ABOVE: THOMAS BRODIE SANGSTER IN NEW YORK, SEPTEMBER 2014. PHOTOS: VAN SARKI. STYLING: JULIE RAGOLIA. GROOMING: LAURA DE LEON FOR JOE MANAGEMENT USING CHANEL.
Most people still recognize Thomas Brodie Sangster as the little, love-lorn boy in Richard Curtis’ Love Actually. “It was my first-ever feature,” he says over drinks in Brooklyn. “It’s still something that I hold close to my heart, even though it comes up all the time. People are only ever nice about it.”
But Love Actually was 12 years ago, and Brodie Sangster is now 24. Today, his latest film The Maze Runner, based on the dystopian young adult book of the same name, will come out in theaters. Part Lord of the Flies, the film focuses on a group of teenage boys trapped by, yes, a maze. None of them remembers who they were before they entered the maze, but each month, a new boy arrives. Together they form a micro-society in which everyone has a designated role. Brodie Sangster plays Newt, the most sympathetic of the boys, second in command after the wiser-than-his-years Albee. Half of the cast is British, including Kaya Scodelario, Will Poulter, and Aml Ameen as Albee. The actors and director take the film seriously; in quality, it is more like Divergent and The Hunger Games than Twilight.
Before The Maze Runner, Brodie Sangster appeared in seasons Three and Four of Game of Thrones. He’s been voicing a cartoon character, Ferb, on the series Phineas and Ferb since 2007. He made a conscious decision to pursue acting professionally at the age of 16. “It didn’t take much persuasion,” he recalls. “If you find something you’re good at and you enjoy doing it and you’re able to make a living out of it, that’s what everyone strives for. I already had that at 10.”
EMMA BROWN: Can you tell me a little bit about how you got involved in The Maze Runner?
THOMAS BRODIE SANGSTER: My agent said there’s this project come up, it sounds like an interesting script; they want your tape as soon as you can. They wanted me to audition for one nice guy called Newt, who had an English accent, and one nasty guy called Gally, with an American accent. And Will [Poulter], who got Gally, he did the same. They put those two characters together. In some ways they are kind of similar—they’re the two different sides to [the protagonist] Thomas’ mind. I don’t really think of Gally as a proper baddie, he’s just stuck in his ways and goes about things in maybe not quite such a rational manner. I didn’t hear back for about three months and I just assumed I hadn’t got it. I auditioned for lots of other stuff. Then suddenly they were like, “Oh, yeah. You got it.” Didn’t recall or anything. I had to remind myself of what it actually was, because I’d forgotten about it and let it go. I did all the research again and went out and started shooting.
BROWN: Where did you shoot?
BRODIE SANGSTER: Down in Baton Rouge.
BROWN: Would you recommend the state of Louisiana?
BRODIE SANGSTER: Yeah, I would actually. I really like it. It’s got one of the best cities in the world in it.
BROWN: Did you get to go to New Orleans?
BRODIE SANGSTER: We’d go every weekend that we could. We were about an hour away and it was a big group of us, so the cheapest way of getting there was to hire a party bus. Every weekend we would hire a big party bus. We got to know the driver. We’d play our music, pick up some food, and head on down to New Orleans and then he’d come pick us up. It was great!
BROWN: Did you know any of the other actors before you started filming?
BRODIE SANGSTER: No, I knew of them, but I didn’t know them personally. When I agreed to do it, I think Will was already attached and Kaya was already attached. I remember seeing their work for years and always really liking both of them, and Aml [Amin] as well, who plays Albee. So I knew the Brits fairly well. I didn’t know the Americans, but I knew if they’d cast those guys, then the whole cast was probably going to be quite good. I was pleased to see they’d gone for good quality, talented actors. When I got to the States, it became apparent that this is going to be better than I thought it was going to be, which was nice. Meeting [the director] Wes [Ball], I realized, “This guy’s a bit of a visionary and I think he’s going to have a good hold of the film.” Basically, my experience of it got better and better the more I saw of it. I’d never done a big Fox teen movie before; I didn’t really know what I was getting myself involved with. I thought I’d like to try it. But everyone involved—Wes and the whole cast and Enrique [Chediak], our director of photography, one of the most important people—was very, very passionate about it and treated it like a proper film, as opposed to just another YA-type, moneymaker. A lot of care and attention went into it and that’s always nice, on any project.
BROWN: I heard that you had to have a snake wrangler on set.
BRODIE SANGSTER: Yeah. He was there every day. He had to be, really. They sent him out before [shooting] and he was catching about 10 or 12 snakes a day. The last day of shooting, he was still catching four a day. It was constant. We had four or five different types of poisonous, killing snakes, and several other non-poisonous snakes as well. And two poisonous spiders, a black widow and brown recluse. We had wolf spiders as well, which look scary, but apparently they’re not dangerous. The snake wrangler would open up his bucket and we’d be like, “What’ve you caught today?” He would think they were so sweet—”a little rattlesnake.” One of our crew did get bitten by a baby rattlesnake, which is apparently really dangerous because babies don’t know how much poison they have. But it was a dry bite, so he was fine. He did get rushed to hospital. The hospital was quite far away. I was surprised that there was only one person in the whole cast and crew that got bitten. On the production office trailers, we had [a list of] every specimen that was there, what it looked like. If you get bitten, you’ve got to know what it looks like so you can tell people what anti-venom you need to have.
