Hit Man, Netflix: The extraordinary true story of a fake hitman

Gary Johnson might look like a strait-laced professor with his wire-rimmed glasses, 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.

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

Glen Powell as Gary Johnson. Picture: Matt Lankes / Netflix 2024.Glen Powell as Gary Johnson. Picture: Matt Lankes / Netflix 2024.
Glen Powell as Gary Johnson. Picture: Matt Lankes / Netflix 2024.

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.

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“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 started putting on these disguises and all these different things. 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.

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Powell “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.

“It was a lot of fun, man.”

Hit Man is on Netflix now.

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