Hit Man Aims for the Heart and Doesn’t Miss

Glen Powell, Richard Linklater, and Adria Arjona on the art of the hit

Glen Powell and Richard Linklater have a hit on their hands. Their new film Hit Man, for which star Powell and director Linklater collaborate on writing and producer, lands the bulls-eye with its wild but true crime caper. The duo, speaking recently in a virtual press conference ahead of Hit Man’s release, says the darkly funny crime comedy was a refreshing reunion after working together on films like Fast Food Nation (2006), Everybody Wants Some!! (2016), and Apollo 10½ (2022).

“When he called me with this, it was off to the races creatively,” Linklater says of Powell approaching him to reunite.

Glen Powell as Gary Johnson in Hit Man | VVS Films

Hit Man adapts a 2001 story of the same name by Skip Hollandsworth that appeared in Texas Monthly. Powell says he encountered the story a few years ago and was immediately struck by the tale of psychology professor Gary Johnson and his side gig as a police informant who moonlighted as a hit man.

“It was so clear there was such a compelling character there,” says Powell. “There was a fascinating guy here, and they called him, a ‘Laurence Olivier fake hit man’ because he approached the job differently. Instead of just becoming the hit man for hire [sitting] across from someone who is trying to kill their husband, wife, or business partner, he embodied their fantasy of a hit man.”


Despite the potential for a juicy role and the novel premise, Powell admits that he struggled to find the story in Johnson’s tale.

Linklater agrees. He notes that Johnson’s work offered rich material with its way of embodying hit men as characters, the story didn’t have a narrative that translated to film. “I was so excited to get this call from Glen because that story had been kicking around in my head,” the director says. “I had talked to Skip; I had a couple meetings on it over the years, but it didn’t really work as a film because there was this repetition. It didn’t really go anywhere.”

Richard Linklater and Glen Powell | Matt Lankes/Netflix

Hit Man still follows a repetitive cycle in its first act as Gary finds his groove embodying the hit man persona in sting operations that catch people hiring contract killers. The film lets Powell (Top Gun: Maverick, Devotion) explore a comedic side he hasn’t embellished before. Powell lets the straight-laced Gary thrive by donning a mix of wigs and accents that help him create his hit man characters. Gary evolves into a regular Meryl Streep and persuades unsuspecting contractors with an array of guises. It’s an impressive turn that’s outrageously silly on one hand, but not too over-the-top on the other. His solid performance-within-a-performance ensures that Gary convinces viewers as well while luring in clients.

Powell and Linklater say they workshopped the story over hours of conversations to find a narrative. Linklater explains that a breakthrough came when Powell asked why they felt compelled to stick to the facts.


“Once that floodgate opened, we were off to the races. The last two thirds of the movie kind of comes out of that,” Linklater says. “The genres kick in and it becomes this thrill ride, but it was grounded in Gary Johnson’s life and reality.”

VVS Films

“The story wasn’t revealing itself in a natural way, but then there was this paragraph [in the short story] about this woman that the real life Gary Johnson sat down with,” Powell adds. “Instead of sending her to jail like he did with everybody else—she was approaching him, trying to get him to kill her husband—and he didn’t believe that she was capable of this thing. He believed in the best of her and talked her out of it.”

Hit Man features this scene as Gary, under the guise of hit man Ron, sits down in a diner with Madison (Adria Arjona in a breakthrough performance). He’s instantly struck by her, and the confidence that Madison sees in Ron leads to immediate sparks. The duo banters back and forth with Ron eventually declining the job and advising her to take the money and leave her husband. As far as the short story goes, however, the tale ends there.

All of a sudden, the article just sort of moves on,” Powell explains. “Rick and I were like, ‘What if we pull at that thread?’ We had so many questions about what that relationship was and how they reengaged with each other. Did he stay as the fake hit man?”


VVS Films

The adaptation takes a great turn when Gary embraces his newfound mojo as Ron and strikes up a relationship with Madison. His side hustle becomes a double life.

“That was a breaking point,” Powell continues. “We started thinking about if he got stuck in this identity as this fake hit man, you have this amazing character mask where you have a guy who’s teaching humanity, but not experiencing humanity. Getting stuck in the mask, in the body, of someone who embodies all the dangerous, exciting elements of what humanity is, this sort of rollercoaster ride, and ends up finding that he can be a more three-dimensional/fun version on the other side of it.”

At the same time, escaping an unbearable husband for a man she believes to be hired gun fuels Madison’s taste for danger. Arjona says it was a thrill to flip conventions of a romantic comedy lead and a femme fatale character alike.

“She’s coming from a traumatic relationship, this weird, dark relationship, and she’s desperate for reinvention. I think we all do that in life,” Arjona observes. “We’re always trying to find a different version of ourselves, and she’s playing that. She’s looking at Ron and going, ‘What would a bad boy like Ron want in a woman?’”


Arjona says that life-imitating-desire element means that Madison isn’t a femme fatale in her eyes. “I see a woman trying to play the illusion of a femme fatale,” she adds.

Brian Roedel / Netflix

Hit Man plays with the mix of genres and finds a great rom-com-noir moment when Gary and Madison work together to get out of a snare when the police become suspicious. With any good thriller, you write your character into a corner and have to figure out a way to get him out,” says Powell. “We had a lot of different iterations of how that could work. The great breakthrough that we had was putting the ultimate pressure cooker around these two.”

Powell juggles the roles of Ron and Gary as the hit man pays a visit to Madison, writing prompts on his phone and coaching her to play along for the officers listening on the wire. “We talked about how it’s a makeup scene: They just broke up,” says Powell. “They’re coming back together, but they’re all on different pages. This makeup scene is different because at the heart of it is their love language, which is role play.”

It’s a great comedic moment that re-ignites the spark of chemistry from their first meeting. “It allows the audience to re-fall in love with the reason they fell in love with them in the first place,” adds Powell.


As one expects, Hit Man aims straight for the heart and doesn’t miss.

Hit Man opens in Canadian theatres on May 24.

It streams in the USA and select territories beginning June 7.