On the MTV supernatural drama series Teen Wolf, based on the ‘80s film starring Michael J. Fox, actor Dylan O’Brien plays Stiles Stilinski, the funny best friend of newly turned werewolf Scott McCall (Tyler Posey), whose loyalty makes him an inquisitive detective when it comes to his friend’s mysterious transformation. Previously known for his body of work in the comedic YouTube videos that he created, directed and starred in, the newcomer is already off to a great start, with roles in the independent feature High Road, directed by Upright Citizens Brigade co-founder Matt Walsh, and most recently in the romantic dramedy The First Time, centered on the first weekend of a fledgling romance between two high school kids.
During a recent exclusive phone interview with Collider, Dylan O’Brien talked about his accidental career as an actor, how he got cast as Stiles on Teen Wolf, the challenge of making his character funny and not annoying, what his favorite episodes of the season are, and that he hopes to get to see Stiles as a werewolf, even if it’s in a dream sequence. He also talked about how awesome the experience of making The First Time was, being thrown into the improvisational deep-end for High Road, and how he hopes to continue to work with good filmmakers on good projects, for the remainder of his acting career. Check out what he had to say after the jump:
Question: How did you originally get involved with Teen Wolf?
DYLAN O’BRIEN: When I first got the audition email, it was just a regular appointment email from my manager. 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. There was a conflict, which my manager knew, and she called me and said, “You totally don’t have to go in on this. We can reschedule, or if not, we can pass. It’s fine. I know you have your test. Either way, we’ll work it out. Let’s just read it and see what we think.” So, we both read the pilot script and 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.”
So, I skipped my test to go to the audition, and I went in for Stiles. I was supposed to go in for Scott, but I wanted to go in for Stiles instead, so they made that happen. And then, the actual audition was pretty weird. I did my first read with just the casting director. Then, the next day, I got called back to go read in front of Jeff Davis and 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, and then the casting director ran out and brought me back in. So, Russell said to me, “Can you just do it 10% less?,” and I did it again with no energy, whatsoever. But then, they were like, “We liked it better the first time.” And then, a couple auditions later, I eventually ended up getting it. Something that I thought started off so poorly, ended up actually working out.
Were you actively pursuing acting, by that point? Had you made the decision that that was what you wanted to do, so you were auditioning?
O’BRIEN: Yeah, that’s how it happened. I was in between things, I guess you could say. I was in school, but I wasn’t into school. I wasn’t doing what I wanted to be doing in school, which was film studies. That was what I intended on doing, but I didn’t go away to a university because I wanted to stay in L.A. and audition while I took classes, so I elected to go to a community college and just take G.E. courses. It was terrible. 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 and transferred to UCLA, hopefully. 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 has just completely changed over the last two years. It was really sudden and a little random, and not provoked by anything. It was just out of nowhere. It wasn’t my intentional doing.
How would you describe the relationship between Scott and Stiles, and how does that compare to the relationship that you have with Tyler Posey?
O’BRIEN: Scott and Stiles just have this connection. They’re just natural buddies. Just because of the kind of people they are, nothing is ever going to change that about them. They’ll always just be able to talk and get along, and I think that’s totally like me and Tyler. Right from the get-go, when we met at the screen test, we were just instant buds. It wasn’t awkward at all. We could just hang out and shoot the shit. Even if we didn’t get the parts afterwards, we were already exchanging numbers and were ready to hang out. I think that’s a big thing that is really like the dynamic of our characters as well. Scott and Stiles are both only children with single parents. They don’t have a lot to lean on, in their lives, but they have each other and have had each other their whole lives. They just have this totally natural bond that the audience can pick up on, right form the get-go, without knowing the background of these characters. We don’t really get into the background of them a lot. We just see how they act together, which is like brothers.
When you’re the comic relief for the story, is it challenging to make the character funny and say these wisecracks without becoming annoying?
O’BRIEN: That’s so funny that you asked that because I was always worried about being too annoying. I was always definitely considering how high I should go with the stakes of this character. It varies, from time to time. I guess it had crossed my mind that this character could come off as something that’s distracting the viewers from the real show and the wolf stuff. But, I think it helped that I didn’t see it that way. When I read the scripts, I saw Stiles as this really great character and as more of a driving force for the material than as a distraction. That’s helped him come off that way. I don’t necessarily see him as just the annoying kid who comes in with the one-liners, even though, let’s face it, that’s just what I’m there to do. But, I also think Stiles is a really important part of the show, and he really helps ground the show with that comedy element. It gives our show a sense of humor about itself, which is something that other shows in this genre haven’t done before. That’s just refreshing and cool to have. I’m glad he’s not annoying.
What can viewers expect from the remainder of the season, and how will your character continue to evolve?
