When Glen Powell decided he wanted to play real-life naval officer Tom Hudner nearly six years ago, someone else already held the screen rights to the story.
“That person had a couple drinks at a Hollywood party and told me they weren’t planning on making this movie,” Powell recalled to The Hollywood Reporter at the film’s premiere on Tuesday. “And I said, ‘Would you mind if I made it?’ And they were like, ‘Yeah, sure.’ So I went to [author Adam Makos], and I said, ‘Hey, if you let me have this, I promise I’ll tell it in the best way possible.’”
Based on Makos’ novel Devotion: An Epic Story of Heroism, Friendship, and Sacrifice, the film follows the true story of naval aviator duo Lt. Hudner (Powell) and Ensign Jesse Brown (Jonathan Majors) — the navy’s first Black carrier pilot — during the Korean War.
“I knew [this story] stood a chance when Glen Powell came to me,” Makos remembered. “I had to Google him because Glen was not the actor he is now. He wasn’t the superstar yet.” Makos said his test for Powell was for the actor to meet Hudner himself, along with the Brown family.
“Next thing you know, Glen and I were sitting at the kitchen table with Tom having waffles,” the author said. “He treated him like a grandfather.”
Coming off of a breakout role in Top Gun: Maverick as bad boy pilot Jake “Hangman” Seresin, Powell is aware of the unlikely coincidence of starring in two naval aviation movies in one year. When the Top Gun opportunity came about, the actor remembered having to make the tough decision of whether or not he could pursue both projects. It was Tom Cruise’s support that helped pave the way for Powell’s role in the Top Gun sequel.
“I said, ‘Hey, Tom, I already have a naval aviation movie that’s really close to my heart,’” Powell recalled. “And Tom said, ‘There’s room for two. You can do Top Gun, you can do Devotion. You don’t have to choose.’ The fact that Tom gave me the liberty to make both, Black Label and Sony gave me the liberty to make both — I feel like these are two movies that could not be more different from each other, but really complement just the love of aviation and the legacy of our men and women in uniform.”
“I was afraid that Top Gun was going to derail this when he was offered that role,” Makos said of his reservations at the time. “I thought, ‘Jeez, he’s gonna go for that. He’s gonna leave us behind.’ Because who wouldn’t want to act alongside Tom Cruise?”
With Cruise’s blessing, the role of Hangman in Top Gun: Maverick was born — a character much different from Hudner — and Powell moved forward with Devotion.