Maze Runner: The Death Cure was rated number-one at the North American box-office during its opening weekend. In fact, all of the films in the Maze Runner trilogy opened at number-one. The lead actors in the teen dystopian science-fiction action films have essentially grown up together, and are forever bonded and grateful for the experience of being cast in the popular series. Recently, the Maze Runner director, Wes Ball took a look back at the casting process for the lead actors and described what stood out and why.

First off, Ball asserts, “Dylan is the reason we have this franchise,” referring to Dylan O’ Brien who stars as the lead, Thomas. But if Ball had listened to his initial instincts, that would not have been the case. The director recalls how he felt certain O’Brien was not a good fit for the role, saying:

“Dylan was actually … I saw him early on, very early on, and I overlooked him. It was a big learning experience there because I overlooked him because of his hair. He had ‘Teen Wolf’ hair, and I couldn’t see past that. And so we were looking for our Thomas, and it’s a tough role to make because he comes in as a boy, and he leaves as a man–so it can’t be like this badass action star that comes into this movie. It’s about vulnerability up front, and then he comes out of it and comes into his own. And then the next movies are about the leader that emerges from the group.”

It was the film’s distributor, Fox, that recommended O’Brien after seeing his performance in The Internship. Ball continues:

“So I watched his tape and was like, ‘Wait a minute, I’ve seen this kid before.’ I looked him up online, and there was one picture of him with a totally shaved head, and it’s this sweet, vulnerable-looking kid. And I was like ‘Whoa, interesting.’ I said, ‘Wait a minute, he’s just so familiar,’ and I looked back at my old audition tapes–which we had thousands of–and there’s Dylan. ‘That guy,’ I said, ‘No, definitely not him.’ So we brought him back in, and we started to talk with him, and I’m like, ‘He’s the coolest dude ever.'”

English actress Kaya Scodelario was convinced she did not land the part of Teresa after auditioning. “I’m never like, ‘I nailed this’ ever. I walked out of [the audition] probably crying and eating at McDonald’s straight after to make myself feel better.” But, Ball insists that Kaya fit the way he pictured Teresa as he had read the novels from which the film was adapted, The Maze Runner series by James Dashner. In fact, she was Ball’s first choice right from the start as he had seen her on the TV show Skins beforehand.

Regarding Dexter Darden who plays Frypan, Darden recalls, “I just remember calling my agent and being like, ‘This is the worst day; I had the worst audition in my life!” Fortunately, Ball begged to differ. The following day, Darden received a call saying the film’s producers were interested in him–and even wanted to make an offer.

Thomas Brodie-Sangster auditioned for the part of Newt just once. He likely thought he didn’t get the part as he was left waiting a long period of time afterward. But Thomas had indeed stood out as “magnetic” in the audition room and was finally informed he’d landed the role. And Ball says actor Ki Hong Lee “was perfect” as Minho in the audition room.

Certainly, the leading cast members have connected with audiences across the globe. Maze Runner: The Death Cure has grossed $192 million worldwide so far.

Last of all, when asked what one piece of advice he would give to his younger self, Dylan O’Brien answered, “It would be to not be so shy. Lean into nerves or especially if it involves something that you know you genuinely enjoy, don’t let fear or any kind of nerves or shyness keep you from doing it. Because it almost kept me away from acting.”