When Glen Powell moved to Los Angeles, it was at the suggestion of Hollywood super agent Ed Limato. The Austin, Texas native had started acting professionally as a young teenager, and during his senior year of high school, he was cast in The Great Debaters (2007), a film directed by and starring another one of Limato’s clients Denzel Washington. “He came up to me [on set] and told me I reminded him of a young Richard Gere,” Powell recalls. “I thought it was just some random guy. I didn’t know he represented Richard Gere.” While in Los Angeles for the film’s premiere, Powell met with Limato again. “I showed up in jeans, a belt buckle, and a cowboy hat,” he says with a laugh. “Ed walked in and he goes, ‘Did you just come off a farm?'”
Powell was initially reluctant to leave his life in Texas behind; he’d had friends go to Los Angeles only to return to after waiting tables for five years. “It seemed like something where, unless you were born into it, it wasn’t really feasible,” he explains. But Limato was persistent and Powell made the move after finishing his freshman year at University of Texas. A year later, Limato passed away. “It went from really feeling like I had the town wired to, ‘Oh shoot, I’m all alone out here,’ Sandra Bullock in Gravity-style.”
If Powell went through a dry spell, it didn’t last very long. By 2012, he was having his head slammed against a desk by Tom Hardy in Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight. Soon after, he joined Sylvester Stallone’s The Expendables for the action franchise’s third installment, and it was Stallone himself who called Powell to offer him the role. Last September, the now 27-year-old made his television debut as a series regular in Ryan Murphy’s dark comedy Scream Queens. As Chad Radwell, the ultra-preppy boyfriend of Emma Robert’s Chanel Oberlin and president of the Dickie Dollar Scholars, Powell is charming and hilarious. While every character on Scream Queens is quotable, the overly confident and sexually macabre Radwell is particularly so, and it’s no surprise that he’s been confirmed for the show’s second season.
Then there are also Powell’s forthcoming film projects. This month, Richard Linklater‘s ode to college Everybody Wants Some!! circa 1980 will come out gradually across the U.S. Powell plays Finnegan, a baseball player known for his way with words, especially when it comes to approaching young women. Next up, he’ll co-star in the Iraq War drama Sand Castle alongside Henry Cavill, Nicholas Hoult, and Beau Knapp. “It’s one of the most specific, weird, and engaging war movies you’ll ever see,” he says of Sand Castle. “I think the closest comparison is Three Kings meets Christopher Nolan.”
EMMA BROWN: How did you got involved in Everybody Wants Some!!? I know you worked with Richard Linklater before on Fast Food Nation in 2006.
POWELL: Even though I knew Rick before, it didn’t help my chances at getting cast on this one. The audition process was just as strict—if not stricter—than everybody else’s. When I worked with Rick on Fast Food Nation, I broke my arm a week and a half before we started shooting. I had to call Rick: “Hey man, I broke my arm, please don’t fire me,” and I remember him being like, “There was always a guy in high school with a cast—that’s amazing.” If you really think about your high school experience, there was always somebody walking around on crutches or with a sling or a cast; it’s just the nature of being young. You never see that in a movie and he got so excited and giddy about it. It was the opposite response of what I was expecting. I thought I was going to be a 15-year-old groveling for my job.
BROWN: How did you break your arm?
POWELL: I wasn’t even a baseball player in high school but I broke it playing pick-up baseball.
BROWN: Did you bring that up while you were doing Everybody Wants Some!!?
POWELL: I did. Rick’s mind is so sharp; we call him Rickapedia because he just remembers everything, whether it’s music, art, movies, directors, set dressers, production designers. Rick and I had some really great breakfast conversations where we sat down and pondered what college life is and what life is about, and the most fun guy to ponder with is Rick. It was one of my favorite memories of the whole thing. It was interesting talking to him about the idea of memory. He remembers events as they took place, whereas most people do this revision of history—they want to remember their experience the way they want to remember it. It’s weird how exactly he remembers things we did on Fast Food Nation.
BROWN: It’s funny that he has such a perfect memory because Everybody Wants Some!! is quite rose-colored. It’s the best parts of college.
POWELL: What people should be pulling away from the movie is not necessarily, “These events also transpired in my college experience” but, “This is exactly how I felt being in college.” That sentimentality is something that Rick can conjure up because he remembers things exactly as they were and he can build out from there. When people try to build that sense of sentimentality, they end up screwing it up because they’re being sentimental for the sake of it.
There was this one scene [in Fast Food Nation] where he wanted me to have this awkward goodbye with this girl. He came up to me and he said, “I want you to hug her like you really mean it—she really means a lot to you. I’m not going to tell her that you’re hugging her. Hug her as hard as you can.” It was one of the most awkward things in my entire life and it was caught on film. Rick knows how to create those moments that feel organic. He’s one of the most emotionally intelligent people I’ve ever met. He can get those kind of performances out because he knows what it feels like.
