Teen Wolf‘s Dylan O’Brien shines in his big-screen debut, the coming-of-age comedy The First Time.
Dylan O’Brien’s big brown eyes widen as he looks up at a massive concrete cross section of the maze, a living puzzle he’s set to conquer. A large camera zooms in on his face, coated in a thin layer of dirt, as he adjusts the collar of his blue shirt. The now 22-year-old is filming The Maze Runner—Wes Ball’s adventure thriller based on James Dashner’s best-selling YA book of the same name—on location in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. From the highway you’d never know that inside this colossal warehouse (a former Sam’s Club), fall’s hottest flick is deep in production.
“We have eight weeks and 30 million dollars,” Dylan says to me, catching his breath between takes, nodding at the massive labyrinth set he just came from. We’re sitting in director’s chairs under a sign that reads pharmacy. He adds, “If we pull it off, people will be like, ‘How the hell did they do that?'” A tight schedule means long, exhausting days and very little sleep for the young star. But he doesn’t mind: “This will forever be one of the best experiences I’ve ever had.”
On the set in front of us, the crew arranges large props and places hay and dirt on the ground for the next take. In the scene, Thomas becomes a Runner—one of the few to go out into the maze when the doors open in the morning and return before the doors close at nightand battles larger-than-life Grievers (machinelike creatures that live in the maze and have a deadly sting). “I love sprinting,” Dylan says, “but I hate long-distance running. Isn’t that funny?”
The star, who values his privacy (he keeps his relationship with actress Britt Robertson, whom he met while filming the rom–com The First Time, under wraps), says he’s hopeful for a sequel and is very passionate about the movie, which he’s been chronicling on Twitter for the past year (“and I never tweet anything”). “I’m 22 and still think I’m young as an actor. I have so much to learn,” he says. A production assistant comes over, and in a flash Dylan’s back in the maze. Next stop: the Rubik’s Cube that is superstardom. I know he’ll navigate it extraordinarily.
If you’re ever lucky enough to be asked on a date by Dylan O’Brien, say yes. “I feel like I’m good with girls,” the 21-year-old actor admits. “I understand them and am good at loving them. I’ve always felt like that’s been natural for me.” After watching Dylan’s performance in the coming-of-age flick The First Time, you can’t help but believe him.
In it, he plays Dave, a shy teen who overcomes an infatuation with his high-gloss BFF Jane (played by Victoria Justice) through a budding romance with sweet yet sassy Aubrey (Britt Robertson), whom he meets outside a party where he had planned to confess his love to Jane. A sort of Before Sunrise meets Sixteen Candles—most of the movie unfolds over one weekend— the true-to-life film takes the time to thoughtfully explore the ups and downs of a developing a relationship, from chance meeting to first hookup.
“It’s very real,” says Dylan, who channeled his personal experience of getting stuck in the friend zone with a close girl friend in high school into the role. “Part of growing up is realizing you learn to love so many people. It’s about forming those relationships and finding what will last forever.”
But it’s never easy. And although he’s confident, Dylan can relate to his character’s nervousness when it comes to the ladies. “You always second-guess your actions,” he says. “Like, ‘Is this a little too extreme?’ ” By the end of the film, however, both Dave and Dylan seem to have shaken their jitters to find a connection with Britt. When asked about shooting the sex scene with his costar, the actor is quick to deny any awkwardness: “It was one of the last scenes [we filmed]. At that point, we were feeling very connected and very attracted to each other.” And it shows.
The New York City native is no stranger to the industry—his father is a cinematographer and his mother is a former actress—so he has a good sense of where he’d like his career to go. Dylan got his big break making funny YouTube vids, has spent the past year and a half as the adorable jokester Stiles on MTV’s Teen Wolf (which has been picked up for a third season), and is now moving full steam ahead toward the big screen. Up next is the workplace comedy The Internshipalongside Will Ferrell, Vince Vaughn, and Owen Wilson. The transition from television to movies has been a welcome change and provided even more insight into Dylan’s other passion, directing. “I just happened to step into acting,” he says. “And now I can’t imagine myself doing anything else.”