If you've never seen MTV's better-than-it-has-any-right-to-be Teen Wolf, chances are you've never heard of Dylan O'Brien. The 21-year-old New York native plays Stiles, best friend to the hairy high schooler, Scott. But like many small screen B.F.F.'s before him (Willow Rosenberg, Wallace Fennel, Caroline Forbes), Dylan has made Stiles so much more than a source of exposition.
In fact, Stiles has cemented himself (at least to this fan) as the heart of Teen Wolf and that's a direct result of Dylan's fantastically frenetic and effortlessly effervescent performance. Now, Dylan is applying those small screen skills to a larger canvas with the theatrical release of The First Time.
Told over the course of a single weekend, The First Time opens with our two leads (Dylan's Dave and Britt Robertson's Aubrey) meeting by chance and spending the next 48 hours talking their way into one another's hearts. Thanks to Dylan and Britt's electric chemistry, a hypnotic soundtrack and a locked diary-quality to the dialogue, it doesn't take too long for the film to work its way into your heart as well. I recently sat down with Dylan to talk about this phenomenal film, why music informs his performance so much and what it's like to become one half of an unexpectedly beloved TV "couple!"
TheInsider.com: What was your first impression of this script?
Dylan O'Brien: I just really loved what I got to do as this guy and I loved the dialogue. I almost wanted more of it. I just naturally get the words that Jon [Kasdan, writer/director] writes. I understand the way he speaks and what he's trying to get across, so I could recite the entire movie by the time we started shooting because we did so much rehearsing.
Insider.com: Did that allow for improv?
Dylan: I wouldn't tag it as improv because there was no need to go away from the script here, but it was free range speaking in the sense that I had all the lines down, but I never once worried about specific wording with a sentence. I knew what Jon wanted me to say, but he let me say the words how I thought I should say them. That's a good way of going about it I think.
Insider.com: What was the rehearsal process like?
Dylan: A few weeks before shooting start, Jon got me and Britt together, and we spent two weeks, just the three of us, running scenes, changing things, talking about everything – not even necessarily about the script. Sometimes it was just about getting to know one another. By the time we got to shooting, Britt and I were so comfortable with one another that it was really easy to keep riffing off that established relationship. It was so comfortable and made us more confident without realizing it. That's something Jon does amazingly; he instills this quiet confidence in you that makes you feel like no choice is wrong, which lets you feel free.
Insider.com: While the characters are different, Dave and Stiles feel like they could almost be brothers. Is that unique energy something you thought both characters would have or just part of you?
Dylan: I think maybe a bit of both. The energy I give to Stiles and the energy I give to Dave is all intentional. I think maybe it's because I have an energy inside myself that I don't necessarily project in real life because I do it with my characters. It's just something I think I can add to characters, but also, I wouldn't have done it if it didn't suit the character.
Insider.com: The movie raises the age old question of whether making mix CDs for a crush is allowed. What's your opinion?
Dylan: I'm definitely not opposed. There's no problem with making mixes for a girl. I'm somebody who is as inspired by music as much as the next person. I've always played and loved all kinds of music. Sharing something like a mixtape is really sweet. It's a little piece of your heart at that moment. It's like saying, "Here's what I've been feeling recently." Mixes are what you're all about in that moment.
Insider.com: Do you use music to get into a character?
Dylan: Oh, yeah. I became obsessed with sappy love music [laughs] on this film. Literally, I became obsessed with this reggae love band, The Green. Their music was just so beautiful to me. I was obsessed with a few of their songs, which were sappy love songs. Simple, island-y love songs. I remember bumping some reggae love to and from work every day. I got into some funny stuff while making this movie.
Insider.com: Do you have a soundtrack for Stiles?
Dylan: No, not at all. I couldn't even pick one genre of music that I think Stiles would listen to. I think, as a character, Stiles doesn't care about music in a weird way [laughs].
Insider.com: There's been much ado, from the fans, about Stiles and Derek's relationship on the show. Did the Sterek love surprise you?
Dylan: No. What surprises me sometimes is how seriously people take it. I mean, people have threatened Jeff's life [laughs], which is slightly insane. But they're reacting to Comedy 101 – you pair up the least likely characters and that's always funny. Plus, I think me and [Tyler] Hoechlin have a good grasp on it too. That dynamic is something that's always worked with our show and I love that the audience is reacting positively to that.
Insider.com: Jeff Davis recently said that he is not opposed to Stiles exploring life as a bisexual at some point. We've already seen that he's incredibly open-minded about sexuality, which makes him a very progressive character, but Teen Wolf doesn't make a big to-do about it. Do you think that's why his attitude resonates so deeply with fans?
Dylan: That's what I love about playing him. I loved being able to go into that one scene and be like, "Do gay guys find me attractive" in a totally serious way. It would have been stupid if he was kidding, and that's almost the key to playing him. He's got no filter, so it's all about finding those human subtleties that a lot of people are afraid to admit sometimes. To have him just be a human being has been my absolute main focus with him all along.
Insider.com: But the downside of being totally human is that Teen Wolf is a supernatural show and, in some ways, that makes him the most killable.
Dylan: Yeah, totally. Although you never think about getting killed off ... until you do. And then you can't stop thinking that could happen. I mean, there's no reason that it couldn't. Lets be honest, I don't know how he's made it out of some of these situations in the first place. But maybe that's part of the fantasy: this kid keeps making it out when he's completely unequipped to do so. I like to think it's because Stiles is such a good soul, it's almost like he's kept alive by the heavens.
The First Time opens October 19.