Real story behind Glen Powell's 'Hit Man': Action romantic comedy based on 'the chillest dude imaginable'

Real story behind Glen Powell's 'Hit Man': Action romantic comedy based on 'the chillest dude imaginable'
Glen Powell's film 'Hit Man' is based on true story (Netflix)

LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA: The latest film, 'Hit Man' is a romantic action comedy produced, directed, and co-written by Richard Linklater and Glen Powell. It is based on a 2001 article by Skip Hollandsworth that appeared in Texas Monthly magazine under the same name.

The Linklater-directed film opens in cinemas on May 24 and will be available to stream on Netflix on June 7. Powell plays a part-time police department employee in New Orleans who goes undercover as a hitman in order to apprehend criminals.

The most surprising aspect of the movie, despite its many twists and turns, might be that it's based on a true story. Here's everything to find out about the real-life tale of 'Hit Man'.


'Hit Man' is a compelling action romance movie

The story of the film revolves around the amazing career of Gary Johnson (Glen Powell), a college professor turned fake hitman, based on an essay published in Texas Monthly by Skip Hollandsworth.

But his life takes a sharp turn when he meets Maddy Masters (Adria Arjona), whose goal in life is to have her husband killed, and Garry becomes enthralled with her beauty instead.

From then on, the story takes a drastically different turn as Gary struggles to uphold his hitman image while still trying to become close to Maddy.

Speaking with PEOPLE about his involvement in recent productions, such as 'Hit Man', Powell expressed his excitement about continuing to produce films and that he’s always "respected actors that had a strong hand in what they were giving the world."


The movie gently suggests that people are complex and that it is acceptable—even admirable—to embrace and develop a variety of skills.

Powell shared with The Philadelphia Tribune: "This film conveys a powerful message: It’s never too late to embrace the identity that will bring us the most joy and fulfillment. Madison and Gary’s explorations of these identities are a reminder that we should pursue the one that makes us feel most alive. Constricting ourselves to a single identity is not necessary."

Who is Gary Johnson and how did he become 'Hit Man'?

According to Texas Monthly, Gary was born in 1947 to a homemaker mother and a carpenter father. He worked as a military policeman supervising convoys in Vietnam for a year after receiving his degree.

Eventually, in 1981, he relocated to Houston in the hopes of enrolling in the psychology PhD program at the University of Houston. After being rejected, Gary decided to work as an investigator for the office of the district attorney, which eventually helped him in his future endeavors as a fake hitman.

Gary started his first fake hitman job in 1989, and it eventually grew into a 30-year career. As a staff investigator for the Harris County district attorney's office, Gary developed the art of disguise, adopting personas like Chris Buck, Jody Eagle, and Mike Caine.

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As an undercover agent, Gary helped with almost 70 arrests, according to the movie. Gary could transform himself into the perfect crook, yet his true nature was completely different.

Gary was described as the "chillest dude imaginable" and an "animal-loving Buddhist" at the film's conclusion. He lived alone with his two cats, Id and Ego, per Texas Monthly.

Gary taught general psychology and human sexuality two nights a week at a nearby college besides working for the district attorney's office.

Adria Arjona's character loosely inspired by real person

Although Powell's role is somewhat modeled after Gary, the movie's love interest, played by Adria Arjona, is also partially based on a real person who was referenced in the Texas Monthly piece.

The interviewer ends the piece by mentioning that Gary recently took an action that was utterly "out of character" in response to a phone call from a woman who wanted to place a hit on her abusive partner.

Adria Arjona's character in 'Hit Man' loosely inspired by a real person (Netflix)

Texas Monthly stated that Gary had three marriages and divorces. His second wife Sunny told the publication, "The true essence of Gary is that he is a loner," but she also said they remained close friends.

"He’ll show up at parties and have a good time, and he’s always friendly, but he likes being alone, being quiet. It’s still amazing to me that he can turn on this other personality that makes people think he is a vicious killer," she continued.

'Hit Man's surprise ending is the biggest deviation from Gary Johnson's story

Powell and Linklater extensively researched Gary Johnson while refining the tale, but he was not actively involved in the project.

In contrast to the film's shocking conclusion, Gary in real life never killed anyone. The movie even makes sure to point out that this plot point was entirely made up.

Powell stated to Netflix, "I never got a chance to talk to the real Gary Johnson. I listened to him a lot in old recordings and read a lot of what he did in police debriefs ... We were creating a moment in time for Gary, not where he is now."

Glen Powell in and as 'Hit Man' (@glenpowell/Instagram)

Gary died in 2022, right before 'Hit Man' production got underway. Powell expressed his sincere desire to "have gotten a chance to meet him because Rick had a lot of reverence for Gary and who he was."

Powell continued by saying that although Gary was never able to witness the end result, Powell believes he would have "really appreciated the story."

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