‘Hit Man’ explained: The real figure behind Richard Linklater’s protagonist
(Credits: Brian Roedel / Netflix)

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‘Hit Man’ explained: The real figure behind Richard Linklater's protagonist

Richard Linklater’s romantic black comedy Hit Man, starring Glen Powell and Adria Arjona, has taken Netflix by storm since it arrived on the platform and it looks as though the film was inspired by a real life story from Texas.

Hit Man tells of a psychology and philosophy professor who also works as an undercover New Orleans policeman taking part in sting operations. Eventually, Powell’s Gary Johnson is ushered into a new role of posing as a fake hitman in order to gain murder-for-hire confessions.

According to Texas Monthly, there was a real life Gary Johnson who was once dubbed “the most sought-after professional killer” in Houston, showing that Linklater and Powell’s character has his roots in the murderous intent of a true story.

Johnson had been a college teacher in Houston who worked for the local police force as an investigator and actor. However, unlike the portrayal in Linklater’s film, he did not have an affair with a woman who hired him or actually committed murder to cover his tracks, showing the kind of liberties that Linklater took with his movie.

The Texas Monthly article by Skip Hollandsworth goes back to 2001 when Johnson spoke with a journalist about his life and career. Johnson’s work saw an informant give the police a tip before Johnson would turn up at a meeting with someone looking for a contract killer pretending to be just that, only wired and taped and ready to record a confession.

Discussing the kinds of people who would look to get someone killed, Johnson explained, “Except for one or two instances, the people I meet are not ex-cons. If ex-cons want somebody dead, they know what to do. My people have spent their lives living within the law. A lot of them have never even gotten a traffic ticket.”

So pretty much all of the main narrative around Johnson in Linklater’s Hit Man is true. The part that isn’t is that romance that burgeons between one of his fake employees; that’s mere a matter of Linklater adding in some dramatic effect for the cinema.

Well, actually, there had been a few moments of chemistry between the real-life Johnson and his clients, including one who “suggested they perform a certain sex act on the hood of her Cadillac.” There had also been a time when Johnson had dug into a client’s life to discover they had been domestically abused, which is similar to the way that Powell and Arjona’s characters begin their relationship.