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Hit Man Cast and Linklater on the New Netflix Film

In the new Netflix film Hit Man, Glen Powell plays Gary Johnson, a mild-mannered college professor who has a mind for electronics. He occasionally helps out the local police department by recording sting operations on people trying to hire a hitman. When he’s forced into pretending to be one, he finds that he’s got quite a knack for it.

When he meets a young woman named Madison (Adria Arjona) who tries to hire his hit man alter ego, it sets up a series of events that will put lives in danger. Directed by Richard Linklater and written by Linklater and Powell, Hit Man is based on the Texas Monthly article by Skip Hollandsworth about a real-life person who had a similar double life.

Hit Man Cast and Linklater on the New Netflix Film

Vital Thrills attended the virtual press conference for Hit Man and learned more about the film from Linklater, Powell, and Arjona, as well as Retta and Sanjay Rao, who play the cops who help with the undercover operations.

Glen Powell was asked what inspired the idea of the film. He said, “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, you know, a Zen Buddhist. I was just like such an incredible character piece, but I didn’t really know where it went.”

Glen Powell is Gary Johnson

Powell said he knew this guy was fascinating, becoming different versions of a hitman to catch those who wanted to hire them. “He approached the job differently,” Powell said. “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 because hitmen don’t exist. So 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.”

Powell said he called Richard Linklater and mentioned the article, which Linklater joked that he’d read when Powell “was in seventh grade.” As for the director, he said, “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 [the article’s author]. I had had a couple of meetings on it over the years, but it didn’t really work. It didn’t really work as a film because there was this repetition. It didn’t really go anywhere.” When he told Powell, they discussed how to make it work, noting that it was the pandemic and they had nothing else going on.

Hit Man Cast

Powell also discussed making this story their own. He said, “I think one of the big breaking points for when we were talking about it, ’cause obviously talking about the real-life Gary Johnson, there is sort of a moment where you have to go, okay, the story wasn’t revealing itself in a natural way, but then there was this paragraph about this woman that the real-life Gary Johnson sat down with.

“And 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 sort of capable of this thing. He sort of believed in the best of her and talked her out of it. And it was like the first time that ever happened. And there was sort of a relationship that developed from that.”

Glen Powell as Gary Johnson

They had to decide how long the character would keep her believing he was who he said he was and if and when he’d reveal who he really was. Powell said: “So we started kind of pulling at that thread, and really that was a big breaking point because that was the thing when we started thinking about if he got stuck in this identity as this fake hitman, you sort of have this amazing character math 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.”

Adria Arjona as Madison, director and co-writer Richard Linkletter, co-writer Glen Powell as Gary Johnson

Adria Arjona plays Madison, the woman trying to hire a hitman to kill her abusive husband. She said of working with Linklater, “I first met Rick over Zoom. And it’s always so weird when you talk about people right next to you. [laughs] But he really is one of my favorite filmmakers. And I always aspired to be sort of an actress, like an actress in one of Rick’s movies. It always feels like his characters are saying words for the first time, and it feels so fresh. And I always just found it so beautifully crafted.”

Arjona also mentioned her first meeting with Powell, saying, “We couldn’t stop talking both about the movie and about our personal lives and how our personal lives could kind of thread into this movie. And we just had the best, the best time. So that’s sort of how I came on board. And then through the rehearsal process and picking each other’s brains, we’d sort of started creating this version of Madison.”

Glen Powell as Gary Johnson and Jo-Ann Robinson as Society Lady

She said they spoke about the idea of a femme fatale and that she sort of rejected the idea for something deeper. Madison has had a rough time and is “desperate for reinvention.” Madison is looking to find the version of herself that is separate from her husband and may appeal to this man, while “Ron,” the name Gary takes when he plays this particular fake hitman, is trying to appeal to her.