BROWN: Were you always going to be Finnegan? Were you considered for other roles?
POWELL: Everybody auditioned for six roles at the top, but I felt a fondness for Finnegan right off the bat. I auditioned for Finnegan, Roper, McReynolds, Willoughby—you first audition for everybody and then, as he sees your vibe and what you put out, he says, “Okay I want you to come back for Roper and Finnegan.” It became more Finnegan and then Blake [Jenner] and I did the chemistry read as Jake and Finnegan and it seemed like a no-brainer.
BROWN: I heard Rick gave the cast some movies to watch before hand, like Animal House. Did you watch Dazed and Confused or would that have been weird?
POWELL: We watched Animal House, Airplane!, [Dock Ellis & The LSD ] No-No about Dock Ellis pitching a no-hitter on acid, a movie about Auggie Garrido and the UT baseball team that Rick put together. I feel like we watched Dazed the first night and it was put to bed after that and we never talked about it again. It was: “Okay, we understand the tone, now we’re making our own movie.” Everybody talks about how Everybody Wants Some!! is the spiritual sequel to Dazed and Confused, but there’s a real trap in trying to recreate Dazed and Confused—that magic is it’s own thing.
BROWN: In the film, your character and various members of the baseball team go to a country music club, a disco club, and a punk club. Which was your favorite?
POWELL: The punk club was the last night of shooting, so there was a lot of bro-hugging that day. But we all prepped for the Sound Machine [disco club] so much. The dancing was one of the things that Rick was really specific about. Dancing is not a thing guys do these days—we don’t go to the club and dance. That’s not how things are set up these days. [But] Rick talked about how baseball players would rule the dance floor, and they were athletes, so they were dancing confidently and knew how to move. We worked hard to show those dance moves. You didn’t want anything anachronistic seeping onto that dance floor—No Soulja Boys or Duggys.
BROWN: Rick has a reputation for being quite a vague director. Did you find that to be true?
POWELL: Yeah. It’s funny, I was thinking about when Rick and Jennifer Lawrence were going to do a movie together. I’ve heard that Jennifer Lawrence gets along really well with David O. Russell—she’s kind of his muse—and David O. Russell is known for being a very combative director. He’s the kind of guy who’s like, “Why are you doing it like that? Do it right. Act better.” He’s almost heckling you while you’re acting. Rick is the kind of guy where, when you say, “Is that what you’re looking for?” He’ll be like, “Sure, do you feel good about it? You want to do anything else?” It’s never really clear. If Rick doesn’t like what you’re doing, he never tells you how to do it. Everything is offered in a question form: “What if…?” To some people, that can be very frustrating; some people will throw their hands up and say, “Just tell me how to do it.” But for me it was very freeing. Rick and I had a shorthand, and when you realize he isn’t going to tell you how to do it, you trust your own instincts and go with your gut. You’ve done the research into your character; you know that character more than anyone else. Rick opens up this dialogue that creates way better performances than if he’d answered yes or no. We put our hemispheres together and came up with something even more genius.
BROWN: I know you try to get your mother into most of your films as an extra. Was she in this one?
POWELL: Yeah! She’s Marge the lunch lady. She loves being on set, she gets a kick out of it, and nepotism is kind of an expectation at this point. Now she’s like, “Glen, what’s my role in this movie?” You try to do a nice thing for your mom and all of a sudden she’s like, “I’ve got to be in this movie. What am I going to do?”
BROWN: How did it first start?
POWELL: When I was in Spy Kids 3 she was on set and she played an adult spy. She had such a good time; it was such a fun thing for all of our friends and family to do, pause the TV like a replay from the NFL. Then she played a professor at a party in Jack & Bobby. My whole family was in Into the West as a pioneer family; they’re in the audience in The Great Debaters. My family’s been getting a lot of work off me!
BROWN: Do you have siblings?
POWELL: I have a younger sister and an older sister that just told us she’s having twins. I get to be a double uncle.
BROWN: Do you have uncle plans?
POWELL: I think I’m going to be a pretty kick-ass uncle. I’m good at spoiling people without the responsibility. When I first moved out to L.A. to be an actor, this family knew that I was a pretty big athlete back in Texas, and they said, “You can live in our house for free if you coach our kid in football, basketball, and lacrosse.” So I was coaching all these sports teams and I got to live at this house in Bel Air—this nine-acre estate—for free. It was amazing. Their son was 10 years old and I’d take him and his friends out for frozen yogurt, take them to dances and their friends’ houses and we’d kick it over there. The responsibility of making sure a kid lives is not something I’m ready for quite yet, but I’m ready to take them out and have a good time.
