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Tom Cruise in Top Gun: Maverick. Photo courtesy: Paramount.

Acting Up: Glen Powell


The Snapshot:

Glen Powell plays a cocky, speed-obsessed elite Navy fighter pilot trying to make top six for a covert mission in the megahit blockbuster sequel, Top Gun: Maverick.

(The film was released only in theaters on May 27th.)

 

The Performance:

If you’re one of those people who’s been ambling through life humming the Top Gun: Maverick theme since Memorial Day weekend, believe me, you’re not alone. In smashing box-office records for the holiday weekend, this long-awaited sequel (who’s release date was on-again, off-again a half-dozen times) has vastly exceeded expectations in terms of quality and substance.

Despite Tom Cruise conjuring up his A-game once again as Pete “Maverick” Mitchell, the risk-taking elite Navy fighter pilot who attempts to achieve Mach 10 speed early in the film, there’s lots of new to the Top Gun milieu that make this film – get ready for it – better than the original.

Yeah, I said it.

One of those adds is Glen Powell, who plays Lt. Jake “Hangman” Seresin, the brash fighter pilot whose Texas-born swagger and full-blown cocksuredness are essentially Iceman 2.0 (that’s the Val Kilmer character for those keeping score at home). Why Hangman? Well, he often hangs fellow pilots out to dry because his need for speed can be viewed as, well, mildly offputting.

When we first meet Hangman, it’s at the local watering hole where all the Top Gun pilots drink, play pool and gather round the piano to sing “Great Balls of Fire” (see: Top Gun the original).

As it turns out, they also prank the old guy at the bar (Maverick) who they’ve never met. This, after the bartender and Maverick ex-girlfriend Penny (Jennifer Connelly), makes Mav buy the bar a round of drinks. When he comes up short on funds, Hangman is one of two who ends up playfully tossing Maverick out in yet another old-folk prank – although he’s down to play along.

Next day, all the pilots meet their new teacher at Top Gun – Maverick.

Slowly, but surely, the old guy wins the respect of these top 12 top by tossing away the book on flying, by teaching them to fly with the only-in-Hollywood gut instinct, “Don’t think, just do.”

It’s a philosophy that’s never led to hot water – not once. Okay, maybe one time. (See Goose.)

In a film that’s probably the best recruitment video ever put to film for the U.S. Air Force, it’s as fun to watch Hangman and the others applying this knowledge while flying high in training scenes. And to music from Harold Faltermeyer, Hans Zimmer and Lady Gaga, even better.

Powell’s Hangman is at the center of it as he competes with Bradley “Rooster” Bradshaw (Miles Teller) – Goose’s son, Maverick’s former partner who met his demise during a training exercise. They’re both vying to be one of the top six pilots chosen for a special high-stakes mission. All the while, Hangman plays chicken with Rooster as they vie to make the cut, riding Rooster about how he’s always waiting for that perfect moment to strike – while everyone runs out of gas.

It’s all really good, with minimal cheese, and a bolder heart at its center vs. TG1. Powell plays Hangman’s arrogance perfectly, serving the tone of the film and of course, his country. On film. But like Iceman, even Hangman’s steely resolve and testosterone-fueled douchebaggery melts a bit under the right circumstances. The result is all very Top Gun and well, you know… America.

 

The Career:

It’s well documented at this point that Powell almost didn’t make it into this film. As reported in The Hollywood Reporter, the Austin-born actor was in the top three to play the juicier Rooster role that ultimately went to Miles Teller. But then came a call from Cruise, who praised Powell’s audition anyway. As Powell recalls, “No movie star calls the guy that doesn’t get the role… Movie stars typically want the glory without the nitty-gritty of having to break people’s hearts.”

Then came the offer for the role of Hangman, and at first, Powell admittedly didn’t like the arc. But after conversations with Cruise and screenwriter Christopher McQuarrie, they beefed up the role adding a triumphant layer to it that ultimately drew Powell’s interest back in. The next thing he knows, he’s taking flying lessons that Cruise reportedly paid for because the film’s director (Joseph Kosinski) wanted to shoot sequences with the pilots airborne for max authenticity.

(Side note: This apparently led to Powell throwing up more than once in the cockpit during flying sequences.)

In the buildup to Top Gun: Maverick, the 33-year-old Powell has starred in several notable projects over the years. He started out with smaller roles in films such as The Great Debaters (2007) and The Dark Knight Rises (2012), where Tom Hardy’s Bane supposedly smashed his head during one take leaving Powell feeling a bit woozy. He then took bigger roles in films like The Expendables 3 (2014) and Richard Linklater’s Everybody Wants Some!! (2016). Around this time, Powell also locked down a standout part as another high-flyer – John Glenn – in Hidden Figures (2016) – while securing breakthrough roles in Fox’s comedic horror series, Scream Queens (2015-2016) and the original Netflix rom-com Set it Up (2018) opposite Zoey Deutch.

As for what’s next, Powell has spent the last four years working on Devotion, which is set to come out in October, a true story about the Navy’s top fighter pilots and wingmen during the Korean War. Powell, who is now a licensed pilot in real life thanks to the flying lessons, will take to the friendly skies yet again as you guessed it – a pilot.

Clearly, he’s found a niche.

Gregg Rosenzweig has been a writer, creative director and managing editor for various entertainment clients, ad agencies and digital media companies over the past 20 years. He is also a partner in the talent management/production company, The Rosenzweig Group.