Maze Runner'
WADE GOODWYN, HOST:
When it comes to Asian-American men on the big screen, you probably see them as kung fu fighters, villains, techies or the awkward guy who never gets the girl. Young Korean-American actor Ki Hong Lee is going beyond those stereotypes. He co-stars in the new film "The Maze Runenr" as Minho, leader of a pack of powerful runners. They're trapped in an area known as the Glade. It's surrounded by a gigantic maze where lethal creatures called grievers lie in wait. In order to survive, the boys must find a way out of the maze. Here's Ki Hong Lee as Minho.
(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "THE MAZE RUNNER")
KI HONG LEE: (As Minho) About a year ago, we started exploring these outer sections. And we found these numbers printed on the walls - sections one through eight. See the way it works is every night when the maze changes, it opens up a new section. So today, section six was open. Tomorrow, it will be four and eight and three. The pattern always stays the same.
GOODWYN: "The Maze Runner" is based on the best-selling post-apocalyptic trilogy by James Dashner. The film opened this weekend. Ki Hong Lee joins us now from our bureau in New York. Welcome.
LEE: Hi, guys. Thanks for having me.
GOODWYN: There's a kind of prison camp mentality among the boys who are stuck in the glade. One of the self-imposed rules is only the best runners go into the maze. That includes your character who's both smart and daring. As you played him, how did you envision the character Minho?
LEE: Well, Minho is the keeper of the runners who are gladers - gladers refer to the boys that live in this post-apocalyptic environment. And they're tasked with running the maze, trying to figure out a way out. But the hard part of it is, is that the maze changes it's pattern every night so it's near impossible to figure out. They've been there for three years, and they're still running the maze hoping for a way out of there.
GOODWYN: You were a teenager when the book came out in 2007. Did you read it at the time?
LEE: No. I had no idea. I just got a call from my agent. He said go and read this book. You're going to go in for it. I went out that day, read it in a day. And I read Minho, and I was like, I love this character. I have to play him. I just wanted to make sure that I brought in whatever the book had on this character and try to please the fans of the book that way because actually, the first time I met Wes Ball, the director, even before I started my audition, he was like, hey Minho is the fans favorite character so no pressure.
GOODWYN: There's an element of "Lord Of The Flies" in this movie. It's quite a collection of young actors. How did you come together as a group?
LEE: There was definitely a large number of bromance on set. I tell this story - we had veterans come and teach us survival skills. And we were each tasked with building a fire on our own. And none of us could do it. You know, it was only when we actually got together as a group and started to build one fire that we actually got to build a huge fire, and we succeeded. So I think that kind of set the tone for the rest of the shoot. You know, we both - we all realized that we really need to stick together here and support each other, whether it's onset or offset, in order to get a great project made.
GOODWYN: How physically demanding was the role? In the film, you look pretty ripped. Did you have to train? And how much of what we see in the film did you actually do?
LEE: I had a stunt double that came in for one day, but all he did was just stand around and watch me run. But, to be fair, the hardest stunt I had was just sprinting full speed for 20 seconds at a time for 12 hours a day for three days.
GOODWYN: Let's talk a little bit about your background. You were born in Seoul, South Korea, then you moved to New Zealand at a very young age. When your family finally came to Los Angeles, you helped them run a restaurant called Tofu Village all the while going to school. How did you end up an actor?
LEE: I think I first got into acting through church. I would go to these church retreats, and they would tell us to make a skit or make a video and present it to the rest of the group. And I started doing that. And I fell in love with it. But in school, I just didn't pursue it. I never did drama in high school or anything like that. I just kind of fell into it after college, and I pursued it on my own.
GOODWYN: How open is Hollywood to having an Asian-American play the hero?
LEE: I consider Minho a hero. We're still making babysits, and hopefully this is my contribution to progress.
GOODWYN: What kinds of other things would you like to do as an actor?
LEE: I remember talking with a friend. He asked me a question. He said what's your end game? What's your goal with this? And I said to him, you know, I want to win the Academy Award one day. And he said, OK. I was like, how about you? He goes, I just want to be a working actor. I want to get paid to do what I love. And immediately I regretted my answer because his answer was so much better than mine because for me, back then, I was thinking about the end result. I was thinking about the awards, and I was thinking about the money and all these things. But for me now, it's like, if I'm working on any project that I care about, you know, and if they pay me to do something that I love, that is the best job that one can ask for.
GOODWYN: Ki Hong Lee is a Korean-American actor who's playing the hero role of Minho in the new film "The Maze Runner." Thanks so much.
LEE: Thanks so much for having me guys. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.