Guns blazing Assassin’
After ‘Maze Runner’ accident, Dylan O’Brien comes back shooting with CIA spy tale ‘American
Dylan O’Brien is back in action — and how — with “American Assassin.”
Soon after (almost) recovering from serious facial injuries on the set of the yet-to-be released, third “Maze Runner” movie, O’Brien dove into this ultraviolent adaptation of one of the late Vince Flynn’s popular espionage novels. The movie is the origin story of operative Mitch Rapp, drawn from the 10th book in the franchise Flynn began just before the turn of the century.
On screen, we see how O’Brien’s Rapp transformed himself from a happy American guy into a cunningly vengeful supersoldier following a traumatic terrorist attack. Lassoed by the CIA before he can do too much damage to their mutual enemy, Rapp is further trained — and hopefully civilized into a more useful tool — by hardcase Company veteran Stan Hurley (Michael Keaton). Then it’s off to Europe to try to stop a ghastly nuclear blackmail scheme.
O’Brien got quite a bit of training himself from “American Assassin” stunt/fight veterans such as Roger Yuan (“Skyfall,” “Jason Bourne”), Joost Janssen (“Iron Man,” “13 Hours”), Buster Reeves (“The Accountant,” “The Dark Knight Rises,” “Game of Thrones”) and their teams, as well as exNavy SEAL and CIA personnel.
“I can only dole out credit to these guys, really, for my whole performance,” says O’Brien, looking relaxed and healthy in a green T-shirt and gray pants. “That was 90 percent of it.”
He performed a similar amount of the crazy action Rapp is involved in on screen.
“Doesn’t that look like me? Damn it!” O’Brien, 26, laughs when asked how much of that is really him. “No, yeah, all of the fight choreography was me. Obviously certain things, like going through a glass table, they didn’t want me to do. But I did as much of it as I could, and we were always practicing the fights so far in advance, I’d spend two or three weeks on each of them. You really get it down to a rhythm and it’s such a dance with another person, so when it gets to shooting day you can just go at it. It was one of my favorite parts of the experience, for sure.”
There was still a little getting beat up, and O’Brien admits that an evening or two after filming was spent like Charlize Theron in one of those “Atomic Blonde” ice baths. Overall, though, care was taken to make the fights as safe as possible and not exhaust the stillrecovering young actor.
“We shot this about 6 1/2 months after the accident,” says O’Brien, who was hit by another “Maze” vehicle when a malfunctioning harness pulled him off the one he’d been riding on. “So we had to be careful with certain things on ‘American Assassin.’ It wasn’t ideal for my doctor, but he gave me the go-ahead with, obviously, certain restrictions, things to just bear in mind with me and the fragility of the side of my face.
“So choreography kind of worked around it. That was also a big reason why we really wanted to know all the moves well into the days of shooting it. We went about it in the right way, and I was recovered enough by that point to be able to handle it all, and still in communication with my doctor at home.”
Before signing on to “American Assassin,” O’Brien was unfamiliar with the Rapp books, which have been continued by author Kyle Mills since Flynn succumbed to prostate cancer in 2013. The actor quickly discovered that there was far more to the character than bitter anger and formidable fighting skills.
“The way I look at this guy is he’s someone who went through something tremendously devastating and tragic, and it has these effects on him,” O’Brien says of qualities explored in the film by director Michael Cuesta, a veteran of the character-based spy series “Homeland.”
“He’s still very much dealing with that pain inside of him, and I looked at it as him not knowing how to deal with it. He thinks channeling this anger into this training and mission that he sets himself on will heal all that, but part of his arc is realizing that that’s always going to be with him. He’s going to have to learn how to live with it, and how to not just turn into a vicious killer. I think, at some point, he sees that he can be an asset and not a murderer.”
The son of a camera operator, O’Brien moved from New Jersey to Hermosa Beach at age 12, where he still hangs out with numerous friends and adores the El Gringo restaurant. A graduate of Mira Costa High, O’Brien began making his own goofy YouTube videos as a teen. Those led to the professional leap to a regular role on the “Teen Wolf” TV series; O’Brien’s even managed to squeeze in a few episodes for the MTV show’s current, final season.
“Maze Runner: The Death Cure” eventually got finished as well, and is scheduled for a January 2018 release. Planned as the final film adaptation of James Dashner’s dystopian young-adult novels, O’Brien describes the movie as an “emotional, intense last chapter.”
As that franchise’s end approaches for the resilient actor, another’s promise looms.
“Yeah, we’ll see,” O’Brien says about future “American Assassins.” “Knock on table,” he adds, doing just that.
From left, Shiva Negar, Michael Keaton, Neg Adamson and Dylan O’Brien in “American Assassin” to be released by CBS Films and Lionsgate.