Last year, Dylan O’Brien proved he doesn’t take himself too seriously when he appeared on Curb Your Enthusiasm as a highly exaggerated version of himself. It’s a rite of passage for any actor with enough self-awareness to take the piss out of the whole fame thing, and a chance for O’Brien, largely known for his roles in MTV’s Teen Wolf series and The Maze Runner franchise, to show off his comedic chops. Now, the 30-year-old actor is proving that was no fluke by setting his sights on another fame-obsessed corner of society: influencer culture. In Not Okay (out July 29 on Hulu), director Quinn Shephard’s biting satire on the perils of clout chasing, O’Brien plays Colin, a status-obsessed influencer who works with Danni (Zoey Deutch), an aspiring writer who finds herself in the internet’s crossfire after pretending to be the survivor of a traumatic event for likes. We recently caught up with him to discuss his perspective on influencers, why Gen-Z is misunderstood, and his selective process for choosing new roles.
JACKSON WALD: How were you introduced to your character in Not Okay, and what did you think about him upon reading the script?
DYLAN O’BRIEN: The script first came in as just, “Check this out, and if you like it, do you want to meet Quinn?” I knew that Zoey was attached. I had just worked with her earlier in the year and loved her, and I’d heard that Quinn was a very talented, young, up-and-coming filmmaker. I checked out Quinn’s movie. I did all my homework, and I read the script. I’ve just always been taken aback by these, not even influencers, but these white tatted kids who talk with blaccents as if they’re from the streets, appropriating Black culture, and being someone that “we” are thirsting over. I found it such an odd trend, but I was fascinated by it. That’s how I saw the character. I wanted to go full force with it. I wanted the tats, the Bieber blonde hair, and an MGK Fortnite skin. I just wanted to take the piss out of that kind of person.
WALD: It’s interesting to track the origins of that type of character. The first thing that came to my mind is Vanilla Ice. But If you really want to pinpoint it to a certain moment—I’m interested to hear where you think it started—but to me, it’s Vine. Because Vine was TikTok before TikTok.
O’BRIEN: I think you’re totally right. Vine is the first time I became aware of the influencers who are becoming like the Cameron Dallases, or Nash Grierses, and in reality, are pretty white kids from these suburban towns that talk like they’re from the block, and they just make these thirsty vids.
WALD: When you were preparing for the role of Colin, was there any prep involved? Did you spend hours watching TikTok, or something to that effect?
O’BRIEN: No. What’s funny is, I should have done more of that. I was actually dating a girl that summer for a bit and I was picking up a lot of things from her, too. She had that sort of vibe. Like she’d be constantly saying, “OD as fuck,” and “No cap, and cap, no cap.” Just all these terms. I would just be walking around my house, and would just record riffs on my phone. I really wanted to explore the dichotomy of him always having these beliefs, and then his actions being completely fake as fuck.
WALD: Is there an audio recording of you just going, “Deadass”?
O’BRIEN: Yeah, there’s plenty.
O’BRIEN: What’s funny is, when the part was officially offered to me, I sent Quinn a tape on my own of how I wanted to do it, just in case it wasn’t what she wanted. I sent her this random tape of me talking like him, and saying this random shit. She sent it back, and she’s like, “That’s totally it.” [More at Source]
Minutes into meeting Dylan O’Brien, he lets me in on a secret: Growing up, he was a massive American Idol fan. We’re outside his Bustle photo shoot where he’s bumping Remi Wolf, the soul-pop artist who briefly appeared as a contestant on the show’s 13th season. But O’Brien notes he also rides for the series’ OGs like Fantasia Barrino and Jennifer Hudson. “I’m obsessed with people,” O’Brien says of his enthusiasm for reality TV. “How are you not obsessed with people?”
The revelation is peak O’Brien — a little embarrassing, totally earnest, and altogether endearing —and the rest of the 30-year-old’s time on set is littered with more of these interactions. When an intern sneezes, he compliments her on how “cute” it sounds. After introducing himself to the production coordinator, he marvels that she shares a name with his sister Julia. Once the aforementioned intern lets it slip that he was her childhood crush, he thanks her and compliments her Balenciaga trainers. Disarmament is the former Teen Wolf star’s superpower. But at what cost?
“I really care about making people feel comfortable, sometimes to a fault,” he admits when we decamp to a hotel bar nearby. Once we’re seated, a fan approaches him to record a message for a friend back in Colombia. Naturally, O’Brien obliges. “I think it’s something that I owe myself to embrace, because it’s a good quality, for the most part,” he says. “It’s very important to me that the entire team on every job just feels [good]. I always say I’m not really an actor, but what I bring to the table is a good time.”
His friends and collaborators agree. When co-star Zoey Deutch found herself living in the same London apartment block as O’Brien while filming their new movie, The Outfit, the pandemic was still raging. Days on set were heavy, with O’Brien playing the heir apparent to a vicious cadre of gangsters who operate out of the shop of a Chicago tailor, played by Oscar-winner Mark Rylance. When the pair got home, they would bliss out by watching more reality TV. “He just loves sh*tty TV so much,” Deutch says. For much of the trip, O’Brien was in the throes of rewatching Vanderpump Rules — he calls the show “my Godfather,” when I ask him about it later — while Deutch was “deeply involved” with Love Island U.K., of which O’Brien is also a fan. “It’s such a great quality of his, and so out of character because he’s so smart, intellectual, and interesting,” Deutch adds, Though for the record, the ever-earnest O’Brien thinks the idea that reality TV isn’t intelligent is “insane.” [More at Source]