The Glen Powell Network

13 Jan

Glen Powell on His Whirlwind Year and How Proud He Is of ‘Devotion’

COLLIDER“To be a collaborator with one of your heroes, it’s the privilege of a lifetime,” he says of making ‘Hitman’ with Richard Linklater.
Glen Powell is on fire with his career, amassing high-caliber projects as an actor, taking on more projects as a producer, and adding writer to his resume. He received well-deserved attention in 2022, for his work in the mega-smash hit blockbuster Top Gun: Maverick, headlined by Tom Cruise, and for the epic and inspirational true story Devotion, for which he pursued the rights of the book to executive produce and worked alongside co-star Jonathan Majors to bring the friendship of U.S. Navy fighter pilots Jesse Brown and Tom Hudner to the screen in the most accurate and authentic way possible. It’s the culmination of a 20-year career that feels like it’s only just beginning to show what he’s capable of.

With Devotion available with special features on digital and to stream at Paramount+, Collider got the opportunity to chat with Powell for this 1-on-1 interview about the whirlwind of the last year in his life and career, how his experience on Top Gun: Maverick helped inform things for Devotion, the challenges of cockpit acting, bonding with Majors, and why he’s so proud of how the film came out. He also talked about the experience of co-writing Hitman, which he also stars in, with director Richard Linklater and their collaborative relationship, his desire to do a musical, and wanting to believe in the projects he’s selling.

Collider: Congratulations on all the success you had in 2022. Nobody knew how Top Gun: Maverick would do because it’s hard to predict if anyone will even go see a sequel that comes out so many years after the first movie, but everybody loved it and people saw it, over and over again. And then, with Devotion, the film has gotten a lot of praise and attention, but it’s so hard for anything to break through these days, so you just never know. When you work in a business that can take a long time to achieve any kind of success, and where some people never achieve it, how does that feel? What’s it like to have projects that you connect with, that audiences connect with and that are also successful?
GLEN POWELL: By the way, that’s a very nice thing that you just said, so thank you for that. I’ve been in this business a really long time. I’ve been doing this for 20 years. Just to be in the game, and just to be able to make movies at all, is a privilege. It’s the thing that I’ve always wanted to do, my whole life. You’re right, to be a part of movies and to be making movies is really tough. To be able to take something that you feel really passionate about, something that feels near and dear to your heart, and to be able to bring that to the screen and for it to affect audiences on a major level, is a dream come true. It really is hard to describe. And looking back on this last year, which I spent some time doing over the break, 2022 was such a whirlwind. It’s hard to describe. You just try to keep your head above water, and stay present, and not screw anybody’s hard work up. There are a lot of people with a lot of jobs that are relying on you to just not be an idiot. I feel so lucky that I’ve gotten to reflect on this chapter. I feel so grateful that I got to make and bring two movies to audiences this year that are really indicative of the things I love and care about, and I got to make them with people I’ve respected forever. I’m really proud of both of them. That’s the thing that I’ve always wanted to do and use as my guiding light. I believe that movies are your epitaph. At the very end of the day, after I’m gone, hopefully people will still be watching my movies and going, “Wow, that’s what he cared about. That’s what he loved. And it still entertains us.” I look at Top Gun and I look at Devotion as two movies that I feel embody what I love and what I care about.

You never know exactly when a movie you make is going to come out, especially when you add COVID into the mix with scheduling. It’s so funny that you happen to have two movies involving airplanes come out in the same year, but it also really showcases what movies can do. One was this huge blockbuster action flick, and the other also had those elements, but was also something that could really teach us about our own history. Is that something you really want to continue to find a balance with, as far as doing big, fun popcorn movies, but also doing deeper character studies?
POWELL: One of the things that I really learned from Tom [Cruise] on Top Gun was that you don’t necessarily have to choose. One of the things that I’m really proud of with Top Gun is that it doesn’t just fall into an action movie thing. That’s a movie where the ground story affects the air story, and it’s romantic, it’s adventurous, and it’s heartfelt. It’s about a man who’s trying to figure things out. The first movie was a coming of a story. This movie is about a man who’s facing his age and facing being responsible for people, and not just himself. You can’t be a maverick when there are other people’s lives on the line. It’s a really heartfelt story, and it’s a story that I really think resonated with audiences. Putting that father-son relationship and being a parent in the Top Gun world was not only genius, but it was incredibly heartfelt and moved audiences. And with Devotion, I got to take that education and what I learned on Top Gun, and even though I had been developing it for six years, the education that I got on Top Gun really informed making Devotion. I got to make those aerial sequences epic. I got to give audiences something that was epic and, at the same time, really intimate, in terms of this relationship. One of the things that I would love to keep doing is giving audiences spectacle, and giving audiences something that’s cinematic, but also something that moves them, because one shouldn’t exist without the other.

