For most action stars, the thrill of filming revolves around scaling walls and dodging explosions. Not so for Dylan O’Brien, who had one question for returning director Wes Ball just before production began on the sequel to The Maze Runner. “I asked him how much running I had ahead of me,” says O’Brien, 23. “Even though I knew that the movie could take a different direction, I just love running.”
In the adaptation of the first book of James Dashner’s best-selling YA trilogy, O’Brien played Thomas, a teen whose ability to think on his feet and sprint at top speeds established him as the leader of a group of memory-wiped adolescents stuck at the center of a treacherous labyrinth. Released last September, The Maze Runner earned more than $340 million worldwide and immediately placed O’Brien on the short list of bankable twentysomething stars. This fall’s follow-up, The Scorch Trials, sees Thomas guiding his group through a sandy wasteland called the Scorch while navigating a new set of life-threatening obstacles. There will be plenty of running, but the sci-fi sequel will take on a more adult tone. “Thomas is more mature and a little unsure of himself,” Ball says. “I think Dylan really ate it up.”
That O’Brien was ready to take on a more emotional story line will come as no surprise to fans who’ve followed him since his debut as Stiles Stilinski on MTV’s hit series Teen Wolf. In the 80-plus episodes he’s taped since it launched in 2011, he’s tackled everything from teenage angst to demon possession. “It literally became my acting school, where I went every day for six months every year,” says O’Brien.
Growing up in New Jersey and California, O’Brien didn’t imagine becoming a performer. “I was very shy,” he says. “I would take piano lessons, but would never perform in the recitals.” Despite that, his costars say he’s a natural. “He has a great emotional depth and he has great humor,” says Patricia Clarkson, 55, who plays O’Brien’s chilly adversary, Ava Paige. “Some young actors struggle with one or the other, and I think they’re both easy for him. He has emotions at his fingertips.”
Next up, O’Brien will appear opposite Mark Wahlberg in Deepwater Horizon, based on the BP oil spill, and he’s eyeing an adaptation of Chad Harbach’s novel The Art of Fielding. “I just hope to do good stuff, where I feel appropriate being the one telling that story,” O’Brien says. And if he can do it at a dead run, all the better.
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