Dylan O'Brien really, really, really loves dogs. Fondly referring to his adorable co-star as "completely the star" of his new Oscar-nominated film, 'Love and Monsters', O'Brien's face lights up like a Christmas tree when reminiscing about the two Australian Kelpies, Hero and Dodge, who together portray his onscreen best friend, Boy (a.k.a. the best dog in the world).
At the heart of 'Love and Monsters' is this dynamic duo, with O'Brien as Joel Dawson, who in a post-apocalyptic world overrun by giant monsters decides to set off on a dangerous journey to reconnect with his high school sweetheart (played by Jessica Henwick), seven years after the Monsterpocalypse forced all of humanity into hiding underground.
An endearing tale of a wide-eyed boy and his loyal dog, we caught up with Dylan O'Brien to discuss 'Love and Monsters' which was filmed in Queensland, Australia...
Taking care of yourself is extremely important and I think that we all sort of go through our own path of learning the importance of that, and ultimately, too, if you want to be helping others and helping your loved ones, you actually need to be taking care of yourself, first and foremost.
COUP DE MAIN: Congrats on the Best Visual Effects Oscars nomination for 'Love and Monsters'! You're in the film, so for the purposes of this interview, I think you can own that.
DYLAN O'BRIEN: Thank you! Oh absolutely, I am nominated. I've been telling everybody: I'm an Oscar nominated actor now.
CDM: You did it!
DYLAN: Thanks! <laughs> It really is amazing.
CDM: It's funny that you filmed this movie back in March to May of 2019, but the whole situation of Joel finding himself separated from Aimee probably feels very familiar to anyone who started a relationship pre-pandemic that doesn't live with their partner.
DYLAN: Yeah, it's really weird. It's really weird how what we ended up going through when this movie was due to come out, how much it related to these themes that we're exploring in this movie. It's a very crazy coincidence.
CDM: Also, the sort of aversion to venturing out again into the outside world, that feels very relatable.
DYLAN: I know. Like when he first comes out of that hatch, he's breathing in the fresh air like it's strange. It's really strange.
CDM: I also thought of the current mask-wearing situation when Clyde says: "You can always tell in their eyes, just look at their eyes." People have had to do a lot of eye-reading this past year?
DYLAN: Right?! Oh, wow wow wow. I hadn't thought about that one.
CDM: One of my favourite things you've ever done is the 'Life Of A Hollywood Actor' video. What do you think the 2021 version of 'Life Of A Hollywood Actor' would look like?
DYLAN: <laughs> Thank you so much, first of all.
CDM: I rewatched it yesterday in preparation for this interview.
DYLAN: No way, thanks! That's really cool. Yeah, I love that character. I want to do something with him. What would the 2021 version be? I think he would definitely be taking the Oscar nom for himself, very seriously - like, the visual effects Oscar nom he would apply as being his, basically, and I think he'd try to bring that up and try to really ride that to get some work. He thinks this is gonna be a big career thing for him, and then he somehow fucks it up by being too overzealous.
CDM: Joel clings on to his memories of Aimee for seven years, replaying them in his mind so he can continue to relive them. Why is it that it's in human nature to mentally retreat into the past for comfort? And to look for a home in other people instead of building a solid home within ourselves?
DYLAN: That's really interesting... I feel like that's something instinctive, especially if you're going through a hard time or especially if something's shifted in your world negatively. I think there's uncertainty about the future and I always find in those situations a common link to wanting to find comfort in the past. I've gone through things, like times like that in my own life, and I've always found that when I've gone through a time like that, there's this level of uncertainty. I think it's human instinct and sort of this instinct to protect ourselves in a way. We're a wild species, aren't we? We're very emotional creatures. I think that's part of what makes humans so special. And instincts like that, to preserve and protect our heart and mind, and to hold on to things like that. And the way we're attached to memories like that and nostalgia. There's a reason these things are a part of our fabric. We're very emotional creatures.
CDM: Do you think that love or fear is a stronger emotion?
DYLAN: Whoah, that's pretty wild. I would say love - only because I feel like it has this sustainable power to endure over time. Whereas fears can be fleeting, and even if it comes quick, it's gone. But then also... yeah, I don't know. <laughs> We're getting deep. Real deep!
CDM: Is love an action or a feeling?
DYLAN: WHOAH. <cracks up>
CDM: I'm putting you on the spot, sorry.
DYLAN: No, no, I'm good! I love it! They're very interesting questions. I'm cracking up at you choosing me to answer these. Fuck. I mean, I think it's a feeling. I believe that, at least. I'm trying to think of ways it could be an action, obviously, but that's not love. I feel like if it's an action, it's something else. There are actions that come from love, but the love, it's a feeling. That's what I believe.
CDM: I always think about how in the TV show, 'Fleabag', The Priest says, "Being a romantic takes a hell of a lot of hope. I think what they mean is, when you find somebody that you love, it feels like hope," which I feel like Joel would also relate to.
DYLAN: Yeah! I love 'Fleabag'.
CDM: It's so good.
DYLAN: It's SO good.
CDM: Clyde says to Joel: "Good instincts are earned by making mistakes." Do you agree or disagree with Clyde's life lesson?
