Dylan O’Brien was already fairly famous for his role in the MTV series Teen Wolf, a show that’s more popular than you might think. But when he was cast in this fall’s film adaptation of the Y.A. bestseller The Maze Runner, the 23-year-old actor had to know things would change, that the movie would be big—and that his celebrity would explode alongside it.
In just the two weeks following its September 19 release, the film’s already grossed $149 million worldwide. Here, its star chats with ELLE about Chipotle, Patricia Clarkson, and his growing fanbase.
I read an article online recently that said you were overlooked for an Emmy for your last season playing Stiles Stilinski on ‘Teen Wolf’…
What? Gosh, that is so cool.
At this stage in your career, do you think about that kind of stuff? Awards and what not?
It’s impossible for me to think about that. I’m not an arrogant human being, so I could never justify it. It’s just not how my brain works. Right now it’s just about the experiences. Last season, I was just really focused on going in and taking on being the bad guy. It made me really nervous.
Yeah, I mean, it’s not like I went to acting school and you play Evil Guy one day and Romantic Guy the next. These are all things I’m trying for the first time, because my only experience has been this show.
You’re being very honest about your vulnerabilities here…
That’s always been the case with me. You know, in regard to performing, it couldn’t be funnier that I ended up being an actor, because I’m really shy. Unless I’m really comfortable with a person.
I don’t think a lot of people would assume that.
Everyone says that to me. They’re always like, “yeah, right,” and it just cracks me up. I wish more believed me when I say it. But Stiles is just so confident and extroverted. I’m much more internal. So I guess to hear someone say that I deserve an Emmy—it just makes me feel proud of what I do with him.
Well, let’s segue into ‘The Maze Runner,’ another movie where you clearly aren’t playing comedy. You weren’t playing a villain, but did your experience on ‘Teen Wolf’ help you find your way into this dramatic character?
Well, it wasn’t as nerve-wracking, but I also felt like I understood this character more. I felt like I got Thomas from a 101 standpoint. He’s a character I’ve rooted for since I was a kid. He starts out as this terrified, back-of-the pack kid, but then he finds this heroic nature in him because he’s so curious. He asks the questions that no one else asks, and it pulls this thing out of him that’s been there all along.
Did you actually have to do a lot of running?
Well, everyone had this hilarious week of boot camp—you know, chopping wood and building stuff. I actually didn’t learn any of that stuff, because Thomas wouldn’t have known how to do it. And I didn’t do a lot of running either! It was important that I look out of breath on screen, because I was greeny. Thomas wouldn’t have done much running before getting into The Glade.
How was it working with Patricia Clarkson?
I only had a few days with her, but she’s actually so hilarious. Obviously I love and respect her as an actor, but our relationship was less advice giving and more her grabbing my chest and, you know, purring in my ear.
You’re probably used to that kind of attention at this point in your career.
Honestly, man, I’m not somebody who wants the celebrity. I could really care less about that stuff. I know everyone says it, but I get overwhelmed by it all sometimes. I do love my fans, and I am so grateful for them, but sometimes I just want to walk into Chipotle and get a fucking burrito, man!
I hear that.
I never really understood why actors get paid so much money. But now I feel like it’s because they have to sacrifice their lives sometimes, you know? Some people may want that, but I said it: I’m shy and reserved, and there is nothing about me that wants to throw myself out to the world like that. I don’t resent those people or anything, but it’s hard to feel like you’re a person. You go around everywhere and people treat you like a doll.
So what’s your strategy to deal with it all?
You’ve got to pull back a little. If you keep fighting it, it’ll just make you go crazy. Like, if you just keep saying to yourself, “No, I’m going to Chipotle and no one is going to fuck with me,” you’ll end up in a mental ward. Because someone is probably going to fuck with you when you walk into that Chipotle.