Dylan O’Brien is going to blow audiences away with his gritty performance in American Assassin. His turn as Mitch Rapp will be mentioned in the same breath as Matt Damon’s Jason Bourne and Daniel Craig’s James Bond. He shreds the screen with an intense, physical ferocity. The role would be demanding for any actor. It’s astonishing to think that Dylan O’Brien shot American Assassin seven months after his headline making injuries on the set of The Maze Runner: The Death Cure last March. He suffered life threatening facial fractures and body lacerations from an ill-conceived stunt.
The Maze Runner: The Death Cure halted production until Dylan O’Brien could recover. The accident also endangered the rights to American Assassin. The rights for the film would revert from Lionsgate and CBS Films back to the estate of author Vince Flynn if not completed that year. American Assassin is one in a series of books about CIA hit man Mitch Rapp. The script had been around Hollywood for a decade, where at one point Chris Hemsworth was attached to star. Once Director Michael Cuesta took over the project, he wanted to make the character younger and more vulnerable. Cuesta was committed to O’Brien as his lead. The actor had to fast track his return in order to make the film.
American Assassin is a story of vengeance and patriotism. Mitch Rapp watches as his fiance is brutally murdered by terrorists. He becomes obsessed with finding the man responsible, thus turning up on the radar of the CIA. The film costars Michael Keaton as Rapp’s uncompromising mentor and Taylor Kitsch as his seriously bad-assed adversary. It’s wall to wall with extreme, graphic violence. Dylan O’Brien needed to heal, get back in shape, and then do months of martial arts and weapons training.
My interview with Dylan O’Brien was remarkable. It took place in New York City at the office of his publicist. I was able to sit with him and have a detailed conversation about the last year of his life. He was quite candid about the accident, preparing for American Assassin, and what the film means for his career. It was a life changing experience that tested him in every way. O’Brien made sure to thank the people who helped him through the recovery process. He was in a fragile place, but wasn’t going to let the injuries derail his future. It was a fascinating conversation. Please read below our exclusive interview with Dylan O’Brien. He discusses the accident, his new American Assassin movie, completing The Maze Runner: The Death Cure, and his future ambitions as an actor.
How long was it from your accident on The Death Cure to filming American Assassin?
Dylan O’Brien: I was severely injured. It was really soon. I started filming seven months after the accident. I wasn’t allowed to do anything for three months. Then about a month after that, I had to start early training. I had a lot of limitations at that point still. It was just breathing and stretching stuff, just getting back on my feet at first. Then we were able to ramp up the training once it got to the fifth and sixth month removed from surgery. I was able to do more strenuous stuff. But mentally, man, that was the biggest battle. The physical part was one thing. Whatever, I broke my face, that’ll heal. The mental aspect was the biggest shock to the system. You just don’t know how to experience stuff like that. You don’t have any control over it either. It’s just how your body and brain reacts to something like that happening. The psychological battle was really emotional and difficult. I struggled in a lot of ways. It took a lot of work to get back and do this movie. That six months, in a way, it feels like a lifetime. For every one of those days, the accident still felt like it was yesterday. So it was odd. It’s absolutely the toughest thing I have ever experienced.
I saw American Assassin cold. I was blown away by the grittiness and intensity. It’s really hardcore. Your fans know you from Teen Wolf and The Maze Runner series. You transcend here into a hardcore, ass-kicking action star. Coming off the accident, did you have any trepidation that you could do this role?
Dylan O’Brien: Oh yeah man, it was a lot. But I pushed through it. I ultimately felt that it would be good for me and it was. There were so many doubts I had. Physically, all the limitations I had, I was so stressed out. (laughs)
Your MMA fighting is incredible. How on earth did you get through that training and filming after such serious injuries?
Dylan O’Brien: F**k yeah man, it was INSANE. It was a lot. There so much in me that didn’t think I’d be able to push it and get myself in shape in time. I didn’t want to feel pressured when my doctor was telling me I wasn’t ready. There was a lot I was balancing. There were multiple days where I would freak out and panic. I wanted to jump ship. I can’t f**king do this. I can’t handle what I’m going through right now. And then balancing the stress of going to the f**king gym every day. It was overwhelming. I had multiple days where I had to be talked down from the ledge.
I give you major credit. Nothing in your previous work even hints at how ferocious you are in this film. Did the bond company for American Assassin have strict limitations as to what you could and couldn’t do? I can imagine they were really nervous after what happened on The Death Cure? How did Michael Cuesta (director) handle that stuff?
Dylan O’Brien: The producers, Cuesta, everyone knew what I was coming from. Everyone was overtly mindful at that point. There was nothing we were going to do…that was the big piece of the puzzle early on. I was a couple months out of surgery and met with the stunt coordinator in LA. I wanted to make sure he understood what happened to me, that I was in a fragile place, physically and mentally, and really wanted to make sure he had my back. From the get go, he really did. The biggest thing I can say about the stunt coordinator, Buster Reeves, was that he set me up with a trainer that could not have been more perfect for me at the time.