Since you’ve had some experience at it now, as an actor, what’s it like to do scenes where you’re in a cockpit, you’re wearing a helmet, and half of your face is covered for some of that time? How does that change what you’re typically used to doing? How do you figure out your performance with all of that on top of it?
POWELL: I got to learn a lot about the art of cockpit acting in Top Gun, and I got to at least teach Jonathan Majors a little bit. You can’t really ever teach Jonathan Majors much about acting. The guy is as good as they come. But at least I had a little bit of an edge on him, in terms of cockpit acting. Really, what it comes down to is the relationship in that plane. We have to be on the same page, in terms of what he’s emoting and what I’m emoting, to make sure that we’re reacting to each other, even though we’re not in the same plane. We’re flying two very different flights. It’s hardcore. To keep your lunch down while you’re acting is also a thing that’s hard to describe.

Acting is one thing, but I can’t imagine what it’s like to add all of that on top of it.
POWELL: Yeah. I learned so much on Top Gun, but when certain things have to whiz by the cockpit and you have to time it to say your line when that thing is going by, it’s something that just takes experience and practice. You can’t be burning fuel all day, so you’ve gotta figure it out. It’s a real team effort, and we really had the best of the best flying with us. So, with that entire Top Gun education, I got to carry some folks from Top Gun onto Devotion, which made it a little more cost-effective and easier.

When you first read the book for Devotion and you reached out to the author, were you confident that you would have a hand in making this happen? What was the moment when it all really became real?
POWELL: When something strikes me emotionally, I have confidence that I won’t let it go. I become a pit bull, I bite down, and I won’t let go. At the same time, as you and I are both aware, Hollywood is a complicated place. It’s very hard to get things made. I told him that, if given the opportunity, I would do everything in my power to make this thing, and I wouldn’t let go. I would hold on until I got this thing to the screen, and I would make it at the highest level. Looking back on this journey, it’s pretty wild to think about DMing an author and saying, “I love your book and I wanna make it into a movie.” I met Tom Hudner, who I played in the movie, and sat down with his family and made a promise, “If you give me the opportunity, I’d love to make your life into a movie.” And I did the same with the Brown family. It’s wild looking back on that journey and tracking it now. I was just a kid who loved a story and thought that this friendship embodied all the right things about humanity. But did I know I would make the movie, at this level and this scale of the world? I had confidence that I would get it done, but in hindsight, the odds are always stacked against you. This movie could have lost its way, many times over. Thank goodness, we were surrounded by a great filmmaker and great producers to keep it on track. This was not an easy one to get made, and I’m really proud that we saw it to the end.

When you make a promise to the real guy and his family that you’re going to tell the story right, and you make that same promise to the Brown family, how does that impact your work, every day? Were you always thinking about that responsibility? Could you ever not think about that, every second of the day?
POWELL: That is such a good question. The answer is that everybody in my family and everybody who knows me really well has never seen me more stressed out than when I was making this movie. People are like, “Did you have a great time making Devotion?” And I say, “Absolutely not.” I felt that pressure, every day, to make this movie right, for these two men and their families, and to do their legacy right. There are so many complex things that have to go right. We built a full scale carrier on a flight deck, in Statesboro in Georgia, which is wild. We pulled airplanes from around the world. We did all these different things, in order to make sure that the audience was completely immersed in this movie. In addition to that, I woke up every day and I had a picture of Tom Hudner and Jesse Brown on my mantle. I had a note from Tom right there. I had the book notes, and my script was loaded with all sorts of notes. All I did was think about these men. All I did was think about how to do the story right. I don’t think I’ve ever felt this amount of pressure before, in my whole life. So, to get to the end of it and feel very proud about the experience and the journey, and feel proud that we made the movie we set out to make, I’m very happy, but very relieved because it was a rough one, for sure.

