Dylan O'Brien talks gangster drama 'The Outfit,' life after 'Teen Wolf': 'I'm very happy'

Patrick Ryan
USA TODAY

Dylan O'Brien loves his new movie so much, he gave it a standing ovation from 36,000 feet. 

The "Teen Wolf" heartthrob was on a plane when he first read the script for "The Outfit" (now in theaters), a twisty 1950s gangster drama starring Oscar winner Mark Rylance ("Bridge of Spies"). 

As soon as he finished, "I got straight out of my seat and clapped. I can't imagine what people thought," O'Brien says with a grin. "I was freaking out. I had such a blast reading it."

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O'Brien plays a hot-tempered young mobster named Richie, who helps run his father's crime organization out of an unassuming tailor shop owned by Leonard (Rylance), an English immigrant with a mysterious past, and his assistant, Mable (Zoey Deutch). But tensions escalate one wintry night after a bloodied Richie stumbles into Leonard's store after a near-fatal shootout with a rival gang, carrying an incriminating tape of someone who's ratting to the FBI. 

Co-writer/director Graham Moore ("The Imitation Game") was instantly impressed by O'Brien, 30, who is best known for playing Stiles Stilinski for six seasons of MTV's "Teen Wolf" and leading the young adult "Maze Runner" movie franchise. 

"I sent (his audition tape) to Mark Rylance and Mark wrote back 20 minutes later, 'This is one of the best auditions I've ever seen,' " Moore recalls. Richie is a reprehensible yet ultimately sympathetic character, "and Dylan really got those two levels, as someone who is so naturally likable. Dylan is perhaps the most likable human being on Earth – he's just a bundle of sunshine." 

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Leonard (Mark Rylance, right) turns the other cheek to gangster Richie (Dylan O'Brien) in "The Outfit," which is set entirely inside a tailor shop.

Question: Did you watch any gangster movies to prepare for this? 

Dylan O'Brien: What's really funny is, I didn't. (Laughs.) There was this freshness to the piece that felt like everything was really infused into the writing and I didn't want my performance to be derivative in any way. But what I was watching was "Vanderpump Rules" every night. Literally, that's what I was watching while I was filming "The Outfit," which is hilarious. 

Q: How did you approach the Chicago accent? 

O'Brien: I ended up listening to a lot of this podcast called "Da Chicago Accent Guys' Podcast." It's so on the nose – it's just a bunch of Chicago guys who really lean into their accents as a joke, and it's just hilarious. So I would put that on sometimes while I was reading my script. I feel like Richie is a super performative character: I really wanted to lean into him trying to cover up for his privilege. He talks a little more South Side than he is because he wants to feel tougher.

Richie (Dylan O'Brien, left) and Mable (Zoey Deutch) have a secret relationship in "The Outfit."

Q: You played a heightened version of yourself on "Curb Your Enthusiasm" last fall. Did Larry David reach out to you directly? 

O'Brien: It was an audition. At first, I thought I was going to be improvising by myself, but then they were like, "No, Larry is actually gonna read with a bunch of guys (virtually)." So I was like, "Oh, I'll do that in (a heartbeat)." I really wanted to remember it, so I tried to screen-record (the audition) and send it to my mom after. But what I didn't realize is I had my headphones on the whole time, so there's no sound. I have this 10-minute recording of me improvising with Larry David over Zoom and there's no audio. 

Q: You also co-starred with Sadie Sink ("Stranger Things") in Taylor Swift's short film for "All Too Well." What was Taylor like as a director? 

O'Brien: From the first phone call I had with her, she had it all laid out. And then for somebody who is that intentional and meticulous and smart, she also was able to show up on the day and let all that go. For instance, the (argument) scene that she lets play out in the kitchen, that was not planned. We were improvising this scene and it just felt so good that immediately after we cut, she was like, "This is so right on, I'm going to use this." 

Q: Who's more passionate: Taylor Swift fans or "Teen Wolf" fans? 

O'Brien: The world is Taylor's fans, so it is an intense platform. But when we went to the (music video) premiere, there was screaming outside and all the fans in the theater. Her security guys kept saying, "Crazy, right?" And in my head, I was like, "This isn't too unfamiliar to me." I think that's a testament to our "Teen Wolf" fan base because they were, and still are, so passionate. 

Q: You've said you won't be coming back for the upcoming "Teen Wolf" movie. Could you see yourself returning to Stiles Stilinski at some point or is that chapter closed? 

O'Brien: I feel like it's closed. When the news came out that I wasn't going to do it, there were a couple negative things I (read) and that was really hard to see because I truly love the show so much.I wouldn't rule out anything in terms of the future, but for now, I'm kind of at peace with where this sits.

Dylan O'Brien in a scene from MTV's "Teen Wolf," which went off the air in 2017 after six seasons.

Q: You've been very selective about projects since the "Maze Runner" trilogy ended in 2018. Have your sensibilities shifted since then? 

O'Brien: In the earlier part of my career, there's not a lot of choice: You're trying to get jobs and I was lucky enough to get a couple. It's this interesting time now where I'm getting to know what I actually want to do. It's the first time in my career that I'm able to show who I am as a person and an artist through my choices. I'm very happy with where I am right now in my life.