The ‘Maze Runner’ star is shooting for some serious dramatic territory, and it’s a welcome evolution.
If you’re a filmography completist like I am, you watch some very bad movies for the actors you love. These performers could be established thespians with work that spans decades. You’re avidly digging through the archives — films or shows that they couldn’t possibly choose to make because they’re that cringeworthy, but the money made it necessary. By that same token, these actors could be fresh-faced newcomers right now, the ones who are currently going through that exact process of navigating roles that aren’t worth their time.
Dylan O’Brien hasn’t had to worry as much on this front. He has managed to curb many of those rocky expectations with some choice acting roles early in his career and remain consistent in maintaining the quality of his performances. Having a giant franchise like The Maze Runner to fully integrate him into the film world absolutely helps. Furthermore, O’Brien’s leading role in such financially successful dystopian movies also broke him out of the existing comedic typecasting that six seasons of MTV’s Teen Wolf boxed him into.
O’Brien’s continued evolution from YA star to fully-fledged actor in his adulthood has been relatively seamless even after leaving The Maze Runner behind. Roles in Deepwater Horizon and American Assassin served as suitable supplements before the release of the final Maze Runner installment, this year’s The Death Cure, with O’Brien’s performances being particularly noteworthy amidst more generic premises. But now that he’s well and truly out of the franchise, O’Brien has been tapped to star in two projects that will bring out his more serious, dramatic side, which was merely teased out in those movies.
According to Deadline, O’Brien is slated to co-star with Gary Oldman in The Bayou, a crime thriller based in New Orleans that follows a hitman and his protégé. An aging and “colorfully immoral” hitman named Tickie (Oldman) is mentoring Ceto (O’Brien), a brooding and dangerous young man who lost his sister to the criminal underworld. Ceto is a promising contender in the underbelly, but after he secretly spares a 16-year-old girl, all hell breaks loose. The sibling relationship that forms between the two youngsters tests Ceto’s allegiances to his bosses. You can probably already spot the young criminal’s path to redemption somewhere on the horizon after that.
The Bayou was penned by Point Break scribe W. Peter Iliff, while Gary Fleder (Homefront) is in talks to direct. After years of playing likable characters, this could be O’Brien’s chance to prove that he is capable of playing a guy who is a little rough around the edges. In working with the perennially busy Gary Oldman, who took home the Best Actor Oscar this year for his work on Darkest Hour, O’Brien continues building up a resume of big-name co-stars as well. The prospect of O’Brien holding his own against industry veterans may be an easier gateway for non-millennial viewers who may not be totally familiar with O’Brien’s work so far.
The Education of Frederick Fitzell, the newest brainchild of writer-director Christopher MacBride (The Conspiracy), will be another starring vehicle for O’Brien, according to Variety. Also featuring Maika Monroe (It Follows), the film centers on Fred (O’Brien), a seemingly ordinary young man on the cusp of his thirties who gets sucked back into his youth as he unearths some hidden mysteries. Sounds simple enough, but Variety’s summary hints at the amorphous tone of the film, making its genre hard to place. There may be some kind of sci-fi or fantasy element in Frederick Fitzell, including a creature that has haunted Fred since childhood as well as an inexplicable drug called Mercury. Somehow, Fred will “literally and metaphorically” look back at his past and the different lives that he could have lived “as past, present, and future begin to intersect and parallel.”
Honestly, Frederick Fitzell has a tenuous plot description at best, but the film could still be a worthy sci-fi entry if MacBride does it right. I’m recalling Jaco Van Dormael’s Mr. Nobody as a point of potential comparison, which touches on the existential question of choice and the possibility of finding freedom in owning one’s narrative. Frederick Fitzell does sound similar to some degree, which could provide O’Brien with a comparable acting challenge to Mr. Nobody star Jared Leto, who embodied different versions of the same character in a multiverse.
Over the years, O’Brien has stolen the show in pretty much everything he does. With two drastically different projects in the works, he seems ready to take the crucial next step in his career, and we’ll be watching.