Granted, you weren’t in the life or death situation that these two men were, in real life, but what was it like to form that bond with Jonathan Majors, to know you had each other’s backs throughout this shoot? What did you find most meaningful, in sharing that with him?
POWELL: Their friendship was really written in the stars. I’ve always said that these guys were not friends, they were soulmates. These men met, 70 years ago, and they had this moment in Korea, this act of service in wingmanship, that has continued and that’s brought these two families together forever. Their legacy – the legacy of Jesse Brown and the legacy of Tom Hudner – continues on. That’s just so special. It just makes this movie so unique. It’s one of the things that I really felt like I connected with Jonathan on. We sent poems to each other. We listened to the same songs. We really shared things with each other that I don’t know if he’s shared with other people, and that I’ve never shared with other people. It really expedited our friendship. The chemistry that you feel on screen is not necessarily locker room chemistry. It’s ancient. It’s a different type of chemistry. Talking to Fred Smith, who’s one of the producers on the movie and who was a Marine in Vietnam and the founder of FedEx, no one will ever know as much about Fred as the men he served with. There’s something there that’s a part of you, that you expose to other people when you’re in that circumstance. And with Jonathan, he’s a special actor. He really rips his soul out and shows it to you on celluloid, in a way that I’ve never seen another actor do. To be a part of his process was a really great honor.

I love that you don’t seem to be slowing down with your career, at all. What was it like to then do a project like Hitman, where you’re not just acting and producing, but you’re also a co-writer alongside Richard Linklater. How did you even wrap your head around that?
POWELL: I know, that’s another thing. As you know, it’s really hard to get anything made in this town. Rick and I wrote this movie during the pandemic. We came up with it and were noodling with it. It was fun. And then, all of a sudden, we were like, “Oh, this is pretty good.” And then, other people were really excited about it. You don’t really believe that it’s happening until, all of a sudden, you’re on set. I was like, “Oh, man, this is going down. We’re making a movie together.” It’s our fourth movie that we’ve made together. I’ve been a fan of Rick since I was 15 years old. One of my first movies was a movie he did, called Fast Food Nation. This is our fourth collaboration together and there’s just no better way to go to set than with Rick. It was an interesting gear shift, moving into being a producer, a writer, and an actor on this thing. I didn’t have a lot of free time. Everybody’s like, “Hey, did you enjoy the food in New Orleans?” I didn’t leave the set. I went from the set to the house, and from the house to the set. That was my path. Rick and I would write after work. We’d huddle up and rewrite scenes, and we’d shoot them the next day, and we’d bring the cast together. To be a collaborator with one of your heroes, it’s the privilege of a lifetime to be able to work with him. I’m really proud of the movie. I just saw the movie. It’s so fun and so good. Rick and I are both thrilled about it. I feel like we did it. It was a perfect ending to 2022.

Do you feel like it’s changing your approach, as an actor, or the way you perform, getting involved as a producer and now also as a writer? Has getting that much more invested in the projects that you’re doing had a noticeable effect on how you’re acting, in any way?
POWELL: That’s a great question. I don’t think it changes the job of an actor. The best part about the slow burn of my career is that I’ve been doing this for 20 years and it’s taken me a long time to just even get here, which for most people, feels like a starting line. I hope it’s the start of something really great. The thing about it is that I’ve gotten a chance to learn from a lot of greats, along the way. I have a book next to my bed, called Icon Wisdom, and every time I work with one of my heroes, I write down all the wisdom that they’ve told me. The best part about it is that, as a producer, you really get to implement that wisdom in a way that you can’t, as an actor. If you’re part of the process early, and you’re part of shaping things and figuring out the heartbeat of a story, what makes it cinematic, what makes it not just for this audience, but universal, it just changes the way you approach the job, on the front end. It ensures cinematic quality. There’s a lot of risk when you don’t have that. I’m not really a big control guy. It’s not like I need a lot of control, but I do like to surround myself with talented people. You can really relax, as an actor, when you can surround yourself with the best of the best. That’s what happened on Top Gun. That’s what happened on Devotion. I was surrounded with talented people. So, when you get to assemble your team a little bit, showing up to act, you’ll have a much better experience when you feel like you’re taken care of.

Was that always the grand plan? Did you always have it in mind that you were going to do all these other things and get more involved, or was it just that opportunities started happening and you realized that maybe you should just pursue them?
POWELL: I’ve always respected actors that build from the ground up and really find stuff. Whether they were writing or directing or producing, I’ve always looked at actors that had a hand in their career and who weren’t just guns for hire, but they were inspired by stories and they saw them through. There’s something about interpreting a story and being within that world that I think is very cool. That’s what I’ve decided to do with my life, and I love that. There is something really fulfilling about finding an idea that you’re wrestling with personally, and finding characters or stories that embody that and guiding that and assembling the pieces of people. You’re like, “Wow, I just saw this movie that was really incredible. That filmmaker would be great. I wonder if they’d resonate with this story.” Being able to look at the entire ecosystem of everything and assemble the pieces, for me, is not just quality control, but it also allows me to feel more active in this business. You’re participating across the level and it helps ensure you, as an actor, will resonate with the character you’re playing. Your heart is more aligned with the character, if it’s coming from an organic place and you’ve helped shape it, rather than interpreting it two weeks before you roll.

