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Glen Powell’s Hollywood Ambitions with Ryan Murphy, J.J. Abrams, More

Glen Powell’s Hollywood Ambitions with Ryan Murphy, J.J. Abrams, More

To celebrate his first Hollywood role in Robert Rodriguez’s Spy Kids 3D: Game Over, a then middle school aged Glen Powell had his mom take him to Home Depot to buy chroma key colored paint. 

The budding actor, who had chosen Steven Spielberg and his use of special effects as the subject of one of his first school projects, was about to transform his family’s Texas barn into his very own soundstage. He’d long ago figured out how to make his own props — now, young Powell would construct wind and water machines to use against his new green-screen backdrop. His home movies would soon feature storms of all kinds, just like so many of his favorite Spielberg films had done.

Flash forward two decades, and Powell is not only starring as a storm chaser in Universal’s summer tentpole Twisters, which counts Spielberg as a producer, but also building out a production company that he’s fittingly titled Barnstorm Productions. His goal for the still nascent company is to produce high-end projects with commercial and global appeal. And though Powell doesn’t yet have an executive running it day-to-day, he is actively looking for one now that he’s being deluged with opportunities and everything that he’s ever touched — including a Captain Planet script he wrote years ago — seems like it’s being fast tracked.

“That’s the funniest part about this moment,” he says in this week’s THR cover story. “I’ve worked really hard for a long time, putting things together and just trying to get them in shape enough for people to give a shit. Then finally you get to a place where people are just like, ‘Yeah, let’s do it!’ and suddenly you’re playing musical chairs with yourself. You’re like, ‘Wait, do I sit in all these chairs right now?’” 

Barnstorm’s first entry is the just-released Blue Angels documentary for IMAX and Amazon’s Prime Video, which he’s producing with J.J. Abrams. The film, which touts unprecedented access to the U.S. Navy’s Flight Demonstration Squadron, exists because of Powell’s support and passion. He grew up with a Blue Angels lithograph in his childhood bedroom, after all, and later trained with the unit during the making of Top Gun: Maverick. “Glen’s passion for what those astounding Navy pilots do was partly what drew me to get involved in the documentary,” Abrams said via email, adding: “He’s not just an actor, but a legitimate writer and producer as well. In other words, he speaks multiple languages in regards to filmmaking, which is a priceless quality.” 

Richard Linklater echoes that point, having just co-written and co-produced Hit Man, which is rolling out in theaters later this week, with Powell and his company. If Anyone But You proved to studio chiefs that Powell could open a movie, it seems his chameleonic turn in Hit Man, which made the festival rounds to raves last fall, has showcased his versatility. “With some people, you might say, ‘Oh, he’d be great for this specific kind of thing,’” says Universal Pictures president Peter Cramer. “But Glen’s made himself great for everything. He can do comedy, action, romance, drama.”

Of course, as many collaborators note, the allure of Powell extends beyond what you see on screen. He’s actively and enthusiastically invested in both the development and promotion of his projects as well. “So often actors look at marketing or publicity as, like, ‘Oh God, now I have to go market the movie? I just wanted to make it,’” says Powell. “And then you look at a Margot Robbie or Ryan Reynolds, these actors who embrace marketing in unexpected ways, and what ends up happening is the audience has a blast while they’re publicizing a movie and then they’re desperate to see it.”

Though nobody gets more airtime in conversation with Powell than his Top Gun co-star-turned-mentor, Tom Cruise, he does shower plenty of praise on Robbie. In fact, he considers her production company, LuckyChap, the gold standard, and says he aspires to build something in its mold at Barnstorm. “Margot’s involved in the inception of a project to production to post to marketing, and so nothing is an afterthought and everything feels cohesive,” he says, citing Barbie as an example — noting how Robbie approached every step in the process “as entertainment,” making even the promotion and Barbie press tour as fun as the film itself.

Though Powell’s dance card is already plenty full, he seems keen to keep adding to it. Over the course of an hours-long conversation, he reveals he’s working on projects with both Greg Berlanti and his former Scream Queens boss Ryan Murphy. (Technically, he met Murphy years before on the set of Glee, where Powell — or “Hot Texas Glen,” as he was known amongst the cast and crew — would spend time in care of his best friend and former roommate, Chord Overstreet.) Murphy had been trying to cast Powell in any number of TV shows as his star rose, but more recently it was Powell who approached him about collaborating. Powell’s writing a Broadway musical, and he wanted Murphy, a Tony winner, to produce it with him. (Powell’s unlikely to star in this one, primarily because of his aforementioned schedule, but he is a longtime lover of musicals and, he says, “I definitely have the Broadway itch.”)

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Looking ahead, there will be plenty of projects where Barnstorm has no place, and Powell will simply be involved as an actor. Currently, he’s off shooting an A24 revenge thriller, Huntington, in South Africa. Powell plays the heir to a multibillion-dollar fortune who will stop at nothing to get what he deserves — or what he thinks he deserves. The role required him to drop some 15 pounds of body mass. “Because this character should be invisible,” he says, adding of the John Patton Ford-directed movie he claims moves like Casino: “It’s got bite and swagger to it.”

After that wraps, he’ll turn his attention back to Chad Powers, a Ted Lasso-style Hulu comedy based on the popular college football character created by Eli Manning for his ESPN+ docuseries Eli’s Places. Both Manning brothers are on board as producers, as is ESPN, but it’s Loki’s Michael Waldron and Powell, two die-hard college football fans, who are writing the series. Powell claims it’s one of the hardest roles he’s ever attempted. Like Hit Man, it’s a role within a role, in the vein of his childhood favorites, Tootsie and Mrs. Doubtfire. “He’s like the worst dude on the planet who puts on the mask of the most genial southern guy you’ve ever seen,” he says. Already, Powell, who once played high school football in Texas, has been working with Patrick Mahomes’ quarterback coach and consulting with Cruise, who made Tropic Thunder, about prosthetics. 

There’s also a Running Man reboot from director Edgar Wright, which he signed on to star in the same week he was in Vegas wooing theater owners with footage from Twisters. Not long after, he snagged the lead role in a Monsanto legal drama from producer Adam McKay. Then news broke that Powell would not only reimagine Heaven Can Wait but also was in talks to star in Abrams’ next directorial effort. And though neither he nor Abrams is willing to share any details of the project, Abrams says of Powell’s appeal: “I think Glen has just begun to scratch the surface of what he is capable of onscreen. Simply put, he’s a terrific actor — but it’s his humility, humanity and sense of humor and willingness to show vulnerability and laugh at himself — that makes me certain he is going to do some pretty incredible work in the years ahead.”

Deciding where to go from there won’t come without pressure, though Powell is actively trying to manage both his expectations and his mindset. As he sees it, there are two ways to navigate this business, and only one of them will keep him happy. “One way to be is fear-based, which is no way to operate. That’s the, ‘I better get a franchise, I better attach myself to IP, I better clamor for relevance’ way,” he says. “And the other way is to sit back and go, ‘Okay, if I were still that little kid begging his dad to go to the movie theater and I looked at where I am now, I’d be [amazed.] So, I keep trying to remind myself, just enjoy it — this thing has already gone way further than you ever thought it would go.”

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