The Scotsman

‘You never know what she’s going to do next’

◆ As Hit Man is released on Netflix, director Richard Linklater and stars Glen Powell and Adria Arjona talk to Rachael Davis about the action rom-com

- Hit Man is on Netflix now

Gary Johnson might look like a straitlace­d professor with his wire-rimmed glasses, side-parted hair and collared shirts, but if you’re meeting him outside of the classroom, it’s not his skills in psychology that you’re after. Those who sit down with Gary in a diner, cafe, or secluded location will be soliciting his services in murder, believing him to be a gun for hire capable of “dealing with” anyone for the right price.

The truth, however, is that Gary is not the lone vigilante hitman of his clients’ dreams, despite his various disguises and aliases that he hopes will appeal to the desires of those who call upon him. He’s actually working for the police, moonlighti­ng as a fake hitman in order to catch out the people who are looking to bump off their enemies.

Hit Man, directed by Dazed And Confused, Boyhood and Everybody Wants Some!! director Richard Linklater, brings the true story of Gary Johnson and his bizarre double life to the screen with Top Gun: Maverick and Anyone But You star Glen Powell playing the chameleon protagonis­t.

Powell, who also co-wrote the film alongside Linklater, says he first came across the story of Johnson during lockdown and was immediatel­y enthralled.

“It was early on in the pandemic, and I stumbled upon this article in Texas Monthly called Hit Man, by Skip Hollandswo­rth – immediatel­y, it was so clear there was such a compelling character there,” says Powell, 35.

“I mean, if you look at the real-life Gary Johnson, he was a psychology professor who actually moonlighte­d with the police department, did AV equipment, was an ornitholog­ist, Zen Buddhist… such an incredible character piece, but I didn’t really know where it went. All I knew is that there was a fascinatin­g guy here…

“Instead of just becoming the hitman for hire, across from someone who is trying to kill their husband, or their wife, or their business partner, he embodied their fantasy of what a fake hitman is… He took this skillset to a whole new level. And it was just a fascinatin­g idea.”

When Linklater got the call from Powell with the idea for a screenplay, he was already aware of the story but hadn’t been able to come up with a way to make it work on screen.

“I was so excited to get this call from Glen because that story had been kicking around in my head, I had talked to Skip, I had had a couple of meetings on it over the years, but it didn’t really work… It didn’t really go anywhere,” says Linklater, 63.

“So I told this to Glen, I said: ‘Yeah, I don’t think it really works’. He said: ‘Well, let’s talk about it’. I was like: ‘It’s the pandemic, what else are we gonna do?’”

“We would have hours of conversati­ons, and Glen kind of loosened the logjam I was in,” he continues. “He said: ‘Well, what if we deviate? Why does (the film) have to stick to the facts?’

“Once that floodgate opened, we were off to the races… The genres kick in and it becomes this thrill ride, but it was grounded in that reality… That was a real person, a real job, the strangest occupation anyone could ever have.”

While the story of Hit Man is very much grounded in the true story told by journalist Skip Hollandswo­rth, Powell says the plot was advanced by the writers “pulling at the thread” of a meeting Gary has with a woman trying to kill her husband, thus creating the rom-com element of the film.

“Instead of sending her to jail like he did with everybody else, she was approachin­g him trying to kill her husband, or 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,” explains Powell.

“And it was the first time that ever happened, and there was a relationsh­ip that developed from that.”

We watch as Powell’s Gary finds himself attracted to Madison, a beautiful young woman played by Morbius star Adria Arjona, who asks him to kill her abusive husband. After he talks her out of it, rather than handing her over to the cops, Gary – under the suave alias Ron – begins a steamy love affair with Madison that sends him deeper down the rabbit hole.

“She’s a woman that’s coming from a traumatic relationsh­ip, this weird, kind of dark relationsh­ip, and she’s desperate for reinventio­n…” says Arjona, 32, of Madison.

“She’s looking at Ron and going… What would a bad boy like Ron want in a woman? I don’t see Madison as a femme fatale, I see a woman trying to play the illusion of a femme fatale. And that was really fun to play with.”

As the plot develops, and Gary finds himself merging more and more with the sexy criminal persona of Ron, he gets tangled up in Madison’s whims with consequenc­es beyond his imaginatio­n.

“I think there’s unpredicta­bility to her that makes you want to go on her journey,” says Arjona. “You never know what she’s going to do next. And I think that’s fun to watch in a character.”

With its blend of action, rom-com, and neo-noir, Hit Man is a thrill ride that’s impossible to predict, which Powell says is exactly what makes it so fun.

“It doesn’t subscribe to any genre, it doesn’t fit into any box, and I think the reason it’s a really great audience movie, and the reason people are responding to it, is you can’t get out in front of it,” says Powell.

“You can’t predict it, because it’s all the things.”

It becomes this thrill ride, but it was grounded in that reality

 ?? BRIAN ROEDEL/NETFLIX ?? Glen Powell as Gary Johnson and Adria Arjona as Madison in Hit Man
BRIAN ROEDEL/NETFLIX Glen Powell as Gary Johnson and Adria Arjona as Madison in Hit Man

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