Glen Powell Finally Conquered Hollywood. So Why Is He Leaving?

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Glen Powell arrives at lunch through a back door toting a container of bone broth he isn’t eager to look at, much less consume. He’s more a “chicken-fried-steak-in-Austin kind of a guy,” he insists, but he’s signed on to star in an A24 revenge thriller and he’s supposed to drop 15 pounds in a matter of weeks. It means he won’t be ordering the midday margarita that Ron Perlman is nursing at the next table. Reluctantly, Powell requests a green juice.

“I’ve almost given up on this diet, like, three times,” he says, flashing a familiar smile. “I’m like, ‘Can’t we just change the character?’ “

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Glen Powell was photographed March 26 at the Harvard House Motel in Los Angeles.
Glen Powell was photographed March 26 at the Harvard House Motel in Los Angeles.

But Powell’s not one to give up on anything, so he hands over the broth. The restaurant’s going to store it for him, he tells me, since he doesn’t have a kitchen of his own in Los Angeles anymore. After more than 15 years here, he is moving back home to Texas, where he’ll finally complete his college degree and be closer to his family. He’ll keep a place in Tribeca, too, but he’s officially turned over the keys to his spot in the Hollywood Hills that he’s been living in ever since he landed his breakout role in Top Gun: Maverick. In fact, this is Powell’s last week in L.A., which is hitting him harder than he anticipated. Still, at 35, he’s ready for a change, and the real benefit of “getting to this point in Hollywood is that I can now leave Hollywood,” he says. “It’s like I’ve earned the ability to go back to my family.”

To my surprise, and, frankly, to his, this is a very new development — despite all the media attention surrounding Top Gun, Powell’s career didn’t fundamentally change back in 2022. Instead, it was the runaway success of his recent Sydney Sweeney rom-com, Anyone But You, that proved to studio heads that he not only had leading-man charisma but also the increasingly rare ability to open a movie. In the months since its $200 million-plus box office haul, Powell, who’s more reminiscent of his buff, all-American predecessors than some of his more waifish contemporaries, has watched his stock in the industry soar. Those same execs who wouldn’t pony up for his festival darling Hit Man — which opens May 24 then rolls out on Netflix two weeks later — are wooing him now with tentpole offers and blockbuster paydays. “He’s the complete package,” raves Universal Pictures president Peter Cramer, who has him in the studio’s big summer bet, Twisters, out in mid-July.

But Powell isn’t interested in simply being another actor-for-hire, nor is he waiting around to become the next Tom Cruise. “First of all, there will never be another Tom Cruise,” he says of his co-star, who has become a friend and mentor. “That is a singular career in a singular moment, but also movie stars of the ’80s, ’90s, early 2000s, those will never be re-created.”

When it’s suggested that the imperiled state of the movie star in today’s Wall Street-tethered, superhero-obsessed landscape is a shame, in part because it seems like Powell would’ve had a hell of a time, he howls in agreement. “Oh, I’ve heard the stories from the guys on Expendables 3,” he says, referring to the 2014 movie he made with a who’s who of ’80s action stars. “It was these giants — Antonio Banderas, Harrison Ford, Schwarzenegger — and they were all like, ‘Man, you are doing this in the wrong moment.’ Like, ‘This is not the time.’ ” Richard Linklater, who directed Powell in Hit Man, which they co-wrote, doesn’t argue. “I can’t be like, ‘My advice to you is to be born 25 years earlier,’ ” Linklater says, “but I’ve thought that about Glen. Like, God, you’re in the wrong era.”

So, Powell is trying to do Hollywood a different way, involving himself in every facet of the process — always as the star, often as a producer and increasingly as a writer. And soon, he’ll be operating from a healthy physical distance, free of the mounting “fishbowl feeling” he describes as camera phones increasingly point in his direction and everyone here seems to want something from him. “The thing that makes me feel in conflict with some parts of this moment is that I like choosing when I’m out in front. And I’m more than happy to be on a press tour. I love it. I love going on a Jimmy Fallon — you walk out, you sign autographs, you do the whole thing,” he says. What he finds uncomfortable? “This idea that you’re a function here. Someone will go, ‘Hey, friend, want to come to this guy’s house? Yeah, come over.’ And then you show up, and suddenly you’re there for, like, someone’s tequila launch and all of a sudden there’s a photographer and you’re like, ‘Wait, what are we doing here?’ And I think you get enough of those that you just want to bring your family as close as possible — or run to them.”

Amiri top and pants; Tom Ford sunglasses.
Amiri top and pants; Tom Ford sunglasses.


