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Glen Powell: 'Hit Man' film idea was born during pandemic lockdowns

Glen Powell is the co-writer and star of "Hitman." File Photo by John Angelillo/UPI
1 of 5 | Glen Powell is the co-writer and star of "Hitman." File Photo by John Angelillo/UPI | License Photo

NEW YORK, June 4 (UPI) -- Top Gun: Maverick and Anyone But You actor Glen Powell says the idea for his new Netflix action-dramedy film, Hit Man, was born during the coronavirus pandemic lockdowns of 2020-21.

Loosely based on a true story, the film follows Gary Johnson (Powell), a college psychology professor with a unique side hustle -- posing as a hit man. The character uses disguises and different names to help the Louisiana Police Department catch people trying to hire professional killers to off their spouses, neighbors and associates.

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Adria Arjona plays Madison, the charming client who upends Johnson's life by murdering her own husband after he doesn't turn her into the cops.

Powell co-wrote the movie with Richard Linkater, whose credits include the Before Sunrise trilogy, Boyhood and Dazed & Confused.

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Linklater also directed the project, which premieres Friday. The film is a reunion for Linklater and Powell as they collaborated on 2016's Everybody Wants Some.

"It was early on in the pandemic and I stumbled upon this article in Texas Monthly called 'Hit Man' by Skip Hollingsworth. Immediately, it was so clear there was such a compelling character there," Powell, 35, told reporters in a recent virtual press conference.

In addition to teaching and posing as an assassin, the real Johnson also ran audio-visual equipment for the police department, was an ornithologist and a Zen Buddhist.

"I was just like, 'It's such an incredible character piece,' but I didn't really know where it went," Powell said.

"They called him a 'Laurence Olivier fake hitman' because he approached the job differently," he said, explaining how Johnson would eventually become a master of disguise. "Instead of just becoming the hitman for hire [sitting] 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."

Powell said he reached out to Linklater because he regards him as "the best person on the planet with character."

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As luck would have it, the filmmaker was familiar with the article Powell was obsessed with and had even been himself mulling over the idea of adapting it for the screen.

Linklater, 63, ultimately had dismissed the idea, he recalled, because he didn't see a dramatic arc for the character -- only the funny repetition of him working through various cases.

But Powell wouldn't let go the idea of making a movie out of the extraordinary story.

"He said, 'Well, let's talk about it.' I was like: 'Oh, wow. It's the pandemic. What else are we gonna do?'" Linklater laughed.

"So, work we did, every day, for a while. We would just have hours of conversations. Glen kind of loosened the log jam I was in. He said: 'Well, what if we deviate? Why does he have to stick to the facts?' So, once that floodgate opened, we were off to the races. We just started having these great ideas."

The result, Linklater said, was a "thrill ride" grounded in reality.

"That was a real person, a real job, the strangest occupation anyone could ever have," the filmmaker said. "It was a lot of fun, man."

The pair decided to up the ante by throwing Madison into the mix and having Johnson develop a relationship with her instead of helping to send her to jail like he did with the other suspects he met on the job.

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"He didn't believe that she was capable of this thing. He believed in the best of her and talked her out of it," Powell said of Johnson and Madison.

"All of a sudden, the article just sort of moves on. And Rick and I were like: 'Well, what if we pull at that thread? We have so many questions about that relationship," the actor said. "Did he stay as the fake hitman? That was a big breaking point because that was the thing when we started thinking about if he got stuck in this identity."

Linklater added, "And it's just a coincidence the roulette wheel of hitman he gets stuck in happens to be the smoldering, sexy, charming [alter-ego] Ron."

Triple Frontier and Morbius alum Arjona, 32, met Linklater over Zoom to talk about the project after being a fan of his work for years.

"It always feels like his characters are saying words for the first time and it feels so fresh," she said.

"So, when I got on a Zoom with him, I was pretty nervous because all I wanted to do was just to work with him," Arjona added. "We hit it off. And I was encountered with this egoless man who was really interested in picking my brain and wanting to know what I thought of Madison. And that was really refreshing. And that doesn't happen often."

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The actress said she and Powell had immediate chemistry, too.

"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," she remembered. "We just had the best time."

Arjona emphasized she wasn't interested in just being the film's femme fatale.

"She's a woman that's coming from a traumatic relationship -- this weird, kind of dark relationship," she said.

"She's desperate for reinvention. And I think we all do that in life. Where we're all always trying to find sort of a different version of ourselves," the actress added. "As a woman, she's kind of saying, 'What would a bad boy like Ron want in a woman?' ... I see a woman trying to play the illusion of a