I love that you really have movies all across different genres. Even though Top Gun: Maverick and Devotion both involve airplanes, they still feel like very different stories. Plus, all the other stuff you’re working on, or are in the process of working on, all sounds very different. Is there a genre or a type of movie that you haven’t done, that you would like to produce or create for yourself, in some way?
POWELL: That’s a really great question.

Do you have a secret desire to do a musical?
POWELL: I’d love to do a musical. My entry point into acting was actually musicals, so I would love to do a musical, at some point. I have this document on my phone that I think about quite a bit, which is just my favorite movies that I’ve watched. I know this sounds silly, but I always loved Apollo 13, so when I got to do Hidden Figures, I was like, “That was my Apollo 13 moment.” Weirdly, Top Gun was on there, and Top Gun 2, or Top Gun: Maverick, was my Top Gun moment. Then, Devotion was like my Saving Private Ryan. That list has movies that I’ve always liked or resonated with, or that I’ve felt were unexpected entries into expected genres. That document on my phone has different types of movies that have inspired me to make movies in the first place. Sometimes that can be a guiding light for how I choose things. You can control certain things in this business, and you can’t control other things. You’re at the mercy of the winds sometimes, but you can also fight against the winds and you can be relentless and wait out the storm. That’s what happened with Devotion. It took a long time to see itself to the screen, but it all worked out in the right timing, and it just happened to work out that I had two Naval aviation movies in 2022. I’m proud of both of them.

Where does that confidence come from? Are you nervous and anxious and terrified before you walk onto the set and make everyone think you’re confident? Where does you confidence come from, as far as saying to someone else, “I have this project to sell you on, come do this with me”?
POWELL: I think it comes from a place where, if I don’t believe it, there’s no way I can sell it. For me, I’ve loved movies, my whole life. I’ve had a video camera around my neck, my whole life. I’ve gotta show Tom this, but I have clips of me recreating scenes from Mission: Impossible 2. The scene with the motorcycles, where they go at each other, I recreated that on bikes when I was a kid. I’ve just always loved movies and I was always obsessed with how movies are made. My first school project, when I was in second or third grade, was on [Steven] Spielberg and Ron Howard. I’ve watched the behind-the-scenes on most of their movies, more than I’ve watched the movies themselves. I’ve just always been fascinated by the process. I feel like the more you’re fascinated by something, the more you understand your taste and what you feel audiences respond to and why they respond to it. For me, when I either come up with an idea, or find a script or property or something that I get excited about and I can see the movie, it’s almost like me walking out of a movie that I just saw that I loved. I just wanna talk about it. I just wanna tell you about it. That comes from an authentic place where I just wanna make the movies that I’d wanna see.

Especially with something like Devotion, it feels like that would really come into play because, whether that’s with a director or with other actors, you really have to sell people on wanting to sign up and get involved, and that all starts with how you present the project to them.
POWELL: Absolutely. That’s very astute. I don’t think anyone understands how much of an uphill battle it is. There are a lot of ways [Devotion] almost didn’t get made. A lot of people didn’t understand what we were going for, and didn’t understand why it was gonna resonate and why it was poignant. They were like, “I don’t like the ending.” And I was like, “Well, the ending is the ending because that’s what happened. It’s real life. It was brutal.” The interesting part about these things is that you really have to have a bulletproof sense. You have to be open to ideas and be collaborative about the interpretation on how you tell the story, but you have to be resolute in the things that you know are important.

Jesse and Tom’s relationship, and what was at the core of that and what we were trying to say, was always something that I used as a guiding light and was never willing to compromise on, convincing studios to back this. Jonathan really understood what we were going for, right off the bat. He didn’t take as much convincing as I thought it would take. But when Jonathan and I started this journey together, he was not Jonathan Majors. Now, obviously, the studios understand that he’s a massive movie star and he’s gonna be around forever, and he’s one of the greats. But at the time, there was a big question mark on the two of us. So, it’s been a long journey, for sure. I still can’t believe we got it made.

Devotion is available on digital and is streaming at Paramount+.