Powell was voted most likely to be a movie star in his high school yearbook, but his introduction to Hollywood came years earlier. At 13, the then-budding actor snagged a small role in Spy Kids 3, a local production being directed by fellow Texan Robert Rodriguez. It was, by all accounts, an out-of-body experience for a boy who’d walk around with a video camera perpetually dangling from his neck. Still, it was Powell’s second experience — being cast on Endurance 2, a Survivor-style competition series on Discovery Kids — that arguably proved more transformative.

“Glen from Austin, TX,” which is how an earnest, still-prepubescent Powell is ID’d in the premiere, fails the first physical challenge and gets kicked off in episode one. Even the retelling has him wincing. “I mean, it’s the most embarrassing thing that can happen to a freshman in high school. Not only are you the runt of the grade, but you just failed on a strength performance thing in front of the world, and the amount of shit that I got was extraordinary,” says Powell. He didn’t let it sink him, however. Even as a kid, he remembers thinking, “I’ll show them,” and he quickly bulked up, giving him both a surge of confidence and a leg up athletically. “It made me just ferocious, like, ‘I’m going to become the strongest mother-fucker ever,’ and weirdly more dialed-in in every aspect of my life.”

While still a senior in high school, he had his mom, who once worked in the Reagan administration, drive him all the way to Shreveport, Louisiana, to audition for Denzel Washington’s 2007 film, The Great Debaters. Overeager, Powell wore a tuxedo to the first table read, where he knew his lines and pretty much everybody else’s. Washington was impressed enough to hire him as a Harvard debater and, later, to introduce him to his agent, Ed Limato. At the time, Powell had no idea who Limato was, much less that he’d repped everybody from Mel Gibson to Richard Gere. But he was so touched by the nice things he’d heard Limato say, including that Powell reminded him of a mix between William Hurt and a young Gere, that he wrote him a thank-you note after filming had wrapped and he’d settled into his first year at the University of Texas. Then one day, when Powell was back in the dorms, Limato called. He was hoping Powell would be coming to L.A. for the premiere. He wanted to meet and discuss his future.

“I’ll never forget it. I sat down with him and Denzel, and it was quick. Ed goes, ‘You should move out here and give this a shot.’ He’s like, ‘This shit doesn’t happen overnight, but you should take the plunge,’ ” he says of a conversation that he’s replayed over and over in his head. Washington, who has since joked that Powell owes him his career, gave his blessing. “He’s like, ‘This guy’s discovered everybody; don’t run from this, Glen.’ “

So, he wrapped up his freshman year and headed west, moving in with a family he knew through an uncle back in Texas. In exchange for driving around their son and coaching his sports teams, Powell stayed for free in their sprawling Holmby Hills estate. In between, he’d go out on auditions, this time as an official Limato client. To this day, Powell keeps an old screengrab of Limato’s IMDb roster. “It was the most legendary actors, like, number two, five, six and eight on the star meter,” he says. “And then there was me, at like 68,000 or whatever it was, probably lower.” (If you’re wondering, Powell’s now No. 15.) But very little came of the period. Hollywood was in its Twilight era, and he regularly found himself up against brooding, edgy types in beanies, chains and leather jackets. In his polos and boots, Powell never quite fit in. “And I could just feel I was letting Ed down,” he says.

In time, the Holmby Hills couple decided to divorce, and Powell moved into somebody’s garage in a seedy area of Van Nuys. “It was all those clichéd things where, like, they’d find a body a block away and then you’d come home to your tires slashed,” he says. Still, he kept at it, auditioning relentlessly. He even got another shot at Friday Night Lights, which he’d read for a number of times early on in Austin. Powell was older and arguably wiser now, and he had the advantage of having played high school football in Texas. It was his to lose, and he blew it. “I just remember walking back to that garage after, thinking, ‘This is where you’re going to live for the rest of your life, you loser,’ ” he says of a chapter he typically glosses over. “I had to really look at myself in the mirror and say, ‘I know you love movies, and I think you’ve got good instincts, but you may not be an actor.’ “

At one point, even Limato had him explore another path, lining up an internship with producer Lynda Obst. “I honestly think Ed just wanted me off his back because I was so intense,” says Powell, who’d read every script his agent sent the minute it arrived and often had opinions. Then Limato’s health took a turn, and, in the summer of 2010, he died. Powell was a wreck. “That was my lifeline, the guy who believed in me, and because he stood out in front of me, everyone in town would be like, ‘Ed’s rarely wrong, maybe there’s something we’re not seeing.’ And it was almost like once he passed away, the jig was up.” Not long after, the agency dropped him, and, for a stretch, he set up a fake company and represented himself. When that didn’t pan out, Powell started putting projects together, optioning material and writing scripts of his own. Glee‘s Chord Overstreet, who was his roommate for years, would routinely come home to find the living room transformed into a writers room for any number of Powell’s ideas. There was one was about a former frat brother who was kidnapped during an initiation trip; another was a wacky high school musical. He even sold a few.

