It’s 2003, and a 14-year-old Glen Powell is hiding in the bushes with Alexa Vega during a game of hide-and-seek. He’s at the after-party for the premiere of his first film, Spy Kids 3.
“I missed my first kiss with Alexa. I was that close,” he laughs. “I remember it was at the after party—all the people in the movie were there, and all the kids were playing hide and go seek. My hiding partner was Alexa. So we were hiding in this bush for a while, and she was like, ‘Hey, so it was really fun working with you,’ and I was like, Glen, just do it. And I didn’t!”
He’s cracking up while telling me this.
It’s quite an icebreaker. We’re in LA’s Arts District, where Powell just wrapped a photo shoot, and he’s chowing down on some carrots. He has a meeting on the Westside in an hour. This is his dinner.
“I loved theatre as a kid,” he says between bites. “But, the theatre company I was a part of was going under, and like every once and a while a movie would come to Austin.” Spy Kids 3 was the first film to cast Powell from his hometown, and he caught the industry bug. “I realized how much I really care about this business. I mean, ever since I was a kid—I’m working with Ron Howard on something right now, and I got to tell Ron, you know, my 3rd grade project, my biography assignment was on him...I was just always fascinated with this business.”
Powell spent a lot of time behind the scenes of any set he was a part of, absorbing every aspect of the production process. “I would always be behind the camera asking the camera guys, like, ‘How are you framing this up? Why is it green like that? How do you replace all this stuff?’” Still, his fascination with film was just a small part of growing up. “I wasn’t really defined by the film business,” he says. “I got to play sports and be a student and do all that, but a thing would come every year, and I’d film for a few days, and it’d come and go like a circus. It was just some fun little thing I did.”
This slow introduction to the limelight is crucial to understanding what makes the actor so captivating. It allowed him to grow up and find his voice while in Texas—and Glen Powell is nothing if not Texan.
“I was a bit of a crazy kid,” he says. “I was in and out of hospitals—not for health reasons or anything, but because I was an idiot. I was a bit of a kamikaze. Sylvester Stallone told me, when I got cast in The Expendables, that the number one skill an Expendable has is they have to have a death wish. And he said, ‘I saw that in you.’”
Powell’s “death wish,” it turns out, is genetic. Or, at least, regional. “There’s a little bit of something—though I don’t think it’s in all Texans—but I know that my family is very Texan. And there’s a little screw loose.” He taps his finger on his temple, and stares right through me. “And I think that loose screw means that you’re willing to take it further. Maybe it’s competitiveness, maybe we’re just legitimately crazy, but I do think that there’s a part of that that lends itself to this career. Because I love doing my own stunts. And to be out in Los Angeles in general, you’re sort of betting on...well, the odds are not in your favor. So I think that Texas loose screw, maybe that’s a good thing.”
This Texas screw-loose style has come to define a lot of Powell’s characters, most notably astronaut John Glenn in Hidden Figures. His role of Finnegan in Richard Linklater’s Everybody Wants Some!! comes to mind as well. It’s not phoned in, either. Powell is loud, and hilarious, and ripped, and direct. He looks you in the eyes when he shakes your hand. He dances to himself between photos during the shoot. At one point, he started climbing a palm tree in swim trunks just to see if he could.
“I think what a lot of people get in trouble with out here is when they try to be everything for everyone. You know what I mean? When I first moved to LA, a lot of casting directors or agents or managers or producers, they get in your head and are like, ‘Hey, Zac Efron is hot right now, be more like Zac Efron. Be more brooding like Robert Pattinson. Can you be a little bit off like Shia LaBeouf?’ Whatever the flavor of the week is, they try to orient you to that, instead of saying, ‘Hey, what lane do you play in better than anyone else? What do you do better than anybody else?’”
“I think there’s a lot of very good actors in my category,” he goes on, “but a lot of them don’t have fun while they’re saving the world...what people forget about when they make movies in this town is they go, ‘Ok, I’m gonna make this depressing art piece that can get us awards’ or whatever. And it’s like, you’re forgetting about the magic of just being at the movies and escapism and having a blast.”
Here’s where his self-proclaimed “cowboy mentality” comes in. Powell is a talented and serious actor, and could probably give a great performance in depressing Oscar bait. But, that’s not him. He has too much fun on set. “What I love about this business is that it’s basically a party, so I get to bring everybody with me. Like my parents get to do cameos in every movie.” It’s true, his parents make an appearance in every single film Powell has ever been in—including Spy Kids 3. To Powell, he’s basically making a living playing.
“That’s why I don’t know if I’m cut out for this superhero stuff,” he admits. “I love the Marvel movies, but I’ve never really found a connection with superheros. But I’ve always loved guys like Rocky. Sylvester Stallone and I hit it off on that. The underdog. The guy that overcomes all odds just by the sheer size of his heart...I like Will Smith in Independence Day. I love Tom Cruise in Top Gun. I love Indiana Jones, I love Harrison Ford, I love these guys where there’s a little bit of a wink.”
In this way, Texas itself preludes his career. Glen Powell’s acting method is entrenched in Old West aesthetics and 1980s archetypes—and it’s working for him. He’ll play an American soldier in the upcoming The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. He just got the options for the true-story Korean War book Devotion. Even his upcoming Netflix original rom-com Set It Up has a built-in sense of play. “It’s a lot more fun when you can treat Hollywood like how much fun it really is,” he says. “I think a lot of people take it very seriously, and...you know what I mean? It’s the best.”
Powell made it halfway up that palm tree in the Arts District. The PAs were stressed. His publicist shook his head. On the way down, he slipped a little, and cut his thigh and hand. Still, he landed square on his heels, laughing, victorious. He showed everyone his palm, blood dripping off the fingers. He smiled ear to ear.
Written by Shaun Parker
Photographed by Andy Madeleine
Styled by Nicolas Klam
Groomer: Tim Duenas
Photographed at The Dover Studio