Austin Native Glen Powell Takes Flight with ‘Top Gun: Maverick’ and ‘Devotion’
We catch up with the actor as he shares the passion behind his work, highlights his local haunts and looks to the future
By Darcie Duttweiler
Portraits by Alejandro Laurel
“Devotion” set photos by Eli Adé
Glen Powell had a spectacular 2022.
“Top Gun: Maverick,” the movie he filmed four years ago after Tom Cruise personally asked him to play the wise-cracking Lt. Jake ‘Hangman’ Seresin, was finally released after several delays, ultimately raking in almost $1.5 billion at the box office and catapulting his rising star even higher. His third film with Richard Linklater, “Apollo 10 1⁄2: A Space Age Childhood,” premiered at South by Southwest, and he’s currently wrapping up filming in New Orleans of their fourth outing, “Hitman,” which Powell is starring, producing and co-writing based on a Skip Hollandsworth “Texas Monthly’’ article. “Devotion,” his aerial Korean War epic about the bi-racial friendship of two of the Navy’s most celebrated wingmen, co-starring Jonathan Majors, is currently in theaters. It was also announced in September that he and “Bridgerton” breakout Regé-Jean Page would join forces with Joe and Anthony Russo on an Amazon Prime series inspired by “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.”
Needless to say, Austin’s golden boy is about to fly even higher.
We spoke with the charmer via video call from New Orleans the day after his beloved Texas Longhorns suffered a devastating 41-34 loss to Oklahoma State to discuss his amazing year, the beauty of flying and his love of bottomless ribs.
Hi. How are you?
“I’m doing great. Where in the world are you right now?”
I’m in Austin. But, it’s very gloomy today.
“I mean, gloomy in terms of Texas mourning the loss of Oklahoma State [sighs]. I hope we’ll figure it out eventually. Texas is in striking distance. We’re so close. I think we just got to figure out how to be a fourth quarter team.”
Let’s dive in and go all the way back to the beginning. What was it like for you being an Austin, Texas, boy going out to Hollywood?
“It’s been a really interesting journey. I actually talked about this with Rick [Linklater] at dinner. It was my birthday a couple of days ago, so I’ve been a little nostalgic because I worked with him for the first time when I was 14 years old. Now I’m 34, and we’re working together again.
Being from Austin, it’s like I won the lottery. It’s the most magical place to grow up, and people are excited to be living life with each other. It’s also a creative place. The whole ‘keep Austin weird’ thing is perfect to marinate in the mind of an actor. The film business was a bigger thing here when I was a kid, so I got to have my foot in it. But I saw so many people go out to L.A. and they’d try their hand at Hollywood, and then they would come back looking like they just got their ass kicked. Hollywood took everything that was special about this person and just threw them through the wringer. I mean, it’s a hard, hard town. So, I’m just really happy that it’s all working out.”
Do you think you’ve still kept your Austin joie de vivre?
“I spend a lot of time in Austin. I don’t let Austin get too far away from my heart. I always want to be drinking the Austin water, being a part of Austin culture and being around Austin people.”
How does it feel when you come home these days?
“Look, Austin’s changing. I know a lot of Austin locals can roll their eyes and say, ‘Oh, it’s all changing with these young whippersnappers and their development.’ And, I’m mourning the loss of Nau’s, which was my favorite place for milkshakes after auditions. That place was so special. I mourn the loss of those institutions. But, I also love the Music Lane development. It added such a fun aspect to SoCo. You still have the Continental Club. You still have these really cool places, so I think it’s not all bad. I’m optimistic about the way Austin’s going — as long as we can get MoPac not to be such a damn nightmare!”
What are some of your favorite places in Austin?
“I tend to stick with my established ones. Hotel St. Cecilia is my all-time favorite. That place is just magic. I would say that, in terms of getting drinks downtown, I still love the Driskill. It’s my favorite place. You start off with a classy cocktail, and then you get dirty and dirtier as the night goes on. You know, this new spot that I just tried was Pasta|Bar, which was great. But, when I go back to Austin, my treat to myself every time is how I spent most of my birthdays, which is at the Salt Lick. You’ve got the BYOB policy, the bottomless ribs. They call me the ‘meat man.’ I love grilling meat. I love eating meat. And the bottomless meat platter at Salt Lick is one of my favorite things to do. I throw football parties out in L.A., and there’s one cabinet that is just all Salt Lick barbecue sauce.”
You’ve had a really big 2022. What was it like to finally have “Top Gun: Maverick” hit the big screen after filming it a million years ago?
“It’s a distant, distant memory [laughs]. It’s funny because I turned 30 on the set of ‘Maverick.’ Wow, four years later, this movie is changing my life. It was worth the wait! Tom Cruise saw the forest through the trees. He was really passionate about it and didn’t unleash this movie on the world until the world was ready to see it in its proper format in the theater and especially in IMAX. I’m just so grateful that he did because it wouldn’t have had nearly the impact. And also we worked really damn hard to put IMAX cameras all over F-18s, and that movie is just not as impactful if you’re watching it on your phone. You need to be seeing it in the formats, and with the sound, in which it was designed to be seen and heard to truly get the impact of the entire crew and cast that put every ounce of blood, sweat, tears and a little vomit into making it a huge success.”
Speaking of vomit, how did you physically prepare for the flying in this film and also “Devotion”? It seems like you’re in the air nonstop now.