Then, little by little, acting gigs came. First it was Expendables 3, then Oscar nominated Hidden Figures and Linklater’s Everybody Wants Some!!; in between, he flexed his comedy chops as an elitist frat boy in Ryan Murphy’s Scream Queens. Eventually, Powell scored his first leading-man role in the rom-com Set It Up, though he’d had to convince the producers to let him so much as screen test opposite Emilia Clarke. (They’d wanted Zac Efron.) Then Clarke dropped out to do the Han Solo film — another project Powell got close on but didn’t land — and the whole thing almost fell apart. At his urging, Zoey Deutch stepped in, and the 2018 entry became a surprise hit for Netflix. People who didn’t used to return Powell’s calls were suddenly saying things like, “Hey, man, we got to get together.”

Brioni blazer, shirt and pants; David Yurman necklace and ring; Christian Louboutin shoes.
Brioni blazer, shirt and pants; David Yurman necklace and ring; Christian Louboutin shoes.


By the time Powell was invited to test for the role of Goose’s son, Rooster, in Top Gun: Maverick, he was convinced he’d finally figured out how to nail an audition. It had come down to Austin Butler, Nicholas Hoult, Miles Teller and him, the vanguard of Hollywood’s next generation. Then Butler dropped out to do Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, and four became three. Powell had never wanted a part so badly in his life. In fact, he’d already put in time at two different bases, immersing himself with real-life pilots.

If you’ve seen Top Gun: Maverick — and with a $1.5 billion box office, it seems safe to assume you have — you know the part went to Teller. The news came as a major blow to Powell. Certain he was landing it, he had a buddy filming him in an American flag tank and aviators as he took the call from director Joseph Kosinski. “Not getting it was so wounding to me that I was like, ‘Oh, I care too much,’ ” says Powell, who later posted the soul-crushing image for his 1.6 million followers on Instagram. The producers offered him another role, but he wasn’t interested in the character as it was written. “I wanted him to be reminiscent of Val Kilmer [who played Iceman] — a guy who was having fun saving the day,” says Powell, who believes that what differentiates him as an actor is his ability to have a good time onscreen. “But I read the script, and I didn’t like this guy. He was just a dick, and he wasn’t even a good pilot.”

Cruise wouldn’t give up so easily. He urged Powell to come back in, and the two talked at length about the kind of career he wanted. “Man, yours,” Powell told his idol. “I’m working to try to be you.” But Cruise doesn’t just pick great roles, he explained — he picks great projects and then he makes the roles great. In some box in his new house in Austin, that nugget is scribbled in Powell’s “icon wisdom” journal, which he’s been updating throughout his career. To date, nobody has garnered more ink in it than Cruise. It’s a reverence that his friends tease him about mercilessly, he acknowledges, though when I bring up the parts of Cruise that raise eyebrows — namely, his commitment to Scientology — Powell simply flashes that megawatt smile and refocuses the conversation on their shared, all-consuming love of the movie business.

I got to work with the guy I’ve idolized my whole life in a movie that I’ve wanted to be in my whole life, he says of Cruise, his Top Gun Maverick co-star turned friend and mentor.
“I got to work with the guy I’ve idolized my whole life in a movie that I’ve wanted to be in my whole life,” he says of Cruise, his Top Gun: Maverick co-star turned friend and mentor.

In the end, the producers listened to Powell’s ideas, and he had a hand in crafting the character, Hangman, that he ultimately agreed to play. He also learned how to make and market a blockbuster under the tutelage of his hero. Then the pandemic hit, and Cruise refused to let the studio dump Top Gun on a streamer. He knew he was sitting on a hit, and he had the leverage to hold out for what amounted to two years. Meanwhile, Powell was going broke. “I’d never made any significant amount of money on a movie, including Top Gun, and I was depleting a bank account to a point where my accountant was like, ‘This pandemic cannot last much longer,’ ” he says, acknowledging that the decision to wait for a theatrical release was ultimately the right one for the movie and the business at large. “But Tom was already Tom; I was waiting for my life to change.”

