O’Brien is low-key and lethal in thriller ‘American Assassin’
On-set injury left him with a lot of anger to channel
LOS ANGELES Dylan O’Brien knew there would be online turbulence when he was cast as black-ops killer Mitch Rapp in
O’Brien, 26, understands that fans of Vince Flynn’s best-selling novels might not visualize
the star of MTV’s Teen Wolf as the guy to take on the lethal hitman, a part that Thor’s Chris Hemsworth turned down for scheduling reasons.
“Maybe people didn’t assume I could step into this role and be believable,” O’Brien says. “All’s fair in filmmaking, but no one knows you like yourself.”
He knew he could defy those expectations, unleashing an angry young killer-in-training in
the edgy origin story American
Assassin (in theaters Friday), a portrayal fueled by O’Brien’s emotional return from an injury last year on the set of Maze Runner: The Death Cure that
nearly ended his career.
He was cast in Assassin while holed up in his L.A. home, feeling angry and depressed as he recovered from a serious head injury suffered when he was thrown from the harness of a moving vehicle during a stunt.
“There’s the physical recovery. And you’re going through a post-traumatic psychological recovery as well,” O’Brien says. “Your mind is so consumed with doubt, you’re just beaten down. And you feel guilt in a really weird way.”
Not only was Maze Runner filming postponed because of the accident (the movie will be out in January), he had doubts whether he could take on any parts, much less an action role.
“You’re irritable and isolated and you’re angry. So angry,” O’Brien says. “Because that can give you some power back.”
He realized he could fuel those feelings into the character, who loses his fiancée in a terrorist attack, a trauma that consumes Rapp with a desire for revenge as he trains with a black-ops specialist (Michael Keaton).
“It would have been a crime to not use these feelings, which inform the character in a real, genuine way,” O’Brien says.
Director Michael Cuesta (TV’s Homeland) loved the idea of channeling O’Brien’s discomfort for the deceptively lethal killer.
“Mitch is not this guy with huge arms and testosterone-filled body. He’s like you or me, blending in. That’s important,” says Cuesta, who let O’Brien keep the beard he grew during his recovery for early scenes. “There’s something going on underneath with Dylan. That’s why the camera loves him.”
Kyle Mills, who took over writing American Assassin books after Flynn died in 2013, says the late author would “love” the O’Brien casting. He notes that any online sniping stopped after O’Brien’s first Assassin trailer.
“Dylan is the perfect physical type and has the look, the swagger,” Mills says. “He has the intensity that makes Mitch who he is.” With 16 books in the series, Assassin has franchise possibilities, depending on the film’s performance. It’s expected to finish a strong second at the box office, behind Stephen King powerhouse It.
“I’m cool either way. I connected with this character, and this experience will always be really important,” O’Brien says.
“Leaving it at this will be wonderful. To continue on, that would be amazing, too.”
Dylan O’Brien had to hold off training for Mitch Rapp but got into top shape for Assassin, even keeping his recovery beard.