Before he was taking down terrorists in his latest thriller “American Assassin,” Dylan O’Brien had to fight just to get back onto a movie set.
The actor, 26, faced a long and challenging road to recovery after he suffered multiple serious injuries in an accident on the set of a “Maze Runner” sequel last year. Understandably, it took time for him to feel comfortable about returning to moviemaking.
“It was a really scary time,” O’Brien told the Daily News. “I had a lot of fears … It was absolutely a big challenge to step back onto a set and face the fear and come back from it, and complete the recovery.”
O’Brien — who was born in New York City and grew up in Springfield Township, N.J. — was hospitalized in March 2016 after the car he was riding on top of during an action sequence for “The Maze Runner: The Death Cure” was hit by another vehicle.
The actor, who declined to go into specifics about the accident itself, reportedly suffereda concussion, facial fractures and lacerations. Production for the movie was shut down for months.
The rehabilitation process was difficult for O’Brien.
Dylan O’Brien stars as CIA operative Mitch Rapp in “American Assassin.”
“It was a really tough recovery, both physically and psychologically,” O’Brien said. “Ultimately it became about me beating it myself and being able to reengage my work and my life. It took a while, but it was something that needed time — and I took the time. I got back at it.”
O’Brien, who now says he’s fully recovered, wasted little time diving back into the action genre as the star of “American Assassin.” He plays Mitch Rapp, an unbridled and revenge-driven CIA special operative who dedicates his live to counterterrorism after his fiancée is murdered in a mass terrorist attack.
The movie — which also stars Michael Keaton as Rapp’s no-nonsense mentor, Stan Hurley — serves as O’Brien’s most intense role to date after a career highlighted by young adult projects like “The Maze Runner” and MTV’s “Teen Wolf” series.
O’Brien connected with the role of Rapp and saw it as an appropriate step for him at this stage of his career. But before production began, he made a point to ensure that the movie handled the delicate subject of terrorism with sensitivity, and didn’t hone in on just one group of people.
The role is the most intense one yet for O’Brien, who is known for young adult projects like “The Maze Runner” and “Teen Wolf.”
“I wanted to make sure we were going about it in the right way, and not being black and white about something that is such a gray area,” O’Brien said. “Especially now, with terrorism and how it’s everywhere, and it is a fear that everyone is currently living with.”
To address this concern, O’Brien says the film’s creators worked to make the script as up to date as possible. “American Assassin” is based off of a 2010 book by the same name, which was written by author Vince Flynn.
The film pits O’Brien against terrorists from different countries and backgrounds — and the main villain, Ghost, is an American who schemes to carry out a heinous attack on the United States.
“With Ghost being the primary antagonist, I feel like that sort of displays what’s going on now in terms of terrorism being everywhere, and not specifically secluded to one group or place,” O’Brien said.
Michael Keaton also stars in the film, which hits theaters on Sept. 15.
O’Brien, whose character is highly skilled both with a gun in his hands and in physical combat, underwent an eight-week training period to master the fighting style and get into the necessary shape for the movie.
It was all part of the process toward taking the next step in his career — while leaving his injuries in the past.
“I thought it could be a good opportunity for me as an actor to do something else,” O’Brien said. “It was different than what I’d done before. I’d done an action-type movie before, but not like this, and not being a character like this.”
“American Assassin” arrives in theaters on Sept. 15.