‘Devotion’: Glen Powell on how this film honors the legacy of the true story

Devotion
Jonathan Majors and Glen Powell in ‘Devotion.’
Paramount

It seems that 2022 was the year for aviation films. ‘Top Gun: Maverick’ has certainly left its mark, but with the feature ‘Devotion,’ the power of its story is held within its characters—which are based on real people— and their friendships, rather than on the planes themselves. 

The story of Jesse Brown, the first Black aviator in U.S. Navy history, and his compelling friendship with fellow fighter pilot Tom Hudner, is a connection that resonated with many, especially after reading Adam Makos’ best-selling book, ‘Devotion: An Epic Story of Heroism, Friendship’.

It certainly struck a chord for actor Glen Powell.

Powell first read the book in 2016 and was able to connect with the Hudners (including Tom) and the Browns the next year. After meeting, Powell was granted their blessing and permission to adapt the book into a movie. 

“Really, the hard work started from there in terms of getting the story right and doing [it] service. It’s not an easy story to tell. I mean, there are so many ways in which this can be kind of stuck in an era and feel dated and not layered or complex, or simplify race down to very simple things,” Powell explains. “That’s just not what the conversation is or should be.”

Devotion
Paramount

The road to getting ‘Devotion’ made is an obvious passion project for Powell, who also starred in a very different aviation role for ‘Top Gun: Maverick’ this year—and although both films are riveting watches in their own ways, to compare the latest ‘Top Gun’ to ‘Devotion’ is just not something conducive to the heart of both stories. 

To tell the story right for ‘Devotion,’ Powell felt a duty to those who were truly involved. So much so, that he put the story’s needs before his own as an up-and-coming actor.  

“When I started this journey and got an option in the books, I had just done ‘Hidden Figures.’ So I was not really a known quantity in town. And I knew that to be the lead of a big movie that would cost this much that a studio would have to really back it in a major way—it was pretty unlikely. So, I really cared more about the story and pushing [it] out in the world than I did about being in it,” Powell says. 

Luckily, the tides shifted in the direction for Powell to produce and star as Hudner in ‘Devotion.’ The first steps to telling the story right came from finding the feature’s director—J.D. Dillard—and finding who would play Brown, which turned out to be the widely acclaimed Jonathan Majors. 

Dillard has a personal connection to the story himself with his dad being the second Black Blue Angel, and also growing up most of his life on navel bases. Powell compares Dillard to a “young Spielberg” and cites the emotionally-driven direction and particular way of shooting as the ammunition for Dillard to pull off such a heartfelt shoot. 

“A lesser director would boil this thing down to [just] war. War is visceral and dangerous and tragic, and you have to honor those things. But you also have to honor the human beings in those uniforms behind that,” Powell explains. 

As for his frequent scene partner and co-star, Majors was the right fit due to his own dedication. And for real-life pilots and friends who Powell cites were “soul-mates,” getting that time together to make the devotion of the two come across on screen just as it did in real life was paramount to those involved. 

“There’s no better feeling than to sit with your co-star and him be so committed. This is what makes Jonathan so special as an actor. He just cares so much about getting it right,” says Powell. The pair talked to the families, read Makos’ book cover to cover and even sent each other poems and songs so that their friendship would resonate outside of the war—just like it did for the pair who lived these events out for themselves. 

Devotion
Paramount

Being versed in the era of the Korean War, Powell and Majors also wanted this friendship to transcend time in terms of relatability. 

“The bond within tragedy, within fear, love, all those things that are universal…That’s what I felt like we were really trying to boil down, to make sure this thing resonated. Not just for service members, but for the world,” Powell continues. 

Without giving too much away from the story, the film touches on the intensities of war, race, relationships, and a time where heroes were sometimes born out of the devotion to brotherhood—and it’s compelling to watch. 

The ensemble cast also features Daren Kagasoff, Nick Hargrove, Joseph Cross, Spencer Neville, and Joe Jonas, but the heart and soul of the story falls on Powell’s Hudner and Majors’ Brown and what they do to be wingmen both in and out of the sky for each other. 

“This one event that happened 70 years ago in North Korea has bonded these families for generations and continues to do that. What a special message that the legacy of this friendship has spawned so much good in the wake of tragedy,” Powell says. “I think it’s become emblematic for the Navy of what a real wingman is and should be.”

Overall, it’s Powell’s passion behind the project and the want to make this story come out as honorably as possible to those who were involved  that sets this film apart. It’s done with care and it’s done with honor. 

In ‘Devotion,’ Powell is wearing Hudner’s real Medal of Honor, Tom’s son is also in a scene with the actor and other fixtures such as the actual log logbook were used to help cement that idea. 

“It’s the legacy of the kind of movies that I want to tell for the rest of my career. This movie really meant a lot to me. And, I realize the movies you don’t give up on in terms of development are the ones that your heart can’t forget about. I’ve never lost faith in this movie and that putting this movie out there would mean something,” Powell finishes.

“It’s not just a movie that you hope as many people as possible show up to the theater. This is a movie that I really felt like it could change perspectives and change lives and honor people that aren’t honored.” 

Devotion‘ will be available to stream on Paramount+ and will be available to buy on Digital beginning Sunday, Jan 8. When you buy the film on digital, you receive access to never-before-seen bonus digital content. 

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