An illustration of a man staring intently at the camera, with military planes and clouds behind

Illustration by The Red Dress

If you search TikTok, you’ll find more than a few posts by women who are beside themselves over actor Glen Powell’s performance in last year’s Top Gun: Maverick. It can be a surprise to learn that Jake “Hangman” Seresin—Powell’s character and one of the heartthrobs in the film’s memorable beach football scene—is played by the same actor who portrayed Long-Fingered Boy in the 2003 movie Spy Kids 3. That kid got his start in Austin, where he honed his acting chops in local theater and films—including in Austin director Robert Rodriguez’s Spy Kids 3—before going on to score roles in TV and movies. His dozens of credits include Scream Queens, Hidden Figures, and the 2022 Top Gun sequel, one of the highest-grossing films ever with revenue of $1.4 billion.

Powell’s surging career propels him around the globe to filming locations and red-carpet premieres, but his heart belongs to Texas. Last fall he filmed Hitman with Austin-based director Richard Linklater. The film is Powell’s fourth with Linklater, following roles in Everybody Wants Some, Apollo 10½: A Space Age Childhood, and Fast Food Nation. Powell co-wrote the Hitman script with Linklater, and he plays the lead part in the film, which was inspired by a Texas Monthly article about a Houston professor working undercover as a hitman. The movie is expected to be released this year. Powell, 34, maintains a residence in Austin, where his parents—an executive coach and a stay-at-home mom—still live. He also spends time in East Texas, where his family congregates for gatherings at their ranch near Corsicana. “People who are moving to Texas think Texas is one thing,” Powell says. “What I love about Texas is it can be everything if you want it to be.”

TH: When did you know you wanted to make a career of acting?
GP: I’ve always been passionate about movies and loved acting. It’s all I’ve ever really wanted to do, but I just never looked at it as a viable profession until I did a movie called The Great Debaters. I auditioned in Austin [at age 17] and ended up getting the role. Denzel Washington was the one who convinced me to move out to Los Angeles and give this a shot. I really was the beneficiary of a lot of movies and TV shows coming to Austin for a period of time. That was when Friday Night Lights was a big thing, and they were shooting so many things here. It was just awesome.

TH: Last fall you filmed Hitman. Was Gary Johnson, the real-life person you’re playing, a complex character to write and portray?
GP: He’s an incredible character. Rick Linklater and I had an amazing time building that movie out. They always say the truth is stranger than fiction, and we would never have been able to write this guy. He’s a philosophy and psychology professor who moonlights with the police department, and does hidden microphone and camera work, and is a fake hitman who becomes kind of a real hitman. It’s a wild story, and it was amazing to build that out with Rick, who has been one of my great friends and heroes and mentors since I was 15. There are only so many filmmakers who I consider true American iconic filmmakers who have defined a voice. Rick has remained prolific and grounded and truthful. It was such an honor to write with him and see how his brain works. For two Texas boys to be working together again and to be working at that level, writing it and getting after it, was really cool.

TH: The story takes place in Houston, but you shot it in Louisiana, right?
GP: We shot all of it in New Orleans. I’m really passionate about trying to get back tax incentive [state tax credits for film TV production] in Texas to try to bring more movies back to my home state. The movie is set in Houston—Johnson was the most famous fake hitman in Texas. And the tragedy is that because of the tax incentive being pretty much nonexistent, we had to move our entire operation to New Orleans. It ended up being fantastic, and we had a great time. But I was the beneficiary of growing up in Austin when Texas had a great incentive, and the film business was alive and well. I really owe a lot of my career to that incentive. I’d love to see other young people who are trying to act in movies and TV get that same opportunity.

TH: Are you based in Los Angeles or Austin these days?
GP: I probably spend more time in Austin. I’m gone filming so often that I’m really kind of a nomad. Even just looking at the next year, I probably won’t be in one place for more than three weeks for the whole year.

TH: What are some of your favorite places in Texas?
GP: We have a family ranch in East Texas that we go to. Kicking it with the family and gathering everybody, that’s magical. I love going wakeboarding on Lake Austin. I love getting back for a BYOB Salt Lick excursion. The best part about Austin is that it’s so active. Everybody is doing cool new adventures. You can go dirt biking or mountain biking or sky diving. Out in West Texas, there’s camping in Big Bend. It’s a state for an adventurer, and I grew up with that spirit for sure.

TH: How did your childhood inform that adventurous spirit?
GP: As a kid, I’d go on family road trips. You can go to any corner of Texas and it feels like you’re in a different country. I’m a sixth- or seventh-generation Texan, so I grew up with a lot of Texas pride. As a kid, one of the things I used to do with my grandfather and my dad is we used to wake up really early, eat a big breakfast, and go on a road trip to some random town. We’d go to the cemetery first and look up a cool, interesting gravestone, something that felt old and memorable. We’d go look up their names in the town hall. It was an interesting tradition.

TH: Are there any iconic Texas characters you’d love to play?
GP: I’m getting to do a Butch Cassidy and Sundance Kid show [a forthcoming Amazon series], so I get to play a gunfighter. I’m looking forward to that. One character I always thought was such a cool story is Benny Binion. He was the guy who created the World Series of Poker, and he was kind of the head of the Dallas mafia for a while. He was such an impressive, wild Texas guy. He beat up like six guys with the bumper of his car after they ran him off the road. He’s a larger-than-life figure, and I love a tall Texas tale.

TH: How did your childhood friends react to seeing you in Top Gun: Maverick?
GP: I’ve been doing this since I was 10 years old, and it’s pretty cool to be a part of something like that. You make a lot of movies—some that people see and a lot that people don’t. A lot of my friends have been cheering me on for a very long time, knowing how much work I put into this. The fact that I got to be part of a movie that not only thrilled audiences to that degree but that did so well, that everybody in the world saw, was just really special.

Keep up with Glen Powell’s work and release dates for upcoming projects—including the Richard Linklater movie Hitman, the Netflix romantic comedy Most Dangerous Game, and Amazon’s Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid series—on Instagram @glenpowell.

From the March 2023 issue
The June 2024 cover of Texas Highways: Treasures from the Coast

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