Powell added that Arjona’s discussions with them about Madison really helped the character develop. “[Arjona] really brought so much nuance and mystery to this. So much humanity and authenticity to every moment where I feel like this could have been, for a lesser actress, a very paint-by-number sort of thing. And this movie really cooks and cooks in a very unexpectedly vibrant way because Adria really, really came in with a lot of very cool ideas.”

Adria Arjona as Madison and Glen Powell as Gary Johnson

Arjona also spoke about what makes Madison different from other women in action comedies in terms of being more than just a romantic partner. She said, “I think there’s an unpredictability to her that makes you wanna go on her journey. I mean, that’s probably one of my favorite parts of playing her or even creating her with Rick and Glen. You kind of never know what she’s gonna do next. And I think that’s fun to watch in a character.

“I think usually in romantic comedies, it’s always, you know, the damsel in distress. She’s always kind of looking to be saved in a way. And in this case, it’s kind of the opposite. You think that, but mm. It’s not really the case with Madison. She sort of has a backup plan. And she’s strong and really smart. And she’s constantly observing Ron and, you know, getting information from him while kind of distracting him from what is happening in the actual moment. So that was really fun.”

Adria Arjona as Madison and Glen Powell as Gary Johnson

Retta said she knew Linklater and Powell from earlier projects, and after doing a self-taped audition, she didn’t hear anything. She assumed she didn’t get the part until she ran into Powell at a party where he said they were starting production. As it turns out, they’d forgotten to tell her she was cast in the role. “So he was like, we’re gonna have so much fun in Austin. And I was like, dude. [Laugh] Did I get the job?”

Retta added that the role wasn’t supposed to be for a woman at first. She said, “I don’t even know if you asked this, but as for Claude, it was written for a guy, right? Yeah. It was written originally as a guy. So I just chose to be me if I were a detective. Those are the choices that I made. I was saying those lines as a detective in that space. It wasn’t much more than that. I didn’t study anything. We met some detectives that told us how things go, but that was about it for me.”

Adria Arjona as Madison and Glen Powell as Gary Johnson

Sanjay Rao spoke about his character and how his background in stand-up comedy helped him play the role of the cop Phil. He said, “I remember after we finished rehearsal, Rick told me, bring yourself to the role, have some fun. And that’s really what I tried to do. I think our comedy experience helped in being able to find how we were funny and how we were funny together our dynamic and how we talked to each other, how we relate to each other.

“And kind of this one-upping of jokes. We did a lot of that in the rehearsal room, which was really fun and can be grueling. And I think that a comedy experience gave us some chops and some endurance, maybe just to let’s get through the chaff so that we can find some really good stuff there.”

Adria Arjona as Madison and Glen Powell as Gary Johnson

Of his history working with Powell, Linklater said, “I think our big breakthrough was 10 years ago we were shooting Everybody Wants Some. Glen came in and auditioned. And I had a part that I thought would be very difficult to cast. He was really smart. He’s an athlete, yet he’s really smart and charming, and he’s kinda the team intellectual.

“And I was like, oh, this is a small little target, who’s gonna do this? And I’d known Glen for about 10 years at this time. I’d worked with him when he was young, like a high school kid. But he came in and I knew what he was doing over the years … But until he walked in the room and was this guy. I was like, holy crap. When did Glen become so amazing?”

Adria Arjona as Madison and Glen Powell as Gary Johnson

Powell, who was clearly touched, said, “The wonderful thing about writing with Rick is conversations become wonderful pages, and a friendship and work blend together in this kind of effortless way. It’s kind of what I think makes him, you know, magical as a filmmaker. You know, he’s never attacking a story. He sort of lets the story reveal itself. And when he casts people, he really allows them to come into the process.”

Hit Man will open in select theaters on May 24, 2024. It will stream on Netflix in the United States, United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand, India, South Korea, Hong Kong, Malaysia, Vietnam, Indonesia, Singapore, Philippines, and Iceland on June 7, 2024. The film is rated R for language throughout, sexual content, and some violence.

Hit Man cast