Colin O'Brien | The Momentum Continues

The rising actor discusses "Dear Edward" and "Wonka"

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Brooke Metayer

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Photographed by Ben Cope

Colin O’Brien has always been an entertainer. He started honing his talents on the stage at a young age, racking up 17 stage productions before bursting onto the screen with a role in the 2022 Netflix film Mr. Harrigan's Phone. Now, the teenage actor is starring in the Apple TV+ series Dear Edward, opposite Connie Britton and Taylor Schilling. In this leading role, he plays Edward Adler, a 12-year-old boy who has to pick up the pieces after losing his family in a plane crash. 

His momentum continues through the year with another Netflix project: sci-fi adventure film The Mothership, starring Halle Berry. O’Brien also will make his big screen debut in December, playing a young Timothee Chalamet in the much anticipated Willy Wonka origin-story film, Wonka, from director Paul King. 

You can see O’Brien in the latest episode of Dear Edward, out today on Apple TV+.

What was the moment you first knew you were fated to act?

There wasn’t really ever one moment, or experience for me. It was more like a series of events throughout my life. When I was a lot younger, I used to really be a ham. Like I would stand up and dance to music at restaurants, wiggle my eyebrows, or other weird kid things. When I was in preschool, I convinced my entire class that I had a little sister named Zoe. I told them all these little things about her, like about how she only ate the core of the apple, or that she barked like a dog, really anything I could think of. And that worked, until my mom picked me up from school early one day, and the whole class wanted to see my sister. My mom was confused as this wasn’t something she had heard before, and because she didn’t have a daughter. I ended up getting into trouble with my teacher, but my mom saw it as a sign of creativity. That summer she signed me and my brother up for a mainstage production of the Wizard of Oz. I played a munchkin, and a flying monkey. She also thought musical theater would be good for my brother, who’s on the spectrum. 

Can you explain how you moved from theater to tv/film?

It really all started in 2019, when my mom bought my brother an on camera class for my brother’s birthday. I was brought along because of the sibling discount, and I really loved it. The instructor suggested we get headshots and get onto Actor’s Access, and then things kind of just started up for me with The Mothership.

Was there anything about acting for the screen that you had to get used to versus what you were familiar with theatrically? 

Screen acting feels more intimate, so the large gestures of theater aren't necessary unless it's part of your character.  Blocking in theater acting brings in the audience, so there's a lot more movement, especially in musicals. The response in theater is instantaneous as well, so as an actor, you play off that a bit. On set, my adjustments are based on what my director wants or what my screen partner brings to a scene. For screen acting, you're always aware of where the camera is, so your audience is the camera in a sense. It also depends on how many cameras there are. While the features I've worked on were single-camera, Dear Edward was multi-camera. That changes the dynamic because it's almost like a mini stage and typically there are fewer takes.

What other actors do you look up to?

This is a hard question because there are so many actors I look up to. I love Bryan Cranston. I just snuck-binge watched Breaking Bad and was blown away. Now I'm watching Your Honor.  He's just amazing. Interstellar is my favorite movie, so Matthew McConaughey is another actor I look up to. I also look up to Anya Taylor-Joy. I loved her in The Queen's Gambit and The Witch. I'm also loving Barry right now-Bill Hader has such a range-just love him.

What is your dream role? 

I would really love to be a lead or a supporting role in a feature, like a western or science fiction.

What can you share about Wonka?

I can't reveal any scenes I was in, but can say that I play young Timothee Chalamet. I can also share that there were chocolates on the set that were like works of art and that I'm grateful to have had the opportunity to act with Sally Hawkins,who inspired me with her kind words to make acting my life's goal. She gave me the necklace that I wear every day.

What are the pros and cons of being a teenager working in Hollywood? 

I guess the cons of being a teenager in Hollywood would be that you're going through the most awkward and stressful part of your childhood in front of possibly thousands of people, which kind of makes you more closed off and self aware. The pros are that I get to work with amazing people and travel a lot. Another pro is that acting is a great way to discover things about yourself as a teenager you might not have found out otherwise and that there is always a little bit of a character left behind after you leave a project, which adds depth, I think.

What are you looking forward to the most this year?

I am looking forward to Wonka coming out later this year, and to the Dear Edward season finale and to a possible second season. I also just started taking a cooking class, so I am excited to explore that.

What do you do in your free time to stay true to yourself?

I play the piano. I learned to play for Dear Edward and just fell in love with it. I also love photography, playing chess, hiking, traveling and spending time with my family. I also just started writing a film short, so that's been fun.

Styled by: Enrique Melendez

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Colin O'Brien, wonka, Dear Edward