BROWN: I know The Great Debaters was a significant project for you because you met your first agent through it. How did you get cast in the film?POWELL: I was 17 years old and I auditioned for a really small role in the movie—an Oklahoma City debater—in Texas. I went into the callback with Denzel, and at the time I had a really thick Texas accent, so he asked, “Can you get rid of that Texas accent? I think there’s a bigger role that you’d be really good for. Read the same lines without the accent” I was like, “Yeah I can do that.” So we talked, I left, and then I got a call maybe 10 minutes later from the production office saying, “You’re invited to the table read. You’re the only guy not cast. The producers aren’t really sold, they have another guy in mind, but you’re my guy, so I need you to bring the heat.” I came back a couple days later for the table read and I showed up in a tuxedo. This guy was supposed to be 23, a Harvard debater, very prim and a proper blue blood—basically a young JFK. I was 17 and not really that put together. I was smart, but kind of all over the place. So when it came time for my debate at the end of the third act, I stood up in my tuxedo—I was off-book. It was like Oprah Winfrey and Denzel Washington and Forest Whitaker in the room, and I just went for it. Right after the table read, Denzel came up to me and was like, “Alright. You got it, you did what you needed to do.” I was in high school—I had high school literally the next day—but he didn’t know I was under 18, and so he was like, “We’re all going down to debate camp, do you want to go?” So I got on a plane with Denzel and all these guys and we went down to Texas Southern University for the next few days and I just skipped school and learned how to debate. Denzel and I formed a great relationship. When it came time to shoot in Boston, there was a guy in the movie who kept screwing up his lines. There were probably 500 extras out in the audience, all in period clothing all watching the debate. This guy lost his cool and Denzel went off on him. Then he called me up to the plate and said “Glen, do your speech.” And I went and did my speech and did it in one take, and he was like, “That’s how it’s done.”
BROWN: I wanted to talk about Scream Queens as well, now that you’re confirmed for the second season. Do people quote Chad Radwell lines to you?
POWELL: Chad Radwell lines are very, very quotable. The most common one I get is, “Everybody wants to get with this. Women, men, animals at the zoo, plants probably.” People love that line for some reason. [laughs] What’s really funny is when I go over to other countries and they do it. We filmed Sand Castle in Jordan, and Jordan doesn’t get Scream Queens. They don’t have Fox over there and you can’t get Scream Queens online. They have to go through a lot of effort to watch the show. But the amount of people in Jordan coming up to me and quoting Chad Radwell lines in this Jordanian accent was crazy. There are Scream Queens fans all over the planet and Chad Radwell tends to be a hit, which is very, very fun. We were making that show on an island in New Orleans; it’s not like anybody really knew what we were shooting. It’s not until I got to Jordan that I met my first Scream Queens fans.
BROWN: Did people recognize Henry Cavill as Superman when you were shooting Sand Castle in Jordan? Did they come up to him?
POWELL: [laughs] Henry had this gnarly beard while we were shooting Sand Castle—he’s this special forces guy with a huge beard and he put on a lot of weight. He was jacked, but more corn-fed jacked, so he just looked totally different. One of his bodyguards over there was an actual Navy SEAL who vaguely looks like Henry. People heard Superman was in Jordan, so they’d come up to his bodyguard when Henry was right next to him and go, “Oh my god, Superman, we’re such huge fans.”
BROWN: Did you all have bodyguards?
POWELL: No, I don’t need a bodyguard. On Expendables [in Bulgaria] they tried to give us bodyguards—there was this guy that was my unofficial bodyguard and he would hang out. I told the producers, “I love this guy, but I don’t need a bodyguard. I’m more of a target with this 6’4″ jacked dude following me everywhere in a black t-shirt than walking around by myself.” And they were like, “No, no, no. You’re going to have a bodyguard.” What I realized is some of the Expendables on Expendables 1 and 2—they weren’t in Expendables 3—got a little crazy and would disappear on days they were supposed to be filming. The bodyguards were babysitters to make sure we didn’t go off in Bulgaria. But Jordan is very safe.
BROWN: Last question. I read that you have a pet monkey. Is that true?
POWELL: I do. We have this pet monkey named Charlie. I’m more of an uncle to Charlie. I tried to bring him out to Los Angeles but the monkey laws are kind of crazy out here. Charlie gets treated better than any human. He’s the most spoiled pet you can imagine. He lives out in Texas with my family. Do remember that viral video with “Charlie bit me”? Charlie used to be a huge biter so we named him Charlie after that YouTube video.
EVERYBODY WANTS SOME!! COMES OUT THIS FRIDAY, APRIL 8.