Unless you’re a teenage girl obsessed with Ryan Murphy’s hit horror show, Scream Queens, now in its second season on Fox, you might not know who Glen Powell is. So let us introduce you to the 28-year-old actor with washboard abs and megawatt smile who has been compared to Matthew McConaughey and Richard Gere. Powell has been acting since 2003 when his first role was a small part in Spy Kids 3. But only in the past few years has he made real progress toward becoming a bankable Hollywood star.
There are two things you immediately notice when talking to Powell. The first is that he’s charming. With piercing green eyes, a chiseled jawline, and adorable dimples, Powell seems made for Hollywood. The second is that he’s incredibly grounded and devoted to his family. Powell grew up as the middle child and only boy in a Texas family of five. “Anybody that knows me knows that I’m a huge fan of Texas. I live and breathe Texas,” Powell told Haute Living during a recent conversation. “I have a Texas flag above my bed. My mom has an accent that is insanely thick. She’s adorable and very, very Texan. In fact, she’s a seventh-generation Texan.” Family members work their way into just about everything Powell mentions. His Instagram account is filled with photos of his grandmother and his newborn twin nieces. He gets his parents bit roles on all of his films. It’s refreshing to see a young star who values the importance of family and wants to share his good fortune with the people who raised him. “My family loves movies. My dad and I used to eat a huge breakfast, and then we’d just go hang out at the theater all day together. We loved movies like Indiana Jones and James Bond. We were both big action-adventure movie fans. So I kind of grew up with an appreciation for film,” he explains.
Powell’s passion for film led him to Austin’s power players in the movie industry—directors like Robert Rodriguez, Richard Linklater, and Wes Anderson have a presence in the city—where he started to win small roles. In 2007, he was cast as a Harvard debater in Denzel Washington’s movie The Great Debaters. Although it was essentially a no-credit role, Washington and his agent, the late Ed Limato, couldn’t help but notice Powell’s natural ability. They encouraged Powell to move to Los Angeles and give acting a shot. “Denzel and Ed were the ones that kind of held my hand and said, “I think you should actually give this thing a shot. I don’t think it’s as much of a pipe dream as you’re making it out to be,” Powell explains. He attended the University of Texas for one year and then moved to L.A., where he took a gig coaching high school football and basketball. Powell admits that it wasn’t easy at first. “It was kind of an up-and-down journey,” he says. “You can be taking all sorts of side jobs trying to pay the rent and living in places you don’t want to live, just making sure you don’t get mugged…when you’re coming up in the world. It’s a tough journey as an actor in Los Angeles.”
Before Powell could blink, the tides turned and he was on the winning side of the acting adventure. He had a series of television roles before what can be described as his big break—the part of a computer hacker named Thorn in The Expendables 3. All of a sudden Powell found himself on a set in Bulgaria with many of the best-known male stars in Hollywood. “That was definitely a big turning point in terms of the entire career. I was doing indie movies at the time and I was a huge fan of Sylvester Stallone,” Powell says. “I just love the fact that Sylvester Stallone is a multi-hyphenate. He acts, he writes, he produces, he directs. I always respected that guy, especially with The Expendables franchise, which is very much the type of movie that my dad and I loved when I was a kid.” He likens the three-month experience to summer camp and says that he was smiling “from ear to ear” the whole time. “Everybody’s in strange territory, so everybody kind of goes out to dinners and hangs out and goes to see the town together,” Powell says of life on set in a place like Bulgaria. “Obviously doing that, with icons who were the entire reason I got into the film business, just made it even more special. Having dance parties with Antonio Banderas and Wesley Snipes, that’s as good as it gets.”
The intimate contact with Washington, Stallone, and Mel Gibson has proved invaluable for the young actor. Stallone encouraged Powell to get into writing, and rumor has it he’s got his own superhero story in the works. What’s the best advice he’s ever been given? Powell recalls Washington telling him: “When you’re running a race, don’t look in the other lane,” he says. “What he basically said is, ‘Just run your race. Run the heck out of your race, but don’t focus on everybody else that’s running beside you.’ I’ve seen it since I’ve been out in Los Angeles. There are flavors of the week and then there are people that pop up as the front-runners for movies that you’re up for and feel unbeatable at the time. But if you just focus on the job and do a great job, focus on the work and are nice to people, eventually you’ll get to the finish line.”
