May 22, 2017
By Eric Moreno | January 23, 2017 | People
We caught up with actor Glen Powell, who recently had the opportunity to play John Glenn in box office hit Hidden Figures, to chat about what makes this film so special, why he loves coming back to Austin, and more.
It's been just more than 10 years since Austin native Glen Powell burst onto the Hollywood scene after graduating from Westwood High School and attending UT—and in that time, he's been busy working with a who's who in entertainment. Powell, who credits Denzel Washington with giving him his big break, has worked alongside Sylvester Stallone, Harrison Ford, Mel Gibson, Al Pacino, Christian Bale, and Austin's two patron saints of cinema, Robert Rodriguez and Richard Linklater (Powell was a standout in Linklater’s Everybody Wants Some!! last year). He also was one of the breakout stars of Fox's horror comedy Scream Queens.
Powell took time to speak to Austin Way from his California home to discuss his love for Austin and one of his most significant roles to date, that of iconic American hero John Glenn in Theodore Melfi's hit film Hidden Figures. The film, which has ruled the box office since its release earlier this month, tells the story of a group of African American women who helped NASA send the first American man into orbit. It's a true story of American ingenuity and perseverance, and Powell jumped at the chance to be a part of it.
What was it like having to portray such an iconic figure in American history like John Glenn?
GLEN POWELL: The film is a true story about these three African American women who were responsible for the math that got John Glenn into orbit. It was a real honor to get the chance to play John Glenn, who passed away recently [December 8], and retrace those moments in history. I never got the chance to meet him—he had unfortunately been ill for much of the past year. Doing as much research as I did on John, I spent countless hours reading his memoirs, his debriefs, and watching footage and interviews. I really came to love him.
Did you find it daunting at all to have to portray someone who looms so large as a figure in American history?
GP: I looked at it for what it was: an honor. He was like America's Grandfather and one of the last great heroes we have. It was a real gut punch losing him. I have a photo of him on board the Friendship 7 launch in my room. I look at him and admire his bravery, and how he was on the right side of history when it came to these women. He trusted them, and together they all changed the world.
What was it about John Glenn that really resonated with you?
GP: He had such a strong moral compass and such fortitude. He also just stood for what was "right" all the time: He was like the John Wayne of space. I try to conduct myself like that out here in L.A. I want to be the "good guy." That is one of the things that [my co-star Kevin] Costner told me about when I signed on to this role. We went to a Dodgers game together and he said, "You know you're going to be playing a hero, and that is how people are going to see you the rest of your career. It's important to be that hero both on and off the screen."
To the fans, there is no difference. Being a hero off the screen helps make it easier for people to root for you on the screen. I think that's the nature of this movie. You get to glorify great people. I've gotten to be a part of some special movies in my career, but I think this is the one I'm most proud of so far.
You split your time between L.A. and Austin, and you come back as often as you can. What is it about the city that just keeps calling you back?
GP: Austin is conducive to my job. It's a very curious town. There's a lot of love and friendship in that town, plus the art, the culture, the people. Austin is a great place that you can just immerse yourself in. I love to go back and eat. Award season is coming up, so I'm going to have to try and stay away from as many breakfast tacos as I possibly can—breakfast tacos and barbecue are all that I eat whenever I come back.
Was there any doubt that you'd be going to UT for college? What was it like for you while you were a Longhorn?
GP: I've been a Longhorn fan my entire life. I bleed orange. I remember when I was a freshman in high school and going down to the campus and dancing on top of cars when they won the National Championship in 2005. A lot of people make fun of me, every year, it doesn't matter where I am in the world—I always make it back for the Texas-Oklahoma game. I plan my entire year around it. Any time I start a movie, I say please don't schedule me on a weekend because I have to be at that game.
What’s next for you in 2017?
GP: I have a movie called Sand Castle that comes out [this year] with Nicholas Hoult and Henry Cavill. It’s a war movie that takes place in Iraq in 2003. Fernando Coimbra, who directed A Wolf at the Door, directed the heck out of this movie. I just saw it recently, and I think it is really going to be good.
I'm trying to be really selective about what I do. I'm being patient and reading scripts and seeing what comes down the pipeline. When you get to make movies like Hidden Figures, Sand Castle, and Everybody Wants Some!!, you don't want to take steps backward in terms of what you're a part of. Those projects are really rare, so you have to have the patience and faith in yourself that you only want to be projects at those levels, projects that are saying something about the world. You only live one life, and you want to do things that matter.
photography by Mike Windle / Getty Images
May 22, 2017