How American Assassin gave Dylan O’Brien his first ‘grown-up’ role

Dylan O'Brien - American Assassin
Dylan O’Brien and Shiva Negar in American Assassin

Dylan O’Brien was the first breakout star of MTV’s Teen Wolf. Movies have been equally lucrative for O’Brien, headlining The Maze Runner franchise.

American Assassin could be another Dylan O’Brien movie franchise. Based on the book by Vince Flynn, the author wrote 12 more before his death, and Kyle Mills has continued with three more.

Either way, American Assassin is the first film to feature Dylan O’Brien as an adult. “I’m a grown-up,” O’Brien joked at the film’s Los Angeles press conference.

O’Brien plays Mitch Rapp, and American Assassin tells the story of how Rapp became a counterterrorism agent after losing his fiance in an attack.

“He’s obviously consumed immediately in the aftermath of what he goes through, his whole life getting flipped upside down,” O’Brien said. “Part of the arc of his character that I always loved was that kind of learning curve.”

The Mitch Rapp who begins the film is not disciplined enough to bring terrorists to justice on his own. Through his training under Stan Hurley (Michael Keaton), both physical and psychological, Rapp is able to root out a former U.S. agent gone rogue.

American Assassin - Dylan O'Brien
L-R: Shiva Negar, Michael Keaton, Neg Adamson and Dylan O’Brien

“He always thinks the revenge factor, the vengeance will be the answer and that’ll ultimately be what heals him,” O’Brien continued. “He has to, at some point, decide or learn about himself that this thing he went through is never going to leave him. It’ll always be a part of him and nothing’s going to wipe it away.”

That sort of coping with tragedy makes Mitch Rapp “a grown-up” as much as any of his violent action or brooding psyche.

“I think when he goes through that, he ends up seeing this other side of it where he can be an asset for his country and can kind of protect this from happening to other people,” O’Brien said. “Ultimately, I think he realizes that he’ll have to learn how to cope with this, learn how to live with this thing the rest of his life, but serve and protect. That’s the right answer.”

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While infiltrating terrorist cells, Mitch Rapp teaches himself how to speak Arabic. O’Brien didn’t have quite as much time as Rapp did to learn the language.

“Going into it you always think too that you’ll be spending months on it,” O’Brien said. “Whenever you see other people doing that kind of thing in a film, you’re like, ‘I gotta probably get started on that now. I think we were in preproduction at one point and I was like, ‘When am I doing a dialect session?’”

Dylan O'Brien as Mitch Rapp
Dylan O’Brien and Sanaa Lathan in American Assassin

Rapp’s self-teaching became a necessity to explain why O’Brien’s Arabic isn’t entirely fluent.

“The idea that we sculpted into the film is that we thought it’d be cool to add he taught this to himself as part of his mission in this past year and a half,” O’Brien said. “I thought that was a cool thing, enough so to believably infiltrate these terrorist cells. I didn’t have to be perfect with it but I still wanted to be pretty damn good with it because it had to be viable that this guy was being trusted by these people.”

With filming taking place over 60 days in four countries (Thailand, Malta, Italy and the U.K.), O’Brien had to squeeze lessons in wherever he could.

“I worked with several coaches,” O’Brien said. “Whoever we could get to set on the days that I had to do it and always just tried to practice as hard as I could and had them record on my phone a little bit. I recorded them saying it so I could always have it in my ear, in my head and try to get a good ear from it. That’s about it.”

Discover Mitch Rapp when American Assassin opens in theaters September 15.

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