Teen Wolf’s Dylan O’Brien turns 25 this week at the height of his popularity. With a successful TV show entering its sixth season, a major movie with Mark Wahlberg (Deepwater Horizon) set for release next month and a co-starring role with Michael Keaton (American Assassin) on his schedule, Dylan’s built an enviable show business career. But, like so many folks in these true Hollywood stories, Dylan O’Brien never set out to be a star.
Born This Way
Dylan’s mom, Lisa Rhodes, taught acting in New Jersey. His father, Patrick O’Brien, was a cinematographer. Even though his parents were in show business, Dylan’s interests early on leaned mostly towards sports. Always obsessed with the New York Mets, he dreamed of working with them someday.
You can imagine young Dylan was none too happy when, in 2003, his parents moved their family to Los Angeles, far from the Mets and all his friends. Dylan was 12 at the time and tells Teen Vogue that he resorted to filmmaking out of boredom. “I got a video camera and made little movies because I didn’t have any friends yet. I would force my sister to make these movies with me.”
This was the pre-YouTube era, so these earliest efforts are not currently available. Dylan’s first public performance piece is a lip sync video released on YouTube in 2006. It features several of his unidentified friends acting out Hot Hot Heat’s “You Owe Me an IOU” from the 2005 album Elevator.
He’d just turned 15. It was his freshman year in high school and he’d just gotten his first kiss a few months before. As milestones go, the posting of that video barely ranked for Dylan at the time, but the establishment of his YouTube channel is responsible for everything that’s happened since.
While Dylan admits to suffering from anxiety, he was fearless in his on-camera persona as moviekidd826. With the help of his sister and later his friends and family, Dylan produced videos about his life, his online crush, video games and whatever else crossed his adolescent mind. Within a year he’d collected about 600 subscribers and already showed some of the sarcasm and comic timing that would define his Teen Wolf character Stiles Stilinski.
Dylan was having fun just goofing off on camera. His channel remained a secret outside of his close circle of friends until a classmate outed moviekidd826 at school. “A girl in my Spanish class found my YouTube videos and showed them to my teacher.” The teacher then showed the videos in class, and everybody laughed. Dylan was humiliated. “I started freaking out. Everyone was laughing, and I just ran out.” He didn’t understand at the time that his classmate and his teacher both thought the videos were brilliant and showed real talent. They told him he should be an actor. “That was one of the first times I thought about it.”
At this point, Dylan already had a rough sketch of a life plan in mind. It called for a return to the East Coast for college in Syracuse, New York. Sports management would be his focus. Then, someday hopefully, he’d get a job in the front office for his beloved Mets. As a senior in high school, he was working in that direction by managing a Little League team. It was there, on the field, that another opportunity presented itself. “This woman came to a Little League game I was coaching and said she had seen my videos and asked if I wanted to be a part of a web series that she was doing.” The woman was producer Veronica Zelle. The series was Sweety High. It’s Dylan O’Brien’s first professional gig.
Zelle is quick to take credit for discovering Dylan’s innate talents. “Dylan had never formally acted in anything, so I really worked with him. I saw all this raw talent in his self-made videos and wanted to help take him to the next level.”
With so much encouragement coming his way, Dylan found himself at a crossroads. He could stick to his original plan, Syracuse and the Mets, or see where this new Hollywood path would take him and maybe study filmmaking. By the time he graduated from Mira Costa High School in 2009, he’d opted to stay in Los Angeles. “I elected to go to a community college and just take G.E. courses,” he told Collider. “I wouldn’t say I was full-on pursuing acting because, if I hadn’t gotten a part in my first two years of school, I would have just done my two years at SMC (Santa Monica College) and transferred to UCLA, hopefully.” He never made it to that point.
Teen Wolf Calling
“When I first got the audition email, it was just a regular appointment email from my manager,” Dylan recalls of the initial notice for the new MTV Teen Wolf series. “It was just an audition for the next morning, and I actually couldn’t make it because I had a test to take in school.” He and his manager discussed just skipping or rescheduling the audition. Dylan suggested they should both read the pilot script first. They could then decide together if it was worth skipping school. “We called each other back and were like, ‘Wow, this is really good!’ I said, ‘I totally want to make this work. Let’s go in for it.’”
He was up for the role of Scott McCall, the lead, but saw more potential in the sidekick. “I went in for Stiles,” he says. “I got called back to go read in front of (showrunner) Jeff Davis and (director) Russell Mulcahy. The first read that I did for them, they looked at me, and Russell said, ‘Okay, thank you.’ I walked out and was feeling weird about it. Then the casting director ran out and brought me back in. So, Russell said to me, ‘Can you just do it 10% less?’ I did it again with no energy whatsoever. But then, they were like, ‘We liked it better the first time.’” It took a few more auditions but Dylan landed the role, and it started off a run of success that’s accelerated ever since.
Hey Kid, This is Your Career
Immediately after shooting the Teen Wolf pilot presentation, Dylan landed roles in two movies back to back. He did the mostly improvised High Road and teen romance The First Time. When Teen Wolf debuted in the summer of 2011, it was clear that Dylan O’Brien would be the series’ break-out star and, five years later with several more high-profile credits, he’s lived up to that potential.
“It’s totally weird because, when I think about it now, I don’t see how it could have happened any other way. I can’t picture myself doing anything else now. Acting as much as I do and taking it as seriously and having it be my job, my life just completely changed. It was really sudden and a little random, and not provoked by anything. It was just out of nowhere.”
After a near-death experience on the set of Maze Runner: The Death Cure, Dylan stayed away from the public eye for five months during recovery. He’s showed up a little more recently due to his training regime for his role in American Assassin which begins filming next month.
We should start seeing more of him in the coming weeks. The release of his new movie, Deepwater Horizon, is only three weeks away. They’ll do the initial screening at the Toronto Film Festival on September 15. The film hits wide release (at a theater near you) on September 30.
Teen Wolf Season 6 returns to MTV with the first of ten new episodes on November 15.