Glen Powell soars as 'Top Gun: Maverick's coolest pilot after 'ultimate gut punch' of losing role

  • Glen Powell excels as bad-boy pilot Hangman in "Top Gun: Maverick"
  • Powell had initially been devastated after losing out on a key role in the "Top Gun" sequel.
  • Producer Tom Cruise created the Hangman part around Powell, giving his "Top Gun" dreams flight.

SAN DIEGO – Glen Powell swaggers alone as the coolest star in "Top Gun: Maverick."

With the raddest pilot call sign (Hangman) in the long-awaited "Top Gun" sequel (in theaters Friday), Powell, 33, fires the biggest megawatt smile at will, shoots off the best lines and owns the most prominent shirtless shots during the instantly famous beach football scene.

Moviegoers will fall hard for the charismatic Powell, whose real "Maverick" comeback completes the love story. Powell, a superfan of the original "Top Gun," made a social media stir three years ago when he classily admitted he lost out on the coveted role of Goose's son.  

Amid the public crash and burn, producer and star Tom Cruise (as Pete "Maverick" Mitchell) created the even-flashier "Maverick" role of irresistible bad-boy pilot Jake "Hangman" Seresin.

"I've been pinching myself every second of this whole journey," Powell says. "This is what Hollywood is. It's dramatic, it beats you down a lot. But sometimes your dreams can come true in ways that you never even imagine."

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Glen Powell stars as Hangman in "Top Gun: Maverick."

The Austin, Texas-born Powell, who played astronaut John Glenn in "Hidden Figures," acknowledges his first viewing of 1986's "Top Gun" at age 10 lit his fires.

" 'Top Gun' made me want to be an actor," Powell says. "If you don't want to be a fighter pilot or an actor after watching that movie, you're crazy."

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Powell leapt at both when auditioning for the sequel and was sure he had cinched the universe's hottest part – Bradley "Rooster" Bradshaw, the pilot son of Maverick’s friend Nick "Goose" Bradshaw (played by Anthony Edwards), who died in the first film.

"I prepped for months for my audition," Powell says. "I was so confident walking into that room. I was going to be in this movie."

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Glen Powell, left, and Miles Teller were two of the actors in the high-profile casting battle to play Rooster in "Top Gun: Maverick." Teller nabbed the part; Powell took the part of rival pilot Hangman.

On July 3, 2018, Powell asked a friend to photograph what was surely going to be his brightest life moment: getting the call from "Maverick" director Joseph Kosinski telling him he had the part. Instead, Kosinski broke the news that the part went to Miles Teller.

"That was the hardest thing for me to do. But I wanted him to hear it from me directly," Kosinski says. "I broke Glen's heart that day."

With the media amplifying every "Maverick" casting development, Powell confirmed his bad news with a perfect Twitter post. "I’m taking down all the Tom Cruise posters in my bedroom. Maybe, I’ll leave one. Two for symmetry. Okay, the posters are staying."

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"That was the moment right before I lost my sense of humor," Powell says. "I tweeted that right before the pain really hit."

Powell eventually released the porch photo, palpably showing the depths of his despair while on the phone.

"My friend had accidentally captured the worst call in my life, as I'm in an American flag tank top sitting on my balcony. I spent that July 4 weekend in a fetal position. That was the ultimate gut punch."

But Cruise couldn't leave Powell behind and created the role of Hangman for him in the mold of Val Kilmer's "Top Gun" rival pilot Iceman. 

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"We knew we wanted to have a Texas flair, to be this Southern cocky, fun guy," Powell says. "And we knew it had to be Ice Man-adjacent."

Powell shows that Ice Man cool in "Maverick," including a scene where he bounces Cruise's Maverick from a bar. Tossing Cruise out for real was daunting for Powell, who feared hurting the action superstar.

"So we're carrying Tom out, and we kind of fake-throw him and Tom stumbles," Powell says. "Tom goes: 'What are you doing, man? Dude, I fall off buildings like every day.' So he let me properly throw him on the next take." 

Hangman finds out in the next scene that the guy he bar-tossed is his new flight instructor. Powell urged Kosinski to focus the camera on his character's toothpick-turning gymnastics. The results are as impressive as Kilmer's infamous, arrogant pen twirl in "Top Gun."

"The toothpick was something I had to fight for," Powell says. "It accentuates Hangman's cockiness. I'm so glad it's in the movie."

Glen Powell sheds his shirt for a beach football game in "Top Gun: Maverick."

No toothpick training was needed. "I'm a toothpick kind of guy. That's a Glen Powell thing that became a Hangman thing."

There was extensive jet training for the stomach-turning F-18 action sequences. Powell at first hid that he was vomiting while filming, but eventually he proudly admitted it. 

"Initially, I started taking two puke bags: one to puke in and then one to hold up for everyone afterward. But I realized, honesty is the best policy here. I would go back into briefings and put the bag on the table for the whole crew and Navy to see. You've just got to own it at a certain point."

Glen Powell in flight as Hangman in "Top Gun: Maverick."

After all, Powell showed that his recovery from the lows – whether casting rejections or airsickness – is everything.

"The F-18 is the most incredible ride you've ever had. But it's also incredibly painful. Even while secretly holding a puke bag just below the camera, you have to puke and rally. And then act like the coolest pilot in the Navy."