Glen Powell’s career has gone high-velocity this year with a breakout role in Set It Up. Now he’s getting his need for speed in Top Gun: Maverick and co-starring with Channing Tatum in an action-comedy. Watch his career go sky-high…
Feeling the need for speed.
The first time Total Film met Glen Powell, aka The Hottest Actor In Hollywood Right Now, was at Austin’s South By Southwest festival in March 2016. College dramedy Everybody Wants Some!! had opened to rave reviews the night before, and writer-director Richard Linklater was sprawled out in a sun-soaked suite at the Four Seasons Hotel with all of his hunky cast, watching them slurp down coffee and fork scrambled eggs to ward off hangovers.
Powell, who stole the movie as Finnegan, the smooth-talking older student who coins the term “fuckwithery” and picks up dates by boasting of his average-sized penis, wandered over and started chatting, thanking Total Film for the feature on the movie that broke a couple of days before. Unpardonably handsome, Powell was also impossibly charming, inviting Total Film to party with the Everybody Wants Some!! cast in London when they flew in for the film’s UK release.
Fast-forward two-and-a-half years and the prediction made in the aforementioned TF feature – that Everybody Wants Some!!, the “spiritual sequel” of Linklater’s Dazed And Confused, would do for its young cast what that movie did for then-unknowns Matthew McConaughey, Ben Affleck and Milla Jovovich – is coming true for Powell. Last year he impressed as astronaut John Glenn in Oscarnominated drama Hidden Figures, and this year he bewitched as Lily James’ fiancé in romantic-drama The Guernsey Literary And Potato Peel Pie Society
– so much so, you wanted James to stay with him and not fall for dashing potato farmer Michiel Huisman.
But it was Netflix original Set
It Up, which dropped in June, that suddenly made Powell a star and led to his casting alongside Tom Cruise, Val Kilmer, Jennifer Connelly and Miles Teller in Top Gun: Maverick
(more on which later).
“It’s weird because there’s no number,” say Powell in Los Angeles, glowing after his morning jog. “Y’know, you can make a billion dollars at the box office and go, ‘Oh, yeah, that was a success.’ But you can’t do that with Set It Up [because Netflix doesn’t release viewing figures]. But the amount of people who have come up to me in the street! It’s their new favourite movie. I can feel how many eyeballs have been on that movie.”
Likely to become known, in a couple of years’ time, as the movie that single-handedly resurrected the romantic comedy, Set It Up sees corporate assistants Powell and Zoey Deutch (the female lead in Everybody Wants Some!!) agree to set up their respective bosses – both workaholics, both iron-handed – so they might get themselves the odd night off. Powell’s Charlie and Deutch’s Harper do not, initially, get on, but this work-marriage of convenience naturally blossoms into a romance that is of course hampered when their bosses latch on to their plan. Which is to say, Set It Off plays by genre rules. But that is part of its pleasure. The other part – and a huge part it is, too – is the nuclear chemistry between Powell and Deutch. With the movie a hot topic both in Hollywood and on social media, Powell’s phone must be ringing off the hook…
“Yeah, which is really great,” he chuckles. “When commercial and critical line up, it’s great. Sometimes, in this business, you feel like you’re on a treadmill and you’re not going anywhere. And now suddenly it’s, ‘Hey, I’m moving, I’m jogging!’”
To prepare for his role as harassed assistant Charlie, Powell manned the desk of his own agent for three days, and now jokes, “The only reason my career has been better is because I forwarded all the stuff to my inbox. Nobody works harder for you than you. I was the hottest client at the agency – for three days.”
Less of a laughing matter is that he managed to cut off Ron Howard during his stint. “I thought I was going to pee my pants and get fired,” he gasps. “I’ve never been more destroyed.”
If Everybody Wants Some!! got Powell noticed, Set It Up made him an overnight success, albeit one who’s been plugging away for years. “I’ve been doing this since I was 12,” says the 29-year-old actor, pointing to his big-screen debut as ‘Long-Fingered Boy’ in Robert Rodriguez’s Spy Kids 3: Game Over, in which he’s credited as Glen Powell Jr.
Born and raised in Austin, Texas, to a Polish father and British mother, Powell was an All-State lacrosse player (Linklater only cast sporty actors in Everybody Wants Some!! as they had to convince as a baseball team) who put aside his stick to concentrate on acting. Mixing TV and movies, his most notable credits pre-EWS!! are as Harvard Debater #1 in Denzel Washington’s
The Great Debaters, Trader #1 in The Dark Knight and Thorn in The Expendables 3, while a small role in Fast Food Nation fired up his relationship with Linklater.
