He knows that the ecosystem is very different now than it was when he was growing up watching those icons. “The way Cruise became a movie star, I don’t know if you can still do that,” Powell says, noting that not a lot of studios are willing to take “big swings on normal movies like Rainman and Born on the Fourth of July.” But one way for Powell to ensure that Hollywood keeps making the type of movies he wants to be in is to go out and find (and sometimes write) those movies himself. When he went into production for both Devotion and Hitman, Powell says he had a moment where he wondered, why did I do this to myself? “I was like, I hope I’m a good enough actor to actually pull this off, because I wrote a whole movie where I said I can do this,” he says. “It starts expanding your belief in what you can do. The idea that you paint yourself into a corner I think is a healthy thing. I’m just trying to take those fun, big swings and do some stuff that I have a good time going to work, but I’m also a little scared.”
If Powell’s trying to keep himself scared, he’s also trying to keep himself sane, from being sucked into the “reality distortion field” that is Hollywood—which is why he’s grateful that his career spent some time taxiing out before fully taking off. “So many actors have this moment where you become a celebrity, and then you have to figure out the talent behind it,” he says. “I’ve had the benefit of this slow thing where it’s like nobody knows who I am.” Of course, Powell now finds himself at the point where people do know who he is. So I ask Powell, If you got a call tomorrow and the person on the other line said we want to make you Bond or put you in a Marvel movie, what would you say?
“Think about Daniel Craig,” Powell says, after a pause. “Daniel Craig is sick as James Bond. He did such cool stuff with that character. But you can also see from the outside, they’re offering him inordinate amounts of money and he’s like, I can’t do it anymore. There’s a certain point where there’s a trade off… My whole thing is, what is going to make you want to go to work every day?” For now, at least, he refuses to see Hollywood as a zero-sum game. “There is no finish line,” Powell says. “The finish line is to stay in the game.”
Today, he’s in the game, and having a good time doing it. Next week, his parents will come down to New Orleans to be extras in their son’s movie. He’ll also soon get a visit from a friend and old roommate who used to pose as Powell’s manager when his career was stuck in first gear. That his friends and family are visiting him on location provides a useful measuring stick for how far he’s come from those days when he was working just as hard, but seeing fewer results. “I’m happy to do what I’m doing now, which is nonstop: I work all night, I get up, I rehearse, and write and rewrite, and do it all again—that’s great, because I’m actually making a movie,” says Powell. “It’s the first time in my whole career, where I think I’ve felt like, Oh, shit. I think we’re gonna do this.”
Styled by Brandon Tan
Grooming by Riad Azar using Dior at The Wall Group
Tailoring by Alberto Rivera at Lars Nord Studio