“Can’t keep me out! Flying shape is a real thing, especially when you’re flying stuff that requires up to nine Gs [of force]. Your body’s not used to that. The blood is literally being pulled from your head, and there’s a physical thing to push blood back up to your brain. On ‘Devotion’ we were flying in these 70-year-old warbirds, ripping and roaring near lighthouses and low-level stuff and mountains. It’s extreme. But we really wanted to do something new and emotional and expressive with these planes. Movies haven’t been made about the Korean War, so we had to pull planes from aviation enthusiasts and make them safe enough to fly in for actors and pull them together where you’re having eight Corsairs flying in close proximity. They’ve never done that, not even in airshows.”
Is it true that Tom Cruise paid for your flight school?
“That is true.”
And you’re now a licensed pilot, right?
“I am, yeah. I’ve been flying around quite a bit. Unfortunately, my filming schedule in New Orleans has been a little more extreme than I thought. When you’re the lead of a movie, there’s kind of no days off. Last night was the first time I actually got to go out for dinner since I’ve been here. But, flying is just a real love of mine. It’s my meditation. The feeling of being up there alone is indescribable. There’s a purity to flying that I just find to be really beautiful.”
Speaking of “Devotion,” as a producer of the film, you’ve been trying to get this made for a while. Why was this story important to you?
“I read the book on a fishing trip with my family, and I remember after reading it, I couldn’t put my finger on exactly why it connected with me so much. This friendship was so unique, and it was such a weird part of the world at a weird time where the United States is post World War II. They’re trying to define who they are and how they’re interacting with the world. And racism is still rampant, and yet people are trying to do the right thing, but they don’t know how to do it. It felt like the same crossroads we are now as a country, and that mirrored where these two men were, trying to be a good friend and wingman. And I thought it was a beautiful story. In terms of making a movie like ‘Hidden Figures,’ I really saw the impact of those three women that were responsible for this great American moment who’d never gotten their due, never been praised for their work. Finally getting to make ‘Devotion’ was so special. It’s a story of what we all strive for, who we all want to be in terms of our friendships, in terms of being an ally. I just thought that’s a good thing to put out in the world.”
You went to the funeral for the man whose character you play. What was it like to have that personal connection?
“It was actually a very emotional moment. I was in deep with everyone in his life, everybody that really cared about him. Everyone knows I love this job more than anything, but I never felt such a weight as I did after that funeral to tell the story and tell it right. The fact that the Brown family was at his funeral, and seeing how that friendship started 70 years ago, the legacy of that, and those families are still interconnected by this one event, it’s hard to describe.”
Shifting gears a bit, you’re working with Richard Linklater again on “Hitman,” which you’re also producing and co-writing. How did you get involved in the film?
“Anytime I can get back in the saddle with Rick, I’ll do it. It was a ‘Texas Monthly’ article that Rick had read like eight years ago. I read it, and it’s a fascinating character. It’s a guy whose entire job is to set people up when they’re trying to kill their loved ones. But what’s really interesting with Rick is we have this exploration of humanity through this whole thing. It’s really about how love can curdle into hate and how love and hate sometimes can kind of exist in close proximity to each other. It’s really fun, though. This movie’s got so many different gears. It’s got a love story at the center. It’s action packed. It’s funny. It’s a thriller. Rick and I are just having the best time. We’re about halfway through right now, but we’re feeling very optimistic about what we’re getting. So we’ve got to keep our foot on the gas and again be a fourth quarter team! [laughs]”
What’s it like to team up with Rick for the fourth time?
“I mean, Rick is like family. The thing you want to do in this business more than anything is work with your heroes, right? I’ve idolized Rick since I was a kid. We have a guy whose honesty is just pouring out of every frame of his movies. Rick just makes what’s in his heart, and it’s really, really cool to be a part of. I will make movies with Rick until we’re both dead.”
You’ve worked with a lot of amazing directors and acting legends. Where do you see your career going?
“I kind of tend to borrow and steal from everybody I work with, you know? I mean, obviously working with Cruise was really defining for me. I mean Tom Cruise may have saved the movie business. He’s just such an impressive person in general and a guy who really cares about the people he makes movies with. And then I look at people like [Sylvester] Stallone and his tenacity, or the way [Kevin] Costner has written and directed. Octavia Spencer, Jamie Lee Curtis and John Stamos are all people that I’ve gotten a chance to keep in my life after working with them. And you just take something from everybody, whether it’s just acting or the way someone goes to work. I’m taking things I learned from Jonathan Majors and bringing him into this role for ‘Hitman.’ That’s the fun legacy of working with all these really impressive people — you end up pooling all those experiences and all these relationships into your career going forward. They all become part of the same wonderful picture.”
“Set it Up” is still trending on the internet. Do you think you’ll make another rom-com in the future?
“Yeah, I do! I grew up on rom-coms. I have two sisters and a mom. I was raised by a lot of women and know the genre well. So I’d love to play there again sooner rather than later.”
You also have a “Butch and Sundance Kid” series in the works. What’s it like to think about filling Robert Redford’s boots?
“‘Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid’ is my favorite movie, so I’m making sure I’m not going to hate myself. What we’re doing and building with the Russo brothers — I’m not really allowed to talk about too much! But I will say what we’re doing is very different and very exciting. I wasn’t really thinking I was going to do a series, but the pitch and the way in, it is sick. But like on ‘Top Gun,’ I wasn’t trying to be Iceman. I wasn’t trying to be a derivative of anything else. So we’ll create our own path and create our own character. I’m really excited for the world to see this one.”
Well, I know you’re a busy man, so I’ll let you go. But is there anything else you want to mention?
“Go see ‘Devotion!’ That would be the best birthday gift. And I’m so honored to be on the cover with you guys. It’s just such a cool deal.”