In that time, he brought a Texas Monthly article, about a mild-mannered professor who goes undercover as a fake hit man, to Linklater, with whom he’d collaborated three times already. When their adaptation premiered on the festival circuit last fall, it was snapped up by Netflix for a reported $20 million. Outlets like Vulture ran stories titled, “If Glen Powell’s Not Already a Star, This Movie Will Make Him One.” Jon Hamm, another Top Gun co-star and one of Powell’s many industry cheerleaders, is, frankly, shocked it took this long. “If you look up the definition of a movie star, it’s Glen,” he says. “The smile, the hair, the tan, the muscles, and he wants it and he loves it and he’s good at it.”

The R-rated romp, Anyone But You, began with Sweeney, who says she enlisted Powell because of his presence on-camera and the consistent feedback about “how gracious and thoughtful he was” off-camera. Together, they lined up Easy A director Will Gluck and bet big on a theatrical release. “We had offers from every streamer, and it was guaranteed [paydays] and a much bigger budget, but Syd and I really have a very similar worldview about Hollywood,” says Powell. “We said, ‘If we make this on a streamer, it won’t have any cultural impact.’ And everyone was saying rom-coms were dead theatrically so we knew we could get hosed, but we thought, ‘Let’s take the gamble,’ because what if we could bring them back?”

He and Sweeney were both keenly aware of how difficult it is to get people to a theater. “It’s something we talked about all the time: How do you create an event and also justify that experience?” he says. “Even if it’s me taking my clothes off on the side of a fricking cliff, it’s like, you got to do some shit in here that makes noise.” The pair managed to make noise offscreen, too. At one point, every gossip site, from “Page Six” to Deuxmoi, was running items about an on-set romance between Powell and Sweeney. Complicating the rumors, or perhaps sweetening them, was the fact that Sweeney remains engaged to one of the film’s producers and Powell was just coming out of a long-term relationship with model Gigi Paris. The headlines only contributed to interest in the film, which is why both stars decided to just lean into the rumors, flirting their way through promos and press junkets. But Sweeney, who produced the movie for Sony, was more accustomed to the tsunami of attention than Powell.

With Sydney Sweeney in Anyone But You.
With Sydney Sweeney in Anyone But You.

“I kept coming back to something that Cruise had said, which was, ‘The world’s going to become really loud, and it’s your decision how much you turn up or down the volume,’ ” he says, “because the world did get really loud, but I didn’t know where those dials were. I was like, ‘I know we talked about this, but I don’t know how to work this console.’ Meanwhile, Sydney, through Euphoria, had been on this ride and she was like, ‘This is all good.’ “

The movie came out over the holidays and started slow. Then, fueled by TikTok, it grew, and just kept growing. Powell felt the impact almost immediately. He’d walk into rooms and suddenly everybody seemed to be staring or, worse, discreetly snapping pictures. “I’m on the radar for the first time in my whole life, and it’s weird,” he says. “I mean, after Top Gun, a guy would literally be wearing a Top Gun shirt and I’d be talking to him, and it was clear he had no idea.” By March, he’d found the volume knob. Sweeney hosted Saturday Night Live and addressed the “obviously not true” rumors in her monologue, noting that her fiancé had helped produce the movie and was on set every day. “And I just want to let everyone know that he’s the man of my dreams,” she continued, “and we’re still together and stronger than ever.” Then she asked that the cameras cut to him, and Powell’s face appeared onscreen instead. This time, he was in on the joke. “It’s more fun once you understand where that knob is,” he says. “And I got to turn it up, and then I got to turn it down.”

Versace jacket; vintage coral cotton shirt; David Yurman necklace.
Versace jacket; vintage coral cotton shirt; David Yurman necklace.


The primary advantage of experiencing this moment at 35, and not 22, is that Powell has watched plenty of others navigate it first, beginning with Overstreet. In fact, he was by his best friend’s side when Hollywood reoriented itself around him and his Glee co-stars, just as he was there when the town moved on. “And none of it has anything to do with you,” Powell says of the lesson he learned then and regularly reminds himself of now.

But just because he’s seen the cycle of fame up close doesn’t mean that he’s comfortable moving through it. In fact, Powell increasingly has found himself questioning the authenticity of his relationships, be it his friendships or whatever attempts he’s made to date. (For now, the only one going home with Powell is his rescue dog Brisket, who, it seems worth noting, has 16,000 Instagram followers.) Retreating to Austin in a more permanent fashion was the advice of fellow Texan Matthew McConaughey. “He’s like, ‘Hollywood is the Matrix, man. You plug in and it’s all fake world,’ ” says Powell, who does a remarkably good McConaughey. “He’s like, ‘Then I go to Austin, and I unplug. It’s all real. Those are my friends, that’s my family, my actions matter there.’ And he’s right. If you’re here, you live in the Matrix all the time, there’s no separation of those worlds. And for me, especially as my parents get older and my niece and nephew are growing up, I want a separation of those worlds.”