Dylan O’Brien: This guy became everything, way more than a trainer to me. He’s how this whole process started for me. Even leaving my house, I was so isolated. I didn’t want to see anybody, even when I could. He became so much more to me than a trainer. He became my friend. He was someone I went to with a lot of my issues at the time. He also experienced a lot of my freak outs, and episodes of doubt, panic. I was completely overwhelmed. I just wanted to run. He became someone who was really instrumental in getting through that time. And also getting me in shape, getting me to the movie, educating me on the fighting styles. Taking me to a ju-jitsu gym twice a week. He educated me on the martial arts he was expert in, movement, speed. He even showed me how to fight for camera. And he’d talk me down from the ledge when I would show up at the gym hyperventilating. This guy was everything. I had a lot of support on the movie. My dad went out with me, which was huge. Roger is my trainer. I don’t think I would have been able to get on that plane without my dad and Roger.
Great to hear man, let’s get off the injury tangent. Audiences are going to be putting you in the Bond and Bourne category once American Assassin is released. Where you aware of the Vince Flynn books and Mitch Rapp character before signing on?
Dylan O’Brien: No, I wasn’t. The first thing I read was the script when it got sent to me. I liked it, felt connected to it. I then learned about the books, that there were fifteen of them at the time. This was the eleventh book. But no, I was not aware of the books before this got sent to me.
So when the script got to you, they were already making Mitch Rapp a younger character?
Dylan O’Brien: Yes, it had been around for a decade. They were definitely going to do the American Assassin book. They were starting with him young. The question being how young. In the book, he’s twenty-three, they were still deciding between making him early twenties or early thirties. But they were set on Assassin being the beginning.
You’re signed for multiple films? You’re definitely playing this character long term?
Dylan O’Brien: Yes, if we keep going.
The film is no holds barred. There isn’t a shred of decency to the villain. The bad guy, Taylor Kitsch, is so awesome. The film has you both an a track to an epic showdown. Talk about the climactic boat scene? Taylor told me that you guys beat the crap out of each other.
Dylan O’Brien: Oh yeah, the forearms (laughs), the jumping around was done by rigs. You mean when we’re getting tossed around on the boat right?
Dylan O’Brien: I loved that sh*t. The fight was designed in three sections. They were divided by when the boat moved. We would go into our hits, then had pull systems with wires. That fight was exhausting. We even added more to it, which was great. It really helped the fight. It lengthened it and gave it more of an arc. But it added more days. We beat the crap out of each other. You do get bruised and beat up in those scenes obviously, but we were also really careful. We both wanted to get it. We wanted that scene to be brutal and intense. You’re finally getting to see these two guys go at it. We wanted it to deliver. That really mattered to us. Taylor is really dedicated. We gave it everything. F**ck, the next day, I couldn’t even move, my forearms, from all the blocks, you’re actually connecting. You get beat up, but it was great. We were both really happy with how that came out. You never want to pull any punches. You want that stuff to be as real and as vicious as possible.
Michael Keaton is also on a different level here. Audiences have never seen him like this. What was it like working with him?
Dylan O’Brien: It’s the coolest thing ever. It was a trip. I would just sit back sometimes. He was a huge reason I signed on. I dug the character, I dug the script, I loved my conversations with the director, Michael Cuesta. I felt something was there, that we could be great. It was a beneficial business decision and something that could fulfill me as an actor. You have to try to balance both. When I heard Keaton was on, I was like, I’m in. He’s great. He truly is one of my heroes. I grew up watching him. I grew up loving him as a kid, genuinely, even before I was an actor. I’d love to accomplish what he’s accomplished, in terms of his versatility. He always f**king shows up. He raised his kid on his own. He had his own personal life. I just dig him. I dig everything about it him. It was a dream working with him. I really learned a lot from him.
Going back to The Maze Runner series, you have completed the last film, The Death Cure?
Dylan O’Brien: Yes, it comes out January next year.
And Teen Wolf is in its last season, so you’re done there as well?
Dylan O’Brien: Yup, that’s done and The Death Cure is done.
So you’re untethered?
Dylan O’Brien: Yes, for the first time ever.
You’re waiting to see how American Assassin does before you choose your next role?
Dylan O’Brien: Yes, I wanted to take some time. I’ve got this coming out. I wanted to chill for a bit, have the fall, have the holidays. Then be selective about the next thing I do, make sure it’s with a filmmaker that I love and trust. It doesn’t have to be anyone who’s known. I just want to be selective and have it be something I’m passionate about, connected to. I want it to be different, a new challenge. I don’t know exactly what that’s going to be, or what it looks like, but that’s how I’ll go about it.