The Los Angeles premiere of Devotion, starring Jonathan Majors and Glen Powell, served as a tribute to the legacy and lineage of Korean War heroes Jesse L. Brown, the African American Navy’s first aviator, and Thomas Hudner, his stalwart wingman. as well as a celebration of the family bonds forged during filming.
“This film is a family effort in many ways,” said director JD Dillard as he introduced the film’s cast and crew to a packed house at the Regency Village Theater in Westwood on Tuesday night. “We all moved in together like the boys who are shipped off to war to make this movie.”
Dillard then asked the few dozen Brown and Hudner offspring in attendance to stand for a round of applause. It’s overwhelming to share these moments with families, Dillard said diversity on the red carpet, but he added, “There’s no other way to do it.”
“Part of my job was to get this story out to more people while making sure we keep their legacy intact,” Dillard explained. “This film is the answer to that promise.”
In keeping with the family theme, Dillard was accompanied by his own father Bruce Dillard, a trailblazer like Brown who became the second African-American pilot to fly with the Navy’s Blue Angels. For the premiere, the director also asked that another family member be included – Brown himself.
“One of the first things I did upon completion was tell the producers I think we need Jesse’s Corsair [airplane, at the premiere]’ Dillard said of the vintage plane flown by Majors in the film – painted Brown’s number 211 – parked up on the red carpet.
“Jesse is the furthest thing from our lives, it just felt right to honor him in this way,” explained Dillard (Brown was killed in the Korean War). “I’m really touched that we were able to get this plane here.”
Executing this mission required some effort. Black Label Media, which produced the film, worked with the film’s air coordinator, Kevin LaRosa II, to get the plane to Los Angeles and tow it to Westwood for the premiere. There it set the perfect backdrop for a poignant photo op with the cast (which also includes Christina Jackson as Brown’s wife Daisy, as well as Thomas Sadoski, Joe Jonas, Spencer Neville, Nick Hargrove and Daren Kagasoff, who portray the aviators that make up Brown and Hudner’s squadron, the “Flying 32s”) posing with Tom Hudner III (Hudner’s son) and Jessica Knight Henry (Brown’s granddaughter).
Powell, who also served as executive producer on the film, has developed a close relationship with the family of the man he portrayed. After his father recommended the book the film was based on – Devotion: An Epic Story of Heroism, Brotherhood and Sacrifice by Adam Makos – Powell pursued the film rights. To get Hudner’s blessing, the actor flew to the aviator’s home, where they sat in his office, talking about his friendship with Brown and looking at footage of the Corsair planes they were flying.
“I remember exactly where I was when I made that promise,” the actor said of Hudner, who died in 2017. “I said if you give me the rights to your life, I promise I’ll make it right. All I know is that he would be proud of this film.”
Sharing the evening with the Hudners and Browns was a culmination of that teamwork and collaboration during filmmaking, Powell said. “I feel like what tonight represents for me is what two great men did together and the fact that it’s built into it over 70 years – two families experiencing and seeing this together, how her story is being told on the big screen – it just doesn’t get any cooler than that.”
Well, the only way the moment could have been cooler — albeit extremely dangerous — would have been if someone landed it on the streets of Westwood for the event.
“You didn’t see me fly that thing?” Powell teased. “Camera phones are never there when you need them.”
Of note, Powell holds his pilot’s license as well as a special award from the Congressional Medal of Honor Society. (“Devotion” marks the actor’s third time playing a Navy aviator, following “Top Gun: Maverick” and “Hidden Figures,” where he portrayed John Glenn.) Likewise, Majors has plans to follow Powell’s example and take up flying to learn real.
“I’ve got 27 hours right now. I’ve got things to do,” Majors said, explaining that it takes about 150 hours to get certified and he’s admittedly a bit busy at the moment.
Honestly, the Majors’ star couldn’t possibly be rising faster. Over the weekend, viewers tuning in to Black Panther: Wakanda Forever were treated to not one, not two, but three trailers for upcoming major films (Devotion, Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania, and Creed III”). The anomaly was a topic of conversation on Twitter, and while he doesn’t have an account, the actor was privy to the gossip, admitting that “a few people” had chimed in.
“The highlight is probably my older sister Monica, how emotional she was about it,” Majors shared. “I was emotional too. It’s far from Dallas.”
Like Dillard and Powell, Majors had family on his mind at the premiere, particularly his chosen one. “It’s so funny because I got to the carpet and I saw Sam Jaeger – he’s my best friend [Jaeger co-starred in Majors’ first Hollywood project, the 2017 miniseries ‘When We Rise’]’ said Majors. “Then right behind him is Michael B. Jordan. He literally just came in to show some love, give me a hug, take a picture and now he’s going back to work on our film [‘Creed III’].”
He then stood alongside the Corsair — “which is appropriate,” noted Majors — and shared a special moment with Hudner III. “I just had a real conversation, probably the only real conversation I’ve had with Tom Hudner’s son, and he just told me some real, straight shit,” the actor shared. “He said he learned a lot about his father from watching Jesse’s performance. He says, ‘I understand why my father loved this guy.’ That’s super cute.”
Speak with diversityHudner III and Henry also sang praises to the actors and filmmakers.
“We lost Jesse when he was so young, so I never met him,” Henry said. “Meeting him on screen like that was just beautiful. It had something to do with seeing the embodiment of him and my grandmother [Daisy] in those private moments. So much care has gone into getting things right to make sure they get the right tone because with family histories there are many opinions.”
Hudner noted that Powell summed up his father’s reserved nature of “skill and confidence” and evoked the way his father “always took care of the person around him and wasn’t so concerned about his own well-being.” .
His father also found the red carpet experience “totally wild and surreal and a little bit overwhelming,” Hudner added with a chuckle. “My dad was such a low key guy, a humble guy, and he kind of shied away from attention, so this would really be a ‘Bright Lights, Big City.’ [moment], and he would kind of wonder what all the fuss was about. He would be really excited and grateful that this film brings Jesse’s story to a much wider audience.”
Similarly, Jonas portrays Marty Goode, another aviator in the squadron, and was introduced to his grandson at the premiere.
“It was an honor to meet him. I didn’t really know what to say. I just said, ‘Thanks for sharing it with the world,'” Jonas recalled. “I got a lot of stuff from the family — they shared videos and photos — and that helped me relate to the role.”
“It’s crazy to be back here. I was here with my brothers [Nick and Kevin Jonas] a few years ago to do something completely different,” he added, alluding to the 2019 premiere of the Jonas Brothers documentary Chasing Happiness. That’s when he spotted his parents, Paul and Denise Jonas, snapping a cell phone photo of their son chatting with reporters ahead of his dramatic film debut.
“A lot of the boys have their families here. I think this film means a little more to us than some of the other projects we’ve done in the past. This film has a lot of heart,” said Jonas.
Sadoski, who plays Dick Cevoli, the squadron’s commanding officer, couldn’t have agreed more, explaining that it’s so easy to get caught up in the critical reviews or box offices in the entertainment business, but in this case there’s something much bigger to focus on .
“What matters most to me in this film is whether the Cevoli family feels I’ve done justice…” Sadoski said, fighting back tears that threatened to spill over his speech. “To her grandfather, who served admirably and wonderfully and was largely forgotten by history. He has a post office named after him in Warwick, Rhode Island and I just felt a great responsibility and honor.”
https://variety.com/2022/film/events/jonathan-majors-glen-powell-devotion-real-life-heroes-1235435974/ Dedication: Jonathan Majors and Glen Powell salute the real heroes