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SYFY WIRE Dylan O'Brien

'Flashback' star Dylan O’Brien teases a time-twisting psychological thriller

By Bryan Cairns
Dylan O'Brien

Dylan O’Brien is on the run. Quite literally.

It’s a crisp October afternoon on the Toronto set of Flashback and the former Teen Wolf star has just arrived. O’Brien gives director Christopher MacBride a hug before gearing up for the physical sequence on the horizon. As the cameras begin to roll, the 29-year-old actor sprints up the staircase of an abandoned warehouse. Again, and again, and again. As he repeats the scene, O’Brien lightheartedly voices his concerns about holding his head up during his mad dash. “I’m untrained as an actor,” he says to MacBride.

“That was just me joking about things in movies that you don’t think about, like trying to run upstairs and you are not watching your feet because you have to keep your head up for the camera,” O’Brien tells SYFY WIRE as he plunks down on a chair in a remote corner of the building. Running at full tilt, while also ensuring that you’re making sure the camera can capture your performance, is a skill in and of itself, it turns out. “It’s hilarious because then you are tripping and you’re like, ‘Oh, this is not easy.' It’s one of those funny little things. This must be what they teach you in acting school.”

Landing in select theaters and VOD on June 4, Flashback — previously titled The Education of Fredrick Fitzell — follows Fredrick Fitzell, an ordinary guy on the cusp of his 30s. Locked in a corporate job, he must make some tough decisions regarding the next chapter of his life and career. To complicate matters, a chance encounter with a man from Fredrick’s past triggers disturbing memories of Cindy, a high school classmate who vanished. To unravel the mystery behind her disappearance, Fredrick turns to his old druggie buddies and the substance Mercury. Could a trippy bender unlock his repressed memories… or allow something more troubling to resurface? 

Fredrick’s existential crisis immediately spoke to O’Brien. The New York City native previously suffered an accident, involving a stunt gone wrong, while filming his movie, The Maze Runner: The Death Cure. The incident left an injured O’Brien hospitalized, broken, and mulling whether to continue acting. 

“The two things I had done the longest since I started acting were Teen Wolf and Maze Runner,” O’Brien says. “I had always had those homes and knew I would be moving on from those at some point. They happened in the same year, too. They both kind of ended. It was a new stage that I was going to be entering into. I wanted to take my time, for me personally, because I had been going nonstop since I was 18. I always believed that as an artist, the only thing you are inspired by is life and experience. You can’t be on set all the time. I was reading a lot and trying to figure out and feel what was right to do next. I wanted to be patient about that.

“I read this script and called my manager, ‘I absolutely love this!'" he adds. "It’s an incredibly well-written script and wildly unique. It’s completely out there, and yet, at the same time, it’s really structured and written by somebody who knows what they are doing. Beyond that, it felt like my world at the time. Something could not have fallen into my lap that I was more connected to.” 

Although marketed as a psychological thriller, Flashback’s narrative is rooted in genre, with elements of horror and sci-fi. Reminiscent of Jacob’s Ladder, the story switches between past, present, and future versions of Fredrick. In addition, a horrifying creature, with a personal connection to Fredrick, haunts his visions. The monster serves as an interesting device used as a metaphor for motherhood and exploring the complexities with a parent.

“I love that instead of hammering home what his relationship was like with his mother in the script, it’s sort of a very important piece of the film that he’s losing his mother,” explains O’Brien. “You never really see how he feels about that, outside of what he is going through. The only way you do that is through this creature and through this hovering energy.”

Viewers will be treated to multiple Fredricks (nine, to be precise) on this deeply personal journey. There’s 17-year-old teen Fredrick, his present-day self, and an older version. O’Brien was impressed by the aging and de-aging process — enough that he admits to occasionally getting a little lost in time.

“Every day, I’m like, ‘Where the hell am I?’” he jokes.    

“The makeup team has been doing an amazing job because it’s not an easy thing to do and you have to be subtle with it,” O’Brien says. “They will do things, like when I’m 30, it’s no makeup aside from enhancing my little wrinkles that I have, the natural things in my face and have a little scruff. Then, at 17, they are young-ing us up. They put makeup on us to make our skin look younger, our face look better. A little foundation smoothes everything out. We shave and try to cover up the shadow. 

“I didn’t expect it to be so mentally and emotionally draining,” he continues. “I do feel spent at the end of so many days. It’s a lot of focus. Again, in this time crunch of 25 days, sometimes we are doing three big scenes of the entire arc of the film, three completely different stages of his life. I want the performance to be there. It’s difficult, but it’s such a fun challenge because it’s something I connect to, something I dearly care about and want to get right.” 

O’Brien concludes, “It’s been nothing but a blast and a pleasure to have that challenge of exploring these subtly different nine versions of this guy and having traces of him still be there in each and every one.”   

Flashback premieres in select theaters and VOD on June 4.