O’BRIEN: Throughout the season, Stiles is on his own a little more than at the beginning. When we started, Scott and Stiles were so inseparable and are pretty much together in every scene, but then they hit a couple bumps along the way, with the wolf thing. Things become a little less of a joke for Stiles, and a little more serious and conflicting for him, towards the end of the season. There are choice to be made, but he still stays loyal, the whole way, and is really heroic, in a way. Look out!
Do you have a favorite episode for Season 1?
O’BRIEN: When we were reading the scripts, Episode 6 was my favorite. I think that was the gnarliest written script. And, the finale. The finale is just action-packed. The last two episodes have so much going on. Those will be really cool. But, every episode is fun. Just watch them all!
Do you think that Stiles ever have any luck with girls?
O’BRIEN: No, I don’t think he’ll ever have any luck with girls.
If you guys get to do a second season of the show, have you given any thought about things that you’d like to see him get to do or go through?
O’BRIEN: Maybe he might be able to get an intro to the show as a wolf, in a dream sequence or something, where Stiles is a wolf and then Scott wakes up. I’ve been pushing for that since I got cast.
Did you shoot The First Time after you wrapped the season of Teen Wolf?
O’BRIEN: Yeah, I just did that for the last couple of months.
What’s it like to go from doing something as dark as Teen Wolf to doing something a little more sweet? Was that part of the attraction?
O’BRIEN: Yeah, totally. I don’t know, it’s not like I have my pick. That was just the next part that I got. But, it did work out in that way, where it was a different dynamic to go to, which was refreshing. They were both fun and both great experiences, just different. I came off of a wolf show where I’m in Atlanta for six months, playing Stiles and making wisecracks and one-liners, and talking about mythology, and being serious about werewolves killing each other, and then I went right into this really sweet, coming-of-age love story. It was nice. Both things were so great to be a part of. I can’t say enough about The First Time. It was such an awesome experience. Jon Kasdan, the writer/director, was great. He’s such a talented guy, who’s really, truly special. And, Britt Robertson (The Secret Circle) was just unbelievable for me to be able to work with. It was just mind-blowing. I just learned so much from so many great people, on that project. It was just really great. We all put a lot of heart into it and we all really cared about the project. Hopefully, that comes off and it is as good as we think it can be.
What is The First Time about and who do you play in it?
O’BRIEN: It’s a quirky little coming-of-age love story that’s a romantic comedy in the style of Say Anything, which is nice ‘cause I feel like that’s been strayed away from a little bit, in recent years. It takes place over one weekend, literally from a Friday night to a Monday morning, and it’s about this kid Dave, who I play. I’m a senior in high school who’s ready to go off to college, and I’m completely head-over-heels in love with my best friend in the world, who’s played by Victoria Justice, but that’s just not how it is with us. You know very little about the backstories of me or Britt’s character. I just run into Britt, who I don’t know, and we randomly meet at a party. We’re both in the middle of our own lives and are not even expecting each other to be anything interesting, but we have this wild night and weekend. It’s real. It’s just so truthful, and it’s really sweet. It’s nice to be a part of something like that and be able to tell a story that everybody goes through, whereas six months out of the year, I’m telling a story that really nobody goes through. Nobody is a werewolf.
What was it like to do High Road for your first film, and work with such an amazing group of people and be in an environment that’s so open to improvisation? Did that come easily for you, or was it intimidating?
O’BRIEN: It was absolutely intimidating, 100%. These are the best improvers in the world, and I couldn’t believe that they allowed me to even be near them when they were doing it. It was really weird. It was just a random audition. I just went in and improved with Matt Walsh and the writer, Josh Weiner, and the main actor, James Pumphrey. I auditioned with those guys for a half-hour, and that was like a workshop in itself. My manager convinced me to go and I thought it would be good for me. And, they called me the next day and said I got the part, which was so weird. I thought my manager was playing a joke on me. Even though I had gotten a part before, with Teen Wolf, it didn’t happen like that.
What was so funny about the film was that it was so unique and it was so indie. It was such a unique process. So much work went into it, before we started shooting, with character development and improv games and rehearsals, which was such a cool process to go through. Then, we only had a 12-day shooting schedule budgeted. It was just so wild! It was a week and a half shoot with these unbelievable comic actors on set. It was improving with the best. I just tried to learn as much as I could in those 12 days. It was really cool. It was really mind-blowing. And, to see that it’s also doing really well now at festivals is so cool. I had no idea what it would turn into. It was such a random thing, but it was such a great experience, at the time, and it’s turning into something that came out pretty funny.
Now that you have a career as an actor, have you given any thought to the types of roles you’d like to do or genres that you’d like to work in, if you get the chance?
O’BRIEN: I don’t know. I don’t really give much thought to the roles that I’d ideally love to play. I really just want to work with good directors and learn as much as I possibly can. I just want to soak it up while it’s here. I just want to work with good filmmakers and do good projects that mean something to me and play interesting characters. That’s really it.