It has been a pretty great summer for Glen Powell.
Back in June, “Set It Up” was released to critical acclaim, and has since generated a devout online audience, while he was also in the running to star opposite Tom Cruise in “Top Gun 2,” only to lose out on the role to Miles Teller.
However, Powell once again proved that he is the new nicest guy in Hollywood by impressing Cruise so much that he is currently in negotiations to star in a role created just for him in the sequel.
The summer of Powell continues apace later this week when he appears in “The Guernsey Literacy And Potato Peel Pie Society.”
Powell plays Lily James’ love-interest in the romantic comedy drama, which, set in 1946, revolves around her London based writer exchanging letters with a reading group based in Guernsey, the remote British island that was under German occupation in the second World War.
I recently had the chance to speak to Powell about “The Guernsey Literacy And Potato Peel Pie Society,” and he talked me through making sure his character Mike Reynolds wasn’t a villain, the legendary Mike Newell, and still managed to remain a ray of sunshine despite a number of technological issues. Here’s how our conversation unfolded.
Hey Greg, how are you doing today?
I am all right, pal. How are you doing?
I am doing lovely. Where in the world are you right now?
I am in New York City. But I am from the same glorious country where this film is set.
You didn’t sound like you were from Brooklyn. You guys are really our target demo. If the Brits didn’t like it we were screwed.
[Laughs] Luckily for you then I really enjoyed it. As usual, seeing Tom Courtenay on screen made me miss home instantly. Talk me through getting the script and what stood out for you about it and playing Mark Reynolds?
What is interesting is that Mike Newell was the magnet that drew everyone to this movie. Obviously the script was incredible, Tom Bezucha wrote an amazing script off an amazing book. But really Mike Newell has been a hero of mine for a while. So he was the reason I signed on. Obviously getting to kiss Lily James for an entire movie was a selling point in itself. There was a lot of great things to starring in this movie. Obviously being the lone American in a British cast was awesome. Because I had never worked with the Brits in this way. It is a very different experience, and I liked that for the most part. So understanding their point of view of Americans, and just the resting emotional place of an American instead of a Brit. Because Mark Reynolds really embodies everything it is to be an American. So getting to see that from an outsider’s perspective, from Mike Newell’s eyes was pretty fun.
What was so attractive about working with Mike Newell then?
One of the things that I think Mike brings to the directing chair is enthusiasm. He truly gets so much joy out of directing. He is really an actor’s director. Sometimes, with these big cinematic experiences, it is not really about the performances. It is about everything but the performances. But with Mike it is about these intimate stories. I love “Four Weddings And A Funeral” so much, too. He is, he is ….
The line cuts off, which is mildly annoying. But any tiny iota of frustration quickly subdues when we are reconnected almost instantly. Back into it we go.
You got me?
I have got you back, pal.
Where did I leave you?
You were just waxing lyrical about “Four Weddings And A Funeral” and I feel like you were about to discuss what you learnt from Mr Newell.
Oh, no. Gosh it was so genius. You would have respected me so much more. I don’t know if I will be able to recreate what I was saying but I will try.
I have full faith in you.
With Mike, one of the things I really like about Mike is …
Oh, God. Hello?
As you can probably tell, the line had cut off, again. This time the rage is more heated. Not to the level that I start pulling out my hair and punching a wall, but enough for me to mutter an expletive under my breath.
But the sight of the phone call being returned quickly makes the world feel fine.
This time, though, there is no reconnection. I am not even able to say hello to Glen and partake in some gentle, kind-hearted banter.
At this point I am done. Finished with technology. I have already vowed to resort to only pen and paper and letters for communication. I might even go and live in a cave or with the Amish.
But then, over the course of a minute, the angel that is Glen Powell singlehandedly revives my interest in electricity and technology and brings me back from my impending life of solitude.
Powell insists he will call me back of his own volition in 10 minutes. Sure, it is a small gesture, but lest we forget he is under no obligation to do so. Our allotted time is up. A poor connection thwarted us. Plus,Powell is obviously a much busier man than myself.
But he does call back, and, unperturbed by technological issues, we have the following exchange.
Mate, I had given up. I was actually going to suggest that, inspired by the movie, we just do it via letters. Pen and paper.
I would have had to release it as a book.
Just let everyone know that this interview was conducted over months. We literally started this interview while I was making “Guernsey.”
And then obviously at the end of it we fell madly in love.
Everybody saw that ending coming. That ending didn’t test so well. But the studio got involved. It is always complicated.
The chemistry between us, they just had to do something.
That’s how you sell tickets.
Anyway, you were talking about Mike Newell for a fourth time. I am so sorry you have to through this again.
It is all good, it is all good. So when me and Mike Skyped, it is alway interesting, you can tell he is an actor’s director. Because he asks the questions that an actor would ask when you are really trying to bring up all of the character for what he is worth. Essentially, where is the thrust of this character? I think what a lot of people forget about acting is that it is not necessarily how you say the lines, but the thrust and the point of view you say them from as the character in the story, and what place he occupies for the protagonist. Which in this case is Lily, and how he creates confusion and conflict for her. Mike was asking those questions. I told him that I didn’t want to play Billy Zane in “Titanic.” I said, ‘There is a version of this where he is an obvious choice for her. I said, ‘I would love to play this character as a guy who is purely American. Who is Captain America. He basically won World War II and he beat the Nazis, he is feeling good, and he has found a woman that wants to marry her and show her the world.’ But that is not her journey. That’s the flawed perspective. And that is not what she needs. She needs to ruminate on and live in the horror that she just experienced. Be with someone that experienced that same sort of horror. And is living in horror rather than opulence. That was sort of what we were talking, and I was just like, ‘He is so smart.’ He is such a jolly, wonderful man, who embraces life to his fullest. When you see him on set, and how giddy he gets, it is just inspiring. He hasn’t lost a bit of joy.
What really struck me is just how likable Mark is. Did you feel a pressure to make him unlikable?
I think as a person I am likable, just not likable enough.
I feel like that is a very harsh way of describing yourself.
My mum says that to me all the time. She says, ‘It’s good. You’ll work. You’ll get work. You’re likable enough. But not likable where you’ll get to be the hero.’ I was like, ‘Mum, you’re really mean. I need to move.’ The great part about Mark is that he is completely righteous. What I looked at when it came to the quest for love was, because someone is a great person doesn’t mean they are a great fit. Two sides of the heart don’t always complete each other in a way. And Mark is a guy that strives to show her the world and wants to giver her anything and show her off and introducing to incredible and accomplished people. But that is not what she wants. She wants to struggle. She wants to be a starving artist. She needs someone who has seen and who views themselves the same way as she does. And that is who Darcy is in this movie. The fact is I have never looked and never will view them as the movie. Because I feel that very few people on this planet, no matter how many horrible things they do, view themselves as the villain. So you have the know the space you occupy in a movie. But I always think that three-dimensional characters are always more fun to play. And that was just the trap. I knew when I spoke to Mike, I said, ‘This is just the one thing I don’t want to be. If you want that. That’s fine. But go somewhere else. It would me sick to be that guy in the movie where there are no levels and he isn’t at odds with himself.’Especially when you have treated a girl wonderfully, and you have shown her the world and you really do love her. And it is not the right fit, but you don’t see that yet. You just see a girl running away. Mike is going to treat someone right, but it just isn’t going to be her.
“The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society” is released on Netflix on August 10.