In Richard Linklater’s 2016 film Everybody Wants Some!!, a comedy about college baseball players set at the fictional Southeast Texas University, a smooth-talking ladies’ man named Finnegan hits on a coed by telling her his astrological sign. He’s a loyal and confident Leo, but, he confesses with a carefully rehearsed look of bashfulness, “the truth is, I wound easily.”
Finnegan is a bit of a playboy, but Glen Powell plays him with such charm that you want to be friends with him anyway. The 33-year-old Austin native has since portrayed astronaut John Glenn in Hidden Figures and won hearts in the Netflix rom-com Set It Up; more recently, he teamed up with Linklater again on the nostalgic Apollo 10½: A Space Age Childhood. On May 27, you can catch him in Top Gun: Maverick as Hangman, a pilot training for a specialized mission under Pete “Maverick” Mitchell, reprised by Tom Cruise.
Texas Monthly: You’ve been in Los Angeles for fourteen years. Is it easy for you to identify Texans out there?
Glen Powell: Oh, yeah. Texans head out there feeling like they’re going to take over the world. I also find that Texans, more than anyone, are undeterred when s— inevitably goes wrong. There’s a thing about Texans: you get punched in the nose, and you go back in the fight.
TM: It’s been two years since Top Gun: Maverick’s release was postponed. What’s it been like waiting for the rest of the world to see it?
GP: It’s been a slow decay of my looks, you know? (laughs) The experience feels so far away, but the cool part is we’re putting real fighter jets eighteen inches away from each other. It’s visceral—you feel complete investment in the well-being of the characters in a way that you don’t get in other movies. When movies get bigger, sometimes they lose emotion. And this one maintains it.
TM: Tell me about the first time you saw Top Gun.
GP: I was ten years old. It was like when your dad throws you a glove and says, “We’re gonna play catch.” That’s what it felt like with Top Gun. It was romantic, adventurous, funny, and everyone looked so cool. It represented everything I loved about movies then. Even two years prior to auditioning, I would tell people, “I’m blocking that time out because I’m gonna be doing Top Gun.” And they’d be like, “Oh, did you get cast?” and I’d say, “No, but I’m ready to do this movie.”
TM: It was just going to happen.
GP: (laughs) Right. When the audition came around, I felt very good. [Powell first auditioned for the role of Rooster, the son of Maverick’s late best friend, Goose.] But afterward, they let me know they were going with Miles [Teller]. I kept hearing from my agent that they wanted to talk to me about this other role, but it felt like an Iceman derivative, like the Draco Malfoy of Top Gun. Nothing excited me about it. I went to meet with [Cruise], and we talked about my career, and he asked me why I didn’t want to sign on. I explained how I felt about the character, and I left still saying no.
TM: So you said no to Tom Cruise?
GP: The fact that I even said no is sort of arrogant. But I got a call the next day that they had rewatched the original film and something clicked. They rewrote a lot of the script to figure out a character that really challenges Maverick and the audience in a new way. After hours of talking on the phone about their vision, I trusted them and told Tom, “All right, man, I feel the need.”
TM: Cruise has a reputation for being intense. What’s it like being an actor in one of his films?
GP: The best part of his intensity is the enthusiasm and attention to detail. Everything we shot was real. We were up in F-18s the whole time. So these aerial sequences that we’re doing, you just can’t match the distortion on someone’s face when they’re pulling seven and a half g’s [seven and a half times the force of gravity]. Your skin’s being pulled in all sorts of weird directions, and your eyes are bulging out. Even saying lines, you’re grunting through them, and it’s so real.
TM: What did you do to prepare?
GP: There’s a thing called the hick maneuver that we learned early on, which pushes blood from your legs back up to your head and your heart so you don’t pass out. We learned to fly Cessnas and then Extra 300s, which are these aerobatic planes, to increase our g-tolerance. When we moved up to the L-39, which is a fighter jet trainer, we had to do these swimming tests where you get into a helo dunker. They spin you around blindfolded underwater, and you have to basically break the glass and get out.
TM: Thinking of one of the most iconic scenes in Top Gun, I have to ask: Is there volleyball in this new movie?
GP: There is a very shirtless, very greased-up football scene (laughs).It makes it hard to throw a football when there’s that much oil on your body. You need it, though.
TM: You recently got to work with Richard Linklater again in Apollo 10½. How did he sell you on that?
GP: Rick is one of my favorite phone calls to get. [He] does these evening bicycle rides, but he was calling me in the car this time, and he just told me, “You did Hidden Figures. You always kind of play the hero. What if you were in the control room?” While we were talking, he actually got a speeding ticket. I asked him if it was worth it, and he said no, so that was a little disheartening (laughs). The script was adorable and wonderful, and I felt like I had a perspective on how to make it fun.
TM: You’ve been working on Devotion, a Korean War drama about U.S. Navy aviators Jesse Brown and Tom Hudner. You’re helping develop the script, and now you’ll be starring in the movie opposite fellow Texan Jonathan Majors. What made you so passionate about this particular story?
GP: They are the most famous aviator duo in the history of the Navy, and yet no one outside of the Navy really is aware of them. It is very similar to Saving Private Ryan, which is about a bunch of men going and finding one guy and losing a lot in the process. [Devotion] is about what it takes to be an ally, what it takes to be a wingman, not because it’s logical, but because it’s the right thing to do.
Styled by Rima Vaidila; bomber jacket: Buck Mason; button-down: Theory; tank: 2(X)ist; jeans: Re/Done; vertical stripe polo: Ted Baker
This discussion has been edited for clarity and length.
This article originally appeared in the May 2022 issue of Texas Monthly with the headline “Glen Powell Takes Off.” Subscribe today.