Set It Ups Glen Powell Invites You to “Netflix and Chill” with His New Rom-Com
In 2016, Richard Linklater premiered the college-set “spiritual sequel” to his ensemble masterpiece Dazed and Confused: Everybody Wants Some!!. Similarly packed with young, new talent, Everybody Wants Some!! inspired film critics and fans alike to wonder who might be its Matthew McConaughey-esque breakout. Mileage certainly varied, but most focused on two standouts: the films compelling female lead, Zoey Deutch, and her on-screen love interests friend, the scene-stealing Glen Powell.
Though Powell and Deutch oozed natural chemistry, the pair didnt share much screen time in Everybody Wants Some!! Netflixs latest original film, Set It Up, more than makes up the difference. Here, Deutch and Powell play two meddling assistants who try to matchmake their high-powered bosses, played by Taye Diggs and Lucy Liu. Its clear, however, from their very first scene that the irresistible Deutch and Powell—who spark and fizz with old-school screwball charm—are the couple to be watching.
Powell has made a name for himself by weaponizing his all-American frat-boy appeal in order to deftly skewer some of cinemas most obnoxious bro tropes. In this film, he sets his sights on the cutthroat world of New York venture capitalism—and he has the terrible hair to prove it. When hes not stealing scenes—his previous projects include Scream Queens and Hidden Figures—Powell is working on writing and producing his own projects. He hopped on the phone to take a closer look at whether Netflix can revive the floundering rom-com genre, and how Set It Ups writer, Katie Silberman, and director, Claire Scanlon, have turned a classic will-they, wont-they story from feminine to feminist.
Vanity Fair: In your previous life, did you ever work as an assistant?
Glen Powell: I used to be a script reader at Sony for a while, for this very powerful woman. That was not fun. One of my first days on the job, I was supposed to connect a call with Ron Howard, and I screwed it up. Im working with Ron Howard on something right now, and I actually havent told him the story. I screwed up the call, and I got reamed for it. So I was never allowed to touch a phone again. I also was sort of a manny. Ive worked at hotels, just across the gamut, and Ive had plenty of time to get put in my place in this town. I dont think theres any chance Ill ever not be humble, because I know exactly where I could be right now.
I was going to ask you for old job horror stories.
For research for this movie, I went to my agency and I kind of treated all the assistants to lunch, and I just listened to them tell horrible-boss stories. Then I worked the phones for my agent for like, three days, and then I went to this venture-capitalist firm here in New York, just to see what that world was like. That haircut that you see in the movie—that horrible Southern swoop—that came out of that. I went to this V.C. firm, and every dude had the same haircut. I was like, “Oh, this haircut is horrible.”
I dont know if Set It Up is going to bring the swoop back, but theres been a lot of chatter that Netflix might be able to rescue the rom-com—a genre that has really faded away in recent years.
I think what happened with the rom-com is that you had poor execution for a while, and then people were like, “Rom-coms are dead.” So great actors, great directors, and writers stayed away from that genre, because thats how it happens in L.A. As soon as someone declares something is dead, then you have great writers that are like, “Im never going to sell this thing. Why am I going to waste my time writing it?”
So we have this amazing writer, Katie Silberman, who just knocked it out of the park. Hopefully, Katie is single-handedly responsible for bringing the rom-com back. Just like with [horror studio] Blumhouse—Jason Blums a very smart guy, and hes taken the horror genre and hes elevating it. You look at a movie like Get Out, and it doesnt have any business being that good. Hopefully Set It Up is that for rom-coms.
When you talk about elevating the rom-com genre, what does that look like to you? Whats the idealized version of a rom-com?
I think what Claire Scanlon did a really, really good job of is she shot this thing like a romance. Its not shot like a big, hack-y studio comedy. Theres obviously just sort of an inherent magic to this throwback premise. Some of the things we talked about early was The Philadelphia Story and When Harry Met Sally. We wanted it to feel like that same sort of quippy nature that made Cary Grant and Katharine Hepburn pop off the screen, and made you fall in love. There is this sweet, magical thing that happens with this movie that I just dont think you see with normal studio comedies anymore, because Netflix gave [us] such great autonomy while making this thing.
