As a boy raised in Austin, Texas, he also had stars in his eyes – figuratively, being a young movie lover who adored “Apollo 13,” but also literally, with glow-in-the-dark constellations adorning his room.
“If you don’t dream of growing up and being an astronaut, I think you’re missing out on a crucial piece of childhood,” Powell, 33, says.
He gets to revisit that mindset re-teaming with his “Everybody Wants Some!!” director Richard Linklater for the new Netflix animated movie “Apollo 10 ½: A Space Age Childhood” (streaming Friday). Narrated by Jack Black, the coming-of-age film captures the 1969 moon landing through the eyes of a youngster recruited for an out-of-this world adventure by a couple of NASA types (Powell and Zachary Levi).
‘Top Gun’ sequel:Tom Cruise enters ‘Danger Zone’ in first 13 minutes of ‘Maverick’
It was a homecoming for Powell in multiple ways: He filmed his part on the same Austin green-screen stage that he did his first role as a teenager in Robert Rodriguez’s 2003 family movie “Spy Kids 3D.” It reminded him how the first time on a film set “feels more magical than anything you’ve ever experienced,” says Powell, who just finished writing a true-crime dark comedy with Linklater.
Powell’s next two films bring him down to earth but take to the skies. Powell, who thinks he has “more civilian F18 hours than maybe anybody in the world at this point,” plays a hotshot flyboy named Hangman opposite Tom Cruise’s returning Maverick in the “Top Gun” sequel (in theaters May 27). He also co-stars with Jonathan Majors in “Devotion” (out this fall), a drama about two Navy pilots from different racial and economic backgrounds forging a bond during the Korean war.
Question: So how was your Oscar night?
Glen Powell: We had a freaking great time. Everybody was just so excited to be out and getting dressed up and having normal maskless conversations and talking about movies. And honestly, none of the insanity was really broached.
Q: What are your thoughts on that Will Smith/Chris Rock insanity?
Powell: A lot of people that I am very, very close with have gone through mental health issues and right now more than ever, it’s important to remember just because you’re famous and it seems like it’s all going well, it doesn’t mean you can’t unravel at the wrong time with the wrong stressor. I hope people take the time to do the work and come out a more three-dimensional, thoughtful person on the other side.
Q: You and Rick go way back. What was the main appeal of “Apollo 10 ½”?
Powell: I told him this feels like a nostalgia bomb of epic proportions. It doesn’t matter if you’re born in ’69 – I was far from that era – but it all feels like our childhood. And he captured that same thing in “Boyhood.” There are these defining things to all of our childhoods that don’t feel monumental but are part of the building blocks of what make our worldview and how we see and treat people.
Q: When you’re in L.A. or on a movie set somewhere, what do you miss most about Texas?
Powell: I love this town but you do sort of have to separate your professional and your personal life sometimes. Hollywood is great, but it’s smoke and mirrors. I feel like I’m my truest self when I’m in Texas.
Q: The new “Top Gun” is launching at the Cannes Film Festival in May. Will that be a big moment for you?
Powell: Talk about not being grounded. That’s gonna be such a cool thing. This movie is a ride all the way through. It’s emotional, it’s adventurous, it’s romantic, it’s funny. It just kills it.
Q: What can you say about Hangman? Is he somebody you’d want to hang out with and get some barbecue?
Powell: You’ll like Hangman. He’s just like any fighter pilot in the “Top Gun” universe, he’s got a little bit of an ego. But he’s righteous in his ability and his talent, and he’s a good time. He captures that fun spirit of what I think “Top Gun 1” was: If you don’t walk away from the original and want to be a fighter pilot, you’re crazy. And he’s a fun, rowdy Texan, so not too far away from home.
Q: You do a lot with Tom Cruise and your fellow newcomers in “Maverick,” from flying a fighter jet to playing some shirtless beach football. What made for the best time?
Powell: My favorite part was honestly learning filmmaking from Tom. There is no other actor in the world that can convince people to put real actors in real F18s, fly them through canyons and do it all with IMAX cameras on jets. They say don’t meet your heroes, but Tom is one of those guys that you’re like, man, you should meet Tom.
Q: And what can “Top Gun” fans expect from “Devotion”?
Powell: It’s just such a beautiful story about being an ally and a wingman. I’m so grateful that I got to do that with Jonathan. We are just brothers for life. You move to L.A. and say, “If I can only make a few of these type of movies, then I’ve succeeded.” And I feel like “Devotion” is one of those that hopefully in my epitaph people mention.