You may not recognize his name, but 19-year-old actor Jacob Lofland has dominated the headlines in his local paper for two years running. Lofland is one of those rare cases where his star shone long before he got the chance to shake the dust of Briggsville, Arkansas, off his boots. That’s mostly because his hometown, where he still lives with his parents, boasts an anemic population of 400. In between breaking limbs while dirt biking the back nine, Lofland was homeschooled by his mother. In search of something for which she could give him school credit, she came across an open casting call. Lofland went in cold to audition for Jeff Nichols‘ backwaters drama Mud and emerged the other side not only a headline-snatching hometown hero, but a bonafide star. Oh, and it also counted as credit. Paying emotional bills as “Neckbone” alongside Texas up-and-comer Tye Sheridan, he was the skeptical foil to Sheridan’s inquisitive berk, eager to figure out Matthew McConaughey‘s puzzling, unrequited love.
As you’ll no doubt remember, that was the role that allowed McConaughey to hit career refresh. Deemed the “McConaissance,” McConaughey’s marked resurgence had ripples felt through Hollywood and beyond. His costars—Sheridan and Lofland—arguably played a key role in that reincarnation. And “alright, alright, alright” is what Lofland hears down the line, now that McConaughey is on speed dial. His buddy Tye has torn into a spate of indie roles and even booked a gig as the face of Prada’s Fall/Winter 15 campaign. Lofland shouldn’t follow too far behind, with a lithe frame and a Southern twang that he just can’t shed. He’s now graduated, both from school and from the small time, poised to go the distance in Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials, the heaving sophomore entry to James Dashner’s YA series. For the role of Aris, Lofland reaches inside himself to play the socially awkward mastermind in a blistering saga. Bearing down on meatier roles (and the inevitable blue chip campaign), he’s no longer just the talk of the town; he’s the talk of Hollywood.
TREY TAYLOR: Do you feel like you were a big part of the McConaissance?
JACOB LOFLAND: Everyone asks me that and I’m not sure. I hope I was, ’cause it obviously helped him. I’ve worked with Matthew McConaughey twice now; once on Mud and once on something called The Free State of Jones. If he has a really intense scene he’ll just start making crazy noises, and gets down and does 20 push-ups as fast as he can to get himself pumped up. When I was 15, Tye Sheridan and I were sitting down and watching Matthew, and it was the craziest thing we’d ever seen. We didn’t know what was happening—he was just screaming and running and doing stuff.
TAYLOR: Did you ever join him for those psych-up moments before a take?
LOFLAND: No, but in the morning he always came to work with two 40-pound medicine balls. He was always lifting weights. One morning we were in the boat [on set of Mud] and he had this 40-pound medicine ball, and we got off the boat and he was like, “Hey!” and threw it at me. I grabbed it and just went straight to the ground with it. He cracked right up.
TAYLOR: It must be wild to go from no acting to literally hanging out with Matthew McConaughey every day.
LOFLAND: Yeah, but at the same time I really appreciate the fact that my first role was in Mud and it really got me where I am now. If it hadn’t been for that I still would have been working hard to get somewhere. Working with Matthew for the first time, I couldn’t have handpicked anybody better to work with. He’s the coolest, most laid back Texas country boy; we got along together so well. And you learn a lot from him. People always ask me, what is something Matthew or Reese [Witherspoon] taught you? And really, like whenever you’re on set, they joke around a lot, but it’s not really what they say that teaches you. It’s what they do, how they act, how they do their job.
TAYLOR: What was it like growing up Briggsville, Arkansas?
LOFLAND: You couldn’t really do anything wrong because everyone knows my parents, so it was hard to do anything bad. My friends and I would mainly ride around, drive through mud and stuff. Basically just everything you think a country kid does, that’s what we did. All of my friends have four-wheeler trucks, and we would go out and get ’em dirty. I still ride quite a bit. I’m trying to get a bigger bike actually. I have a 100cc Honda right now; I’m trying to get a 230. I can do wheelies and stuff on it. I used to have a huge ramp at my Grandma’s house, and I could ramp across her driveway, but I don’t think I can do it anymore. I think it washed out, like six years ago.