Equal parts action hero and frat brother, Powell’s next break came with the role of Chad Radwell in Murphy’s Scream Queens. Radwell is a pompous, yet likable character with a sensational wardrobe and hysterical one-liners. Powell’s Radwell has a cultlike following and has made him the front-runner for the particularly bro-centered parts in Hollywood. In Everybody Wants Some!!, Richard Linklater’s follow-up to Dazed and Confused that features a group of college baseball players in the 1980s, Powell plays Finnegan, a sweet-talking bro with a mustache. “I would say that maybe I have bro-y elements to me,” Powell acknowledges. “Maybe it’s the lack of bro-ness in Hollywood makes my bro-ness stand out. I feel like a lot of men that obviously go into the field of acting probably weren’t on sports teams, didn’t grow up around a lot of guys, probably didn’t have that locker room experience. Maybe I’m filling that void in Hollywood.”
And Hollywood is taking notice. He’s scored a series of exciting roles in buzz- worthy films, and he’s the recipient of the Domaine Chandon Rising Star award at this fall’s Napa Valley Film Festival (read Haute Living’s preview of the event on page 76). In Hidden Figures, a movie about three African-American women who helped NASA put men into space, Powell plays astronaut John Glenn. The star-studded cast includes Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer, Janelle Monáe, Kevin Costner, Kirsten Dunst, and Jim Parsons. In preparation for the role, Powell studied footage of the Friendship 7 launch and read Glenn’s memoir and the actual debrief from the event.
Powell is also in the upcoming film Sand Castle. “[This picture] is so good. I’m really excited. It’s nice to make good movies,” Powell says. “I’m really excited about it, especially when these things turn out just like you hoped they would.” The film revolves around a U.S. Military Special Operations forces unit that goes to fix a broken water supply unit in the dangerous village of Baqubah, Iraq, and then things go horribly wrong. It was shot in Jordan over three months in 2015 and stars Nicholas Hoult, Henry Cavill, and Beau Knapp. The yet-to-be-filmed Set It Up will be Powell’s first romantic comedy, with Emilia Clarke now cast in the leading female role opposite Powell; her Game of Thrones schedule, though, may not allow her the time to participate. “I think we’re probably going to have to change up the female lead. I just read with a bunch of girls, and we’re really, really excited about that one. It’s going to be one hell of a movie,” Powell says. “It has such a classic romantic premise—two assistants set up their bosses to give them more free time.”
One of the reasons he really enjoys acting is that it allows him to imagine himself in a lot of different professions, such as a soldier or an astronaut, that he wouldn’t normally experience. In high school, he considered joining the armed forces, which is why he had such a wonderful time making Sand Castle. “We got to do all sorts of training. I got to be in a kill house in Jordan on a Jordanian military base, and literally all day, all I did with these special forces guys was save hostages and kill terrorists that they planted in this kill house. You use simulation rounds, so it’s like high-power paintballs essentially. You go in there with your unit and basically clear this entire house. It was the best.”
When he’s not making movies or honing his writing craft, Powell is an adventure seeker: racing cars, shooting guns, wrestling kangaroos—typical bro stuff. While shooting in Jordan, he befriended a Green Beret and the two have plans to attend a jungle warfare school in Belize. What will he do after that? Probably head home to Texas. “I love living in L.A., but I think Texas is where I go back to find myself a little bit, be on the lake. It doesn’t get any better.” He can’t imagine the roller coaster of fame without the love and support of his family. What achievement is he most proud of? He pauses for a minute and replies, “What it really comes down to is my family. Just the idea that they’ve kind of been a part of this journey. I think that’s the greatest achievement—being able to blend the people I love with the job I love. It’s nice to experience these things just in general in your life, but when you experience them with people that have been there from the beginning of the journey and who understand it, there’s nothing quite like it.”