“I know what it is to feel like the under-appreciated, invisible person in the room,” says Powell, who worked minimum wage jobs to get by and pressed his shoulder to the Hollywood door by becoming a script reader on the Sony lot. “But things are starting to come around and I’m getting to work with people I’ve been dying to work with my entire life.”
One of these people is Tom Cruise. With the news of Powell’s casting in an as-yet unspecified role in Top Gun: Maverick dropping pretty much as Total Film hangs out with him, Powell is banned from muttering so much as the words ‘Gun’ or ‘Top’, let alone dishing any goss. What we do know is that the belated sequel to the 1986 smash will focus on fifth-generation fighters and drone technology, with the rise of the machines signalling an end to the era of dogfighting. We also know that, for a few weeks, it looked like Powell had missed out – up against Miles Teller and Nicholas Hoult for the role of Goose’s son, the golden assignment was gifted to Teller, with Powell again demonstrating his grace and charm by tweeting: “I’m taking down all of the Tom Cruise posters in my bedroom. Maybe,
I’ll leave one. Two for symmetry. OK, the posters are staying.”
Today, all that an apologetic Powell can offer is how stoked he is to be working with Cruise, who he regards as a terrific actor and something of a role model. “Nobody in Hollywood works harder; that’s the kinda guy I want to be,” he shrugs. And is Top Gun: Maverick the kind of movie he wants to make now that his career has taken off, or does he wish to leverage character pieces like Set It Up?
“I don’t think those things are mutually exclusive,” he starts, “but there are careers that I’ve studied and movies I got into the business to make. I’m working with Ron Howard at the moment, and Apollo 13 is one of my all-time favourite movies. When I was shooting Hidden Figures, I would listen to the Apollo 13 soundtrack during my jog in the morning. I love Tin Cup. Character pieces. That’s why I have to give Netflix credit for Set
It Up; the studios are making these movies less and less. They don’t necessarily pan out at a studio where you have to put a certain amount of star power into the movie, and then pre-sell it, and then market it with twice the budget. The stakes get high.” He grins. “When you’re wearing
‘i know what it is to feel like the under-appreciated, invisible person in the room’
spandex and flying around, you’re at a studio. When you want to tell an intimate story, you go to the streaming platforms. The movies I’m developing are real character pieces.”
Care to share? “Devotion is a book I read a couple of years ago and I kept bothering the author [Adam Makos] for the rights,” says Powell, who’s keen to also imitate Cruise in becoming a producer. “It’s about the pilot Tom Hudner in the Korean War: he and his co-pilot Jesse Brown, who was the first African-American pilot in the Navy, were wingmen who looked over the horrendous, brutal North Korean front. They were pulling these incredibly daring manoeuvres in these new planes that were very difficult to fly, saving hundreds of thousands of lives, and Jesse Brown ended up getting shot down behind enemy lines. Tom Hudner crash-landed his plane in order to save him. It’s a really beautiful true story that we’ve been developing for a while and the script just came in and it’s sensational.”
With Top Gun: Maverick and Devotion lined up, Powell’s career really is sky-high at the moment. And those two films are only the beginning of his starry future. “There’s another movie I’ve been developing with Channing Tatum for the past year-and-a-half that we’ll shoot next year,” he says. “Ron Howard is producing it. I can’t really talk about it other than to say that Channing and I are going to have to get in very, very good shape.” His laugh is infectious. “It’s an actioncomedy in the vein of 21 Jump Street and it’s really fun.”
Just don’t expect Powell to lose his head in the clouds. This is, after all, the guy who walked his grandma up the red carpet at the Set It Off premiere, and who’s southern charm informs everything he says and does. “I really, really appreciate you talking to me; I’m a big fan of you guys,” he says as we conclude our chat, and there’s no sense of him playing the game, just sincerity and civility.
Glen Powell: the high flier whose feet are planted firmly on the ground.
THE GUERNSEY LITERARY AND POTATO PEEL PIE SOCIETY IS OUT NOW ON DIGITAL HD AND OUT 27 AUGUST ON DVD AND BD. TOP GUN: MAVERICK OPENS IN JULY 2019.
couPling uP Powell with on-screen fiancée Lily James in The Guernsey Literary And Potato Peel Pie Society (below); matchmaking with Zoey Deutch inSet It Up (above).