TAYLOR: Was growing up there kind of like that MTV show Buckwild?
LOFLAND: It’s kind of like that, but without the script.
TAYLOR: Is it more or less hillbilly?
LOFLAND: Less. Way less.
TAYLOR: So now you’re in Maze Runner: Scorch Trials. I’m curious, what is a Scorch Trial?
LOFLAND: I don’t know if I can tell you, really.
TAYLOR: I’ve seen the movie, but I still don’t really know.
LOFLAND: Oh, okay, so in Maze Runner, the maze was just a test for [evil organization] WCKD, to see if the strongest players would make it out. And they did. So then the Scorch is, through the whole thing you think we’re running away from WCKD, but what’s really happening is that they’re just testing us again to see if we can make it. And then it just goes from there to the third one.
TAYLOR: Yeah your character in Maze Runner Aris is kind of a weirdo. How did you channel that?
LOFLAND: Just staying quiet. He is kind of a nervous kid—he knows something’s wrong and he doesn’t know what. He knows he can’t figure it out on his own. He has to depend on Thomas [Dylan O’Brien] and MinhoLeno [Ki Hong Lee] and the other guys to help figure it out.
TAYLOR: There’s one scene in the movie where you’re in a cafeteria and all of the new guys look over and you’re intensely scrutinizing a biscuit. What’s with that?
LOFLAND: It was cornbread, and there was actually a line in the movie where Dexter, in the room, says “The cornbread kid?” That was supposed to be my nickname, but I guess they cut it out. Anyways, [director Wes Ball] explained to me, you think they’re poisoning your food, so you’re just looking at it.
TAYLOR: And then the audience thinks, “Is he actually a genius or is he just off his rocker?”
TAYLOR: How physically demanding was the role?
LOFLAND: God, more physically demanding than a 12-mile jog could ever be. We got there two weeks early, in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and we ran two miles a day for altitude training to acclimatize us to it. And then we took Parkour. They had to make us do push-ups every day, running, everything you can imagine. We were so tired for the first two weeks. When we started, there were, like, 14-hour days of just running, like sprinting. If you’ve ever seen Dylan O’Brien running, he is not slow. So we just basically had to keep up with him. He is the fastest runner I think I have ever met; he can run like 25 miles an hour. He loves baseball and he is quick.
TAYLOR: That sounds intense. What did you do to relax after shooting was over?
LOFLAND: We’d go to my room and party, play Mario Kart. We had Mario Kart on the Wii in our room, and everybody at the end of the day would come into my room, and they’d stay there from 10 till 4am. Oh, and we had airsoft wars in the hotel. First of all, airsoft hurts way more than you think. It would be three on three, like me, Kaya [Scodelario], and Dylan [O’Brien] or whatever, and then we’d just be running. We’d each start at one end of the hotel, from one stairwell to the other, and we’d go from the second floor up to the third. We just ran all over the hotel, and eventually people started complaining and they threatened to get us kicked out.
TAYLOR: So you’re running the two weeks before to prepare, and then when you’re done shooting you run some more and fire BB pellets at each other?
TAYLOR: Makes sense.
LOFLAND: We were in really good shape when we left.
TAYLOR: Your Mud costar Tye Sheridan is the new face of Prada. What’s your opinion of fashion?
LOFLAND: I mean, I love fashion, I love clothes, I love stuff like that. And definitely, if someone said, “I want your face on this,” depending on whether I liked it or not, I would love to do it. I never try to get my hopes up or work towards anything. If it’s going to happen then it’s going to happen.
MAZE RUNNER: THE SCORCH TRIALS COMES OUT TOMORROW, SEPTEMBER 18.