Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials star Dylan O’Brien escapes bullying past
Bullied in school, US actor Dylan O'Brien has the last laugh as the star of The Maze Runner sequel, The Scorch Trials
As the star of the popular Maze Runner young adult movies, Dylan O'Brien seems to have the world at his feet.
But the 24-year-old US actor's past was far from rosy.
Things took a more serious turn during our interview at the Four Seasons Hotel in Beverly Hills when O'Brien was asked if he had overcome any personal challenges.
He spoke frankly about being bullied as a child, after moving across the country from New Jersey to Hermosa Beach in California when he was 12.
He told M: "I was miserable. It was the worst thing that ever happened in my life. I didn't have friends for like four years.
"I remember being at school every day crying, wanting to just go home, and just getting bullied and... messed with. Twelve-year-old kids are just horrible kids."
Yet O'Brien doesn't regret switching coasts.
"If I never moved to California with my family as a kid, I wouldn't be doing what I'm doing now and I would have never got into acting. Everything happens for a reason.
"I do think that experience did change me a lot. It made me who I am today."
And today, the leading man is promoting Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials - the sequel to last year's The Maze Runner, which made over US$340 million (S$480 million) worldwide on a production budget of just US$34 million.
Opening here tomorrow, it picks up from where the first movie left off.
After having escaped the Maze, Thomas (O'Brien) and the other Gladers (Lee Ki Hong, Kaya Scodelario and Thomas Brodie-Sangster) search for clues about the mysterious and powerful organisation known as World In Catastrophe: Killzone Experiment Department (WCKD) and face a new set of challenges.
Despite having a bad throat, O'Brien - ever the professional - soldiered on through the many interviews.
In person, he seems a bit more reserved than his fellow cast members, a bit more tentative about fame and fortune.
"I've never thought about acting like 'Oh man, I want to be on TV... I hate that s***, you know," said O'Brien, who also starred in US teen drama Teen Wolf.
On the demanding physical preparation for The Scorch Trials, which was filmed in Albuquerque, New Mexico, O'Brien said: "I felt like such a wimp when I got out there two weeks early and started training with my stunt double. He was taking me on runs up dunes and... I could barely even get up."
He added that compared to the first movie, the characters "are out in the world" and a lot is revealed.
"You finally see what's happening to the world, this disease that has practically all but wiped us off the face of the earth... It's about surviving the world really. Basically it's just the first movie again."
Then he laughed, adding: "I'm kidding."
The joking continues when asked about how the cast got along.
O'Brien, who has been dating US actress Britt Robertson since they played a couple on the 2012 teen rom-com The First Time, said: "The first (movie) went great. We were all best friends. Now we just hate each other. It's crazy. Overnight.
"No, I love them - they're my boys, man. They're my brothers. I think we have lifelong friendships. We went to (Lee's) wedding (in March). It was amazing. Everyone hung out again every night, just having a good time. We always talk sometimes for just like three hours."
With two Maze Runner flicks in the bag and a likely third instalment in the works, what he would really love to do next is direct.
O'Brien, whose father is a cinematographer, has been posting his own comedic short films on his personal YouTube channel.
"The acting side of things, I was never trained and so I'm always figuring that part out. But I've always understood how to shoot, and how to cut and edit.
"When I'm acting even today, I'm very aware of the cameras and I always know the lenses, and what's going to play well. Things I learn as an actor will aid me as a director."
Korean-American actor Lee Ki Hong is 28 and can still pass off as a teen in Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials. Here are other actors and actresses who have played college-age kids despite being much older in real life.
REBEL WILSON, 35
Pitch Perfect 2 (2015)
KATE MARA, 32
Fantastic Four (2015)
ANDREW GARFIELD, 32
The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (2014)
THEO JAMES, 30
ANNA KENDRICK, 30
Pitch Perfect 2 (2015)
ALEXANDRA DADDARIO, 29
San Andreas (2015)
MILES TELLER, 28
Fantastic Four (2015)