I know youve worked with Zoey before. Did that existing relationship help you sell your on-screen connection in Set It Up?
The banter that you see in this movie and our banter offscreen is basically the same. Were constantly giving each other shit, and she doesnt let me get away with anything. Its rare that you can find kind of honesty with another actor like that. Hopefully, we get to make many, many more movies together.
This could be the beginning of your long, Tom Hanks–Meg Ryan relationship.
I wouldnt mind that career.
Was there a part of the process that was particularly challenging?
The Yankees scene. My grandmother—whose obviously been a supporter of mine for a really long time—shes been a Yankees fan her entire life. When we basically rented out Yankee stadium, she got to be in it, playing the wife of a guy whos giving me some crap in the movie. Shes like, “O.K., Glen. What do I do? How do I act?” I was like, “Have the thought in your head like, I dont know if I trust this guy.” As soon as they call action, she went so big. Im talking the biggest, most drastic series of emotions in about 20 seconds. Probably 30 of them. It looked like she was having a seizure. As soon as they called cut, I was like, “All right, Grammy. Maybe just do nothing.” And shes great in the movie. Tomorrows her first premiere, so were going to roll out the red carpet. Shes competing against all the other Powells for this award I made up called the Neppy.
Its like a nepotism award. Set It Up basically has all the Powells. My mom and my dad are in it; my little sister has a song in it; my cousins in it; my writing partners in it; my friends dog is in it. Were going to see who wins, and I just have a good feeling its probably going to be Grammy. You cant beat her; shes coming in so hot.
Speaking of the Grammies of the world, the rom-com has obviously long been considered “chick-flick” territory. But Set It Up has a powerful message for young and older women about career ambitions and not settling.
When she was in Star Wars, Carrie Fisher had this great quote about men writing female characters. She said: “The only way they knew to make the character strong was to make her angry . . . lets not forget that these movies are basically boys fantasies.” I think a lot of male writers who try to write women unfortunately err on that side, because they want to write a “great” character, not an honest character. Claire and Katie, who are very, very hard workers and very smart women, examine the relationship between work and love—that push and pull between wanting to do great things in the world and also wanting to be vulnerable and open up your heart to somebody. What is it like to be powerful, and what is it like to be submissive? Its a hard thing in the entertainment business. You want to be everything to everyone, and at a certain time you stop feeling human. Claire, Katie, and Zoey did a great job of creating true characters that err on the side of honesty.
So weve already determined that Netflix is going to save the rom-com. Can it save the mid-level, mid-budget movie from being swallowed up by blockbuster culture as well?
The movies that I grew up watching, the movies that get you into the business in the first place, are no longer being made—those mid-level movies that are just kind of character movies, instead of people with spandex and superpowers shooting out of their hands. I think Netflix really is saving . . . I mean, Im talking to them about doing several other things right now, because I think theyre the people that give you autonomy to make those movies. It doesnt matter what platform its on as long as youre getting to make great pieces of art. I couldnt be more enchanted with Netflix. I think a lot of people in Hollywood get really, really nervous about what Netflix means for the business, but at the end of the day, they are coming to the rescue.
So for you as a performer, it doesnt matter if someone sees this at home on their laptop, or even on their phone, versus in a dark theater?
Look, I love going to the theater. Growing up, my dad and I would stay in the theater all day. That collective experience that you have with people watching movies is really special. So I still love the theatrical experience. But I think for movies—big, big studio movies, like the superhero movies—thats fun to watch with an audience. Or a horror movie, where theres collective gasps. I do think that this movie is actually perfect for Netflix. Its just a feel-good, comfort food kind of—youve had a hard week, and all you want to do is not go out and just sit on your couch and watch this thing. Look, it could be a Netflix-and-chill movie. Im not trying to pitch that; Im just saying theres romance all over this movie. Itll get you there.
Look, I dont even care if you watch me while youre watching this movie. Its actually uncomfortable if you do—if its a Netflix-and-chill thing. I prefer you guys just keep the movie streaming, and you guys do whatever you need to do.
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