It's been a quarter-century since Tom Cruise was among the nominees competing for the coveted Best Actor statue at the Academy Awards. But the high-flying movie star is gunning for a return appearance in that Oscar category this year courtesy of 2022's reigning box office champ, Top Gun: Maverick. And while Academy members are still casting their ballots, Cruise already has Maverick co-star Glen Powell's vote.
"I think Tom deserves a Best Actor nomination for sure," the breakout star of both of last year's premiere aviation-themed dramas — Top Gun: Maverick and Devotion — tells Yahoo Entertainment. "I watched Tom deliver a completely authentic, heartbreaking and layered performance in that movie. And in addition to that, he was producing, coaching all the other actors how to act in planes and sleeping in the editing room! I mean, this guy does it all. If there's one person that deserves his due on the movie, it's Tom and I really hope that Academy sees that. The movie is impressive on so many levels, but it all starts and ends with Tom."
We'll have to wait until nominations are announced on Jan. 24 to see whether the Academy at large agrees with Powell. But the beleaguered Golden Globes have already weighed in, passing Cruise over for a Best Actor nomination, while still awarding Maverick two nominations for Best Motion Picture, Drama and Best Original Song. Powell confirms he'll be cheering the movie on from the Beverly Hilton ballroom when the Globes return to the airwaves on Jan. 10. "It's my first time getting to sit in the ballroom," he says with a laugh. "I tried to sneak in years ago and got kicked out pretty quickly, so I'm glad I've got a ticket this time."
Devotion may have missed out on awards recognition so far, but J.D. Dillard's period war movie is soaring onto Paramount+ on Jan. 8 on a wave of strong reviews for both Powell and co-star Jonathan Majors, who has been attracting his own Best Actor buzz. (The film will also be available for purchase on Digital services on Jan. 8) The duo respectively portray real-life U.S. Navy pilots, Lt. Tom Hudner and Ensign Jesse Brown, who made history as the first Black pilot to complete the Navy's flight training program. Hudner and Brown flew multiple Korean War missions together, including the 1950 Battle of the Chosin Reservoir during which Brown's plane was shot down, and he crash-landed in territory that is now part of North Korea.
Watch an exclusive clip from a Devotion making-of featurette available with the Digital release below
Realizing that Brown was trapped in the wreckage, Hudner crashed his own aircraft in the hopes of rescuing him. But with darkness falling and enemy forces closing in, the lieutenant was forced to leave his comrade behind, and Brown later died of his injuries. To this day, the whereabouts of his remains are unknown. In 2013, Hudner traveled to North Korea to meet with the country's leader, Kim Jong-un, in the hopes of finally bringing Brown home — a goal he was unable to achieve prior to his death in 2017.
But Powell says that he's part of a group that's continuing the late lieutenant's mission, working directly with the White House to recover Brown's remains from North Korea and lay them to rest at Arlington National Cemetery. "We have a team assembled in Washington D.C. right now trying to get Jesse home," he reveals, adding that the team includes Brown and Hudner's children and grandchildren. "They have an exact location through satellites and they have a plan for how to get him back. I think it's just a matter of what the geopolitical forces around getting him home and burying him at Arlington would look like."
At one point, Powell even intended join the team on a new trip to North Korea to search for Brown's remains, but the country's torrential monsoon season scuttled those plans. "I'm hoping they and the White House can get him home, because it would be beautiful closure for an American hero," he says, adding that he visited South Korea and the carefully-policed demilitarized zone that divides the two countries while preparing to film Devotion. That visit cast into stark relief the way in which the Korean War's legacy is felt at home and abroad.
"A lot of folks here in the United States don't know much about the Korean War — it really is the forgotten war," Powell notes. "But going to South Korea and visiting the museums and battlefields, it's clear that the Korean War is not over. The South Korean people have never forgotten and it's a beautiful thing to go there and be reminded of how grateful they are for a country that came to their aid when they needed it most. I'm proud that this movie showed a portrait of what that war was."
In a wide-ranging interview, Powell reveals how he discovered that he's the biggest star at the Pentagon; why Elizabeth Taylor — and an actual wig worn by the late Hollywood icon — makes a cameo in Devotion; what Tom Cruise taught him about movie stardom; and when he hopes to dye his own hair green to play his favorite superhero, Captain Planet.
You got to meet the real Tom Hudner before he passed away. What's your favorite memory of the time you spent with him?
The first time I met Tom, he was in front of his computer, and was told, "This is Glen Powell. He's an actor, and he wants to talk to you about your story." So we sat down together, and it was kind of a quiet moment. He was showing me Corsairs landing and taking off [on his computer]. This was the year that he passed away, so he was sometimes in and out of it, but was always completely lucid when speaking. He was talking about Jesse and about aviation, and he was so thoughtful that I saw what his [wartime] experience was, and what his relationship with Jesse was. That was the moment where I really understood the man I'd be playing. It was more than just a meeting — he was really revealing his relationship with Jesse in a way that's hard to describe [in words], but it was a feeling I carried through the whole process.
Afterwards, they told him, "Glen would like to play you and get this movie made." And there was this moment of silence! He didn't say anything, got up and left the room. I was like, "Okay, that didn't go well." [Laughs] But then he came back with a book, and in the book, he had written. "Get it right," and signed it "Tom." That's the book I had in my room everyday making this movie. Later on, I got to spend some time with him and his family and that was also a really beautiful weekend. They were so supportive of him the whole time. It's been amazing to feel like I'm part of the Hudner family by playing their father. And seeing how they and the Brown family are still connected to this day is so cool.
