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But Linklater may soon have to wait for Powell to be
available. Following Everybody Wants
Some!!, the actor found himself learning to say no to offers coming in.
Working with the advice Washington gave him a decade earlier, the actor is
conscious about which projects he chooses. According to Powell, Washington told
him not to do bad films, “because it’s the first three movies that you do that
determine the tone for everything.” Aware that people in Hollywood judge what
you say yes and what you say no to, Powell is trying to strike a delicate
balance that will continue to push his career forward while still being able to
pay the bills. “It’s hard because there’s a little bit of PTSD from when you’re
a struggling actor, working at a restaurant or living in a garage. There’s a
little bit of an inherent knee-jerk reaction to say, ‘Yes, yes, yes, please
just give me a job,’” Powell explains, adding that his film heroes like
Washington and Leonardo DiCaprio, with whom he’s developing a script for a live-action
feature adaptation of Captain Planet,
stick around because of their consistent delivery.
With Everybody Wants
Some!!, Hidden Figures and Sand Castle, one could argue that Powell
kept to Washington’s advice. But the actor says he’s not quite there yet. “I’m
still enough off the radar where I don’t feel like I’m really defined. I think
it’s the first three movies that you are really the anchor, so to speak.” he
says. “Your choices do matter. And what I’m trying to do right now is just be a
part of movies that you’re proud of and not operate off of fear.” Those choices
include Guernsey, which he’s
currently filming in the U.K. alongside Lily James, Jessica Brown Findlay and
Matthew Goode (“This movie is going to be really incredible”), and Set It Up, reuniting him with Everybody Wants Some!! co-star Zoey
And while he’s still forging his own path in Hollywood (and
trying to maintain some quality control over his work), Powell doesn’t want too
many constraints on where it all goes. “You’ve just got to be calm and trust in
the journey,” he says.
But his longevity in Hollywood may have more to do with his
family, who has been there for every step in his acting career. As a kid, he
would spend all day with his dad at the theaters watching his father’s
favorites: action films and John Candy movies. Later, his mother would sneak
him out of class to drive him to auditions. For The Wendell Baker Story, Powell says his mother got him out of
algebra and took him down the street to a church parking lot where he filmed
getting hit by a car only to return to class later without anyone knowing.
“None of that would have been possible without [my mom],” he says. “She really
cares about her kids and lives life fearlessly. I don’t think a lot of this
really means anything unless you include the people you love, so they enjoy it
It’s largely the reason Powell’s family, his mom especially,
have uncredited roles in most of his films. She’s an adult spy in Spy Kids 3. She’s a professor in the
background of a party on Jack & Bobby.
She plays Marge the lunch lady in Everybody
Wants Some!! and was in the audience for The Great Debaters. Both parents will appear in Guernsey as Powell’s onscreen parents.
“As soon as they land, they go straight into fitting,” the actor says. “Mike
Newell, who is directing this movie, absolutely gets a kick out of the fact
that they want to be a part of it. Pretty much every director, I think they all
get a kick out of having them be ‘Where’s Waldo’ characters as part of their
movies. It’s a fun legacy.” And with Sand
Castle, Powell gets to honor his grandfather, who was a sergeant in the
Marines, by naming his character (Sgt. Chutzky) after him when the movie didn’t
get the life rights to the real names in the story.
Perhaps bringing this chapter in his career full circle was
the moment at the 2017 Screen Actors Guild Awards when Washington caught sight
of the actor and his family. “Denzel came right up to them, remembered their
names, gave them a hug and said, ‘I’m so proud of your son,’” Powell recalls.