BROWN: You’ve mentioned before that both of your parents were involved in music. Are you musical as well?
BRODIE SANGSTER: I play bass. I play a bit of guitar. I’ve never been to a lesson, so my theory of music is non-existent in any instrument, but we always had guitars around. My dad taught me to play drums for Love Actually, and I still play drums now. But I’m not a “drummer.” I’m not a “guitarist.” I’m trying to be a bassist.
BROWN: Who, in your opinion, is the ultimate bass player?
BRODIE SANGSTER: Well, people would say Jaco Pastorius, and he is amazing. He’s not really my personal style, but he’s like the Hendrix of bass players. Genius. He would play the fretless bass, which is halfway between an upright double bass and an electric fretted bass, so you’d still get that slidey sound. You have to be perfect, because if you’re slightly off, you hear it. He was very good at that. Otherwise, Flea from the Red Hot Chili Peppers. Completely different thing. Or Larry Graham, who invented that kind of funk, slap sound before Flea came along and mixed it with a bit of heavy punk style.
BROWN: Have you seen any of Flea’s work as an actor?
BRODIE SANGSTER: No.
BROWN: He has a new film coming out, Low Down, with Elle Fanning. It’s pretty harrowing. He plays the trumpet in it.
BRODIE SANGSTER: He’s a fantastic trumpet player as well. I think his dad was a double bass player—a jazzer. I think Flea grew up listening to a lot of jazz and trumpet jazz, Miles Davis. Music’s another big love of mine.
BROWN: Would you ever do a musical?
BRODIE SANGSTER: A Broadway, singing musical like Mamma Mia? Or a Walk the Line?
BROWN: Something in between: The Nightmare Before Christmas, for example.
BRODIE SANGSTER: Oh, cool! I actually like that. I’m not a fan of musicals at all, but I do think The Nightmare Before Christmas is a very good. I always thought Walk the Line was very good too. I was in Nowhere Boy (2009). I played Paul McCartney. That was kind of musical—we did songs in that.
BROWN: You’ve played some very famous people. Didn’t you play “young Hitler” as well?
BRODIE SANGSTER: Yeah, I did. It was only in a couple of scenes—I shot for maybe a week—and then it got cut down to literally the opening credits. So I did, but very briefly. I was 10 or 11. I thought it was amazing actually; I really liked it. To get into the mind of an innocent, untouched kid that goes on to become one of the maddest monsters the world has ever seen—as an 11-year-old, I was very excited by that.
BROWN: Who is more intimidating to play: Paul McCartney or Hitler?
BRODIE SANGSTER: Which one is more famous? I don’t know. They’re both pretty famous, well known, well documented.
BROWN: It’s a bit scary when you think of it like that.
BRODIE SANGSTER Isn’t it? It’s weird. But Sam Taylor-Wood, the director of Nowhere Boy, she was very insistent that she didn’t want looky-likeys, because I don’t really look like him, and Aaron [Taylor-Johson] doesn’t really look like Lennon. She wanted someone that could portray the character from the script, which is like every other project. It just happened to be Paul McCartney. Which took the pressure off hugely.
BROWN: I wanted to ask you about Game of Thrones as well. Were you a fan of the show before you were cast?
BRODIE SANGSTER: I didn’t really know about it. I’d heard the name and that was about it. It was one of those, “They need to audition you tomorrow.” So I learned the scene: “Okay, it’s an American HBO TV show with swords. Fine.” I quickly went in and did it—in, out, done. Then it was afterwards, I was just hanging out with my friends, and they asked, “What have you been doing?” [I said] “I did an audition for some show called Game of Thrones.” “WHAT?” Several people just went nuts: “You actually auditioned for that?” I was like, “I haven’t actually got the part yet.” They were like, “It doesn’t matter. You auditioned for that. It’s so cool you auditioned.” I got the part and they sent me seasons One and Two, and I watched them all within a week and realized I was going to be part of something very, very cool. But I had no idea.
BROWN: What question do you get asked about Game of Thrones most frequently—who you think will win the thrown?
BRODIE SANGSTER: Yeah, that comes up quite a bit. But there’s so much backstory that only hardcore fans know—that the cast and writers don’t even know. It’s like Star Trek or Star Wars; there’s a whole underworld of stuff and so many conspiracies.
BROWN: Do you get out-Game of Thrones-ed by fans?
BRODIE SANGSTER: Oh, all the time. I can’t keep up with that. It’s very impressive.
BROWN: Your scenes on the show are all quite separate from most of the main characters, did you get to interact with the other actors at all?
BRODIE SANGSTER: My first season—Season Three—I arrived at the hotel and didn’t really know what to expect. I thought, “This is a big show, massive cast, we’re going to be very segregated. It’s just going to be a big machine.” I walked in and everyone at the bar turned around and went, “You’re the new guy! Come on,” and bought me a drink straight away and invited me into their family of banter. For some reason, I was always out [in Belfast] when everybody else was out as well, which was fun. For Season Four, I didn’t get to see so many people.
THE MAZE RUNNER COMES OUT TODAY, SEPTEMBER 19.