You come from a military family yourself and have said that you considered enlisting at one point. Looking back, do you think you could have hacked it?
Hmm, could I hack it? You know, as actors we get to go through these soft boot camps, so I've done some military school and weapons training, and I've spent some time in places like Jordan. And yes, my grandfathers were both in the military. One of them was a flight medic, and he was always obsessed with airplanes — he eventually got a private pilot's license. So I grew up loving the spirit of aviation, and the idea of having accountability for yourself and the other people on board. Flying is poetry in its own way, and also magic. It's magic to learn how things fly.
After playing someone in the military for several movies, I also do feel a spiritual connection with our men and women in uniform. I went to the Pentagon recently when we were screening Devotion in Washington D.C. and it was by far the most famous I've ever felt in my whole life. You know, there are three movie posters in the Pentagon: Top Gun: Maverick, Devotion and A Journal for Jordan. That's three movies — and I'm in two of them! [Laughs]
There's a sequence in Devotion where Jesse and Tom meet Elizabeth Taylor in France, and it's amazing to learn that story is actually true. Was your mind blown when you first heard about it?
The fact that's a true story is awesome. When we talked to certain executives and producers about Devotion, that was always a scene where I was like, "Please don't take that bit out." It's not really the story of the movie, but it says so much about Jesse and Tom's relationship and their lives. It also really brings that era to life — the wish fulfillment of being able to spend time with someone who was such a big movie star at the time. That chance interaction was incredible.
I haven't told anybody this, but I think it's so cool that Serinda Swan — who plays Liz Taylor in the movie — is wearing Elizabeth Taylor's real wig in that scene! I can't remember what movie she wore it in, but that's actually Liz Taylor's wig. It was incredibly expensive to find what her hair was like and how to do it properly. So the [hair and make-up team] found this wig and it literally had Liz Taylor's name on the tag. It's such a very cool little bit of history. Serinda had to do such heavy lifting, because it's an underappreciated role and she came in and knocked it out of the park. She completely conjured up the spirit of Liz Taylor, which is a hard thing to do. I watched how hard she worked on that role, and there was a piece of Liz Taylor with her while she was doing it.
We hear a lot about how there aren't movie stars like Elizabeth Taylor in Hollywood anymore. You've now worked with established stars like Tom Cruise and up-and-coming stars like Jonathan Majors. How do you feel about that take?
That conversation has been happening as long as Hollywood has existed — this idea of lamenting the passing of times gone by. I've just really never bought into it. I think everybody navigates their career differently and the business is always changing and evolving. It just depends on how you define "movie star." One thing I appreciated about working with Tom is that I got the best movie star lessons. If there are movie star lessons to be had, he has them! And he gave me all the ingredients to the secret sauce of how that could in today's day and age. So stay tuned: Maybe 10 years from now, we'll see if Tom's advice works. [Laughs]
Like you, I'm an ’80s and ’90s kid, and at one point, you were co-writing a movie version of the Captain Planet cartoon. Is that still happening?
I'm glad you asked! Captain Planet is definitely something I'm incredibly passionate about. Leonardo DiCaprio and I have been putting that together for several years. With the recent changes over at Warner Bros., we're just trying to figure out how the pieces will fall. It's an environmental superhero, so it's not necessarily part of DC — it exists outside of that world. At the same time, I think the world has never needed an environmental superhero more! So I think it tonally fits in with everything that James Gunn and Peter Safran are are doing at DC and Leo and I are very optimistic that we can make something happen. I'd love to play Captain Planet — that'd be sick.
You'd have to dye your hair green, of course.
Oh yeah, I'd do the green mullet and the blue skin with the Planeteers all around me! I'd love that.
What can I say except... Go Planet!
Man, that's one of those properties that I loved watching growing up. I was the head of the environmental club in my elementary school because of Captain Planet. And something I've always thought about is how movies and TV shows we watch can change the way we think. That is a movie and a show that I feel could change the world. And not just make it, "Kumbaya, save the planet," but offer actionable things that could really help the world. So I hope it comes to fruition. Tell everyone you know to get excited about Captain Planet and maybe we'll convince the higher-ups to be as passionate as we are.
You've had a long collaboration with one of my favorite directors, Richard Linklater, and you actually co-wrote his next movie, Hitman, which you're also starring in. What was it like to work with him as a writer as all as an actor this time around?
I've known Rick since I was 15 years old, and this is our fourth movie together. I just love that man, and getting to write with him was a dream come true. It was so fun and effortless, and we laughed the whole way through. To see the way he think is a joy, because anybody who is a fan of his knows that he's so thoughtful and the way he sees the world is so beautiful. This movie we wrote together is awesome. I saw it before the holiday break, and it's so good. It was also an interesting gear shift for me being the first movie I've written that I've also acted in. To be saying my own lines and questioning myself simultaneously has both a writer and actor was like shaping clay on the table. You're not interpreting someone else's lines, you're interpreting your own thoughts. I'm really proud of that movie, and everybody in it.
I'm excited to see his movie version of Sondheim's Merrily We Roll Along, even if I'm going to have to wait decades for it to be released since he's planned a 20-year shoot.
Yeah, what's really cool about that movie is that you're getting Beanie Feldstein and Ben Platte on the up slope of their careers, and to see them blossom and take on new shapes decades from now is going to be awesome. Rick is so excited about that movie, and I'm excited as a fan to see it.
Devotion premieres Jan. 8 on Paramount+ and most Digital services; Top Gun: Maverick is currently streaming on Paramount+