DYLAN: Yeah, I think there's a lot of truth to that, for sure. I think that mistakes absolutely help us grow, in many ways, in terms of instincts and stuff. Yeah, I think that's a wise and sensible perspective to have, especially in an apocalyptic wasteland.
CDM: Do you have any cooking specialities like Joel's talent for minestrone?
DYLAN: Yeah, I've got some go-to's. They're all my mom's, like the things that are nostalgic for me that I grew up with that my mom cooks, like her chicken soup. It's the first thing I do if I go on a job or somewhere where I'm going to be for a little while, just to feel like I'm at home, the first thing I'll do is I'll make a soup and then I'll have it in the fridge for the first week that I'm there. I'll make my mom's chicken soup and it's a really nice comforting sort of a feeling. And chicken cutlets. Two very chicken-y things!
CDM: There's a line I love from the TV show, 'The Good Place', in which one of the characters says: "Sometimes, when you're feeling helpless, the secret is to help someone else. Get out of your own head." I was reminded of it in the scene where Joel is forced to take action against a monster to help save not himself, but his dog. Excluding the life or death element, have you ever felt similarly that it's been easier to help someone else first in order to help yourself?
DYLAN: Yeah, sometimes to a fault. I think that that's something that's been a bit of a learning curve for me, interestingly enough, pretty recently as well in the last year or two, to sort of realise that I need to try to help myself sometimes a little more. I think I have an instinct to help the people that I love and want to be there for them, or even a stranger sometimes, over myself, which can definitely be an interesting quality, but yeah, I think that's helping yourself. Taking care of yourself is extremely important and I think that we all sort of go through our own path of learning the importance of that, and ultimately, too, if you want to be helping others and helping your loved ones, you actually need to be taking care of yourself, first and foremost. Everyone comes to their own kind of realisation over it. It takes time. It takes your 20s, sometimes more.
CDM: Do you miss your dog co-stars Hero and Dodge?
DYLAN: Yes! Yes!! I do. Yeah, I really, really do. And Zelie [Bullen] as well. Their mom and trainer.
CDM: Do you have a dog yourself?
DYLAN: I've got little dogs, yeah. I've got little babies. You?
CDM: I don't sadly, but it's my life goal to adopt a dog one day.
DYLAN: You should. Do you want one? You should get one!
CDM: I'm gonna just tell everyone: Dylan O'Brien told me to get a dog, so I'm getting a dog now.
DYLAN: <laughs> I'm just part of this major life decision for you, forever now.
CDM: Social media can be such a vanity project, but I love that you only have Twitter, and use it mostly just for helping give a platform to important human right issues and sharing your love for Taylor Swift and Harry Styles. What are your favourite Taylor Swift and Harry Styles songs?
DYLAN: Oh my goodness. Like ever? For Harry, from Harry's last album, 'Watermelon Sugar', obviously. I think my my favourite one of his though is... What's it called? I can hear it in my head. They sing it on 'American Idol' all the time. 'Falling'! That's a huge one for me. T Swift, I mean, it's amazing - give any of the rest of us like six months in quarantine and we look back on it and we're like, 'Shit, I should have done more,' but give Taylor six months in quarantine and she writes fifty hit songs. It's incredible. Off 'Folklore', I think 'Mirrorball' doesn't get enough credit. I'm a big 'Mirrorball' fan. I love 'My Tears Ricochet', and 'Mad Woman', 'Epiphany', 'The 1'.
CDM: Basically the whole album.
DYLAN: Yeah, I really liked that one. There's so many more, but those are my highlights.
— Coup De Main (Taylor's Version) (@coupdemain) April 15, 2021
CDM: You used to be in a band, Slow Kids At Play, right? Would you ever want to get back into music professionally again?
DYLAN: I still play all the time, and I still play with friends who play as well. Even those guys. They're all still my good friends. We actually had a reunion show in 2019 and it was really cool. We jammed in our friend's garage for our hometown friends. Music will always be a part of my life. I always try to not let it be one of those things that you lose in life. I think that's important to do. If it's not your primary thing, it's sometimes easy to. Often years pile up and then you're like, 'Oh, man, I haven't done this thing that I love in so long, like, I should build that into my routine.' So yeah, I'll always play drums and always jam with friends and play. And yeah, it'd be cool to be in a band again. Maybe someday. Or even just to play a show again, like even just to sit in for someone would be awesome.
CDM: Then maybe you can come to New Zealand on tour.
DYLAN: On tour?! I don't think I'd get to that level, but I like that you have aspirations for me.
CDM: Why is it important to you to use your platform for good?
DYLAN: I think that's influenced by the time that we're in. Also coinciding with a time that I went through in my life and just sort of getting older. And for me, it just feels right in terms of the things that I want to use it for, or try to support, or bring to life, or amplify, or bring a light to, and I guess it's influenced by my own learning and growing and trying to be more involved in this stuff and educate myself on it. It sort of just mirrors that a little bit, and I do think it's important.
CDM: Thank you for your time today. And thanks for telling me to get a dog.
DYLAN: Go do it! Send me a pic when you get them. It was such a pleasure talking to you, thanks so much.
'Love and Monsters' is out now on Netflix everywhere outside of the US - watch the trailer below: