Glen Powell, who calls himself a “very patriotic guy,” was in a fetal position for much of the Fourth of July in 2018. The day before, he had gotten the call that he did not get the role he spent weeks auditioning for — and arguably a whole career pining after — in the Top Gun sequel, Maverick. “I understand how Hollywood works in terms of, ‘Hey, it’s not about you. There’s a lot of other people making a lot of decisions that have nothing to do with you or your performance.’ Blah. Blah. Blah.” Even knowing this, the 33-year-old actor explains, “This one I just took very personally and was just plain sad.” (Of course, Powell did end up in the film. More on this later.)
The Austin-raised Powell has clocked a decade and a half in filmmaking. In high school, he appeared in films from fellow Texans Robert Rodriguez and Richard Linklater. At 17, his mom drove him to Shreveport, Louisiana, to audition for Denzel Washington’s The Great Debaters. “I got a call from [Washington] right afterward saying, ‘Hey, I really want you for this bigger role, [but] some of the other producers don’t believe you can pull it off. So I’m going to invite you to the table read, and I just need you to come ready to play,’ ” recalls Powell. “I kind of misinterpreted that.” He showed up to the table read, which included Oprah Winfrey, thinking the best way to show he had “come ready to play” was by wearing a full tuxedo. He got the part.
While the formalwear may have been ill-advised, it is representative of Powell’s give-it-your-all approach to Hollywood. “This town’s pretty brutal when it’s not working out for you. You’ve got to just kind of last,” says the actor, who has been on a climb through each echelon of stardom, from guest-starring in a procedural arc (NCIS), to a Ryan Murphy series (Scream Queens), a studio sequel (The Expendables 3), a populist awards film (Hidden Figures) and a Netflix rom-com (Set It Up).
Practiced patience has served him well the past two years as he waited for his biggest role to date in Top Gun: Maverick to reach theaters May 27 after three pandemic delays. Before his first audition, Powell traveled south to Coronado’s North Island military base to talk with naval aviators and “live in that world for a couple weeks.” He made it to the final three for the role of Rooster — the onscreen son of Goose, Maverick’s partner who died in the first film — up against Nicholas Hoult and Miles Teller. The role went to Teller, with Powell receiving that fateful July 2018 call that left him despondent. But a week later, he received another call, this time from Tom Cruise praising his audition. “No movie star calls the guy that doesn’t get the role,” says Powell. “Movie stars typically want the glory without the nitty-gritty of having to break people’s hearts.”