So, Powell’s bought a house 30 minutes from his mom and executive coach dad, and that’ll be “home,” even if he logs more nights on film sets than anywhere else. As is, some combination of his parents and two sisters visit every project that Powell’s on, no matter where in the world he is. He suggests they’re a particularly rowdy bunch — people often think he’s exaggerating, he says, “until they see my mom, like, shotgunning beers in the fraternity house when I’m not there.” But they also keep him out of his head, and they make everything more fun. “I know we’re probably in his way sometimes, but you wouldn’t know it because he makes everyone feel loved and taken care of,” says his mom, Cyndy, who’s been an extra in most of his films.

The entire Powell clan turns up for his famous theme parties, too, which haven’t dulled with his rising profile. Instead, he approaches his days-long bashes at the family’s Texas ranch with the same enthusiasm he brings to film sets. “He’s like your favorite camp counselor,” says Overstreet, who references Powell’s recent neon rodeo, which featured a rousing game of Slip ‘N Slide flip cup. “But that desire for fun and life is not just a Glen thing. The whole family has that same bug — they want to make an experience of everything, and if you hang around them enough, you end up wanting to make an experience of everything, too.”

Powell had every intention of moving the party to Austin this spring, combining the Hit Man premiere and his induction into the Austin Film Society’s Hall of Fame with a UT graduation. “I kept telling my friends I was going to throw the grad party of the century,” he says. But then his career exploded, and he could only carve out time for two of the four courses he needs to graduate. So, Spanish and Early American History will have to wait till next year; in the meantime, Powell will squeeze in a proctored exam between his work commitments. He’s also invited his dean to the Hit Man premiere — it wasn’t so that he’d get an extension on his final paper, but, he teases, “I think it didn’t hurt.” I ask Powell why, at this stage, he’s even bothering. “I think it’s really important to my mom and it’s more of an emotional thing for me,” he says. “Plus, I’m so close, I can taste it.”

In his chameleonic turn in Hit Man, which he co-wrote with Linklater. Asked about Powell’s appeal, the director says, He’s a lot smarter than most movie stars, so that’s a huge advantage. He’s also really funny and really charming.
In his chameleonic turn in Hit Man, which he co-wrote with Linklater. Asked about Powell’s appeal, the director says, “He’s a lot smarter than most movie stars, so that’s a huge advantage. He’s also really funny and really charming.”

Before Anyone But You hit, Powell’s dance card was already plenty full; in the months since, he’s been deluged with new opportunities and seemingly everything that he has ever touched, including a Broadway musical that he’s currently writing, feels like it’s being fast-tracked. “That’s the funniest part about this moment,” he says. “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 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?’ “

It may not be exactly the path that Cruise or McConaughey paved, but, as his former Scream Queens boss puts it, Powell has figured out how to be a “movie star” for this moment. “And being a movie star was always Glen’s dream,” says Murphy, who tried to keep casting Powell as his star was rising. “He could have done any TV series, but he made it clear that he was chasing something. And I’d get a little mad at him, like, ‘What do you mean you’re waiting? What are you doing?’ But he was smart, and he was right.”

Looking ahead, Powell is as definitive about what he won’t do — pandering Oscar bait, for one, but also Marvel fare — as he is about what he will. In fact, in relatively short time, he has garnered a reputation for being picky, primarily because he’s passed on a handful of recent tentpoles, including a Bourne Identity update and the Jurassic Park reboot at Universal. “Jurassic is one of my favorite movies. It’s one of the things I’ve wanted to do my whole life. I’m not doing that movie because I read the script and I immediately was like, my presence in this movie doesn’t help it,” he explains. “And the script’s great. The movie’s going to fucking kill. It’s not about that. It’s about choosing where you’re going to make an audience happy and where you’re going to make yourself happy.”

When Powell and I connect again a month or so later, he’s crisscrossed the country a few times. He did Fallon’s show in New York, charmed some theater owners in Vegas and started to settle into the new place in Texas. “I think this is going to be good for my head, heart and soul,” he says by phone. He’s also lost the 15 pounds for that role, which has him weighing in at 175 … with days to spare. It was a lot of bone broth, for sure, but despite his threats, Powell was never going to give up — not on the diet, not on anything. In fact, he’s thinking maybe he can shed at least five more.

See exclusive photos of Powell.

This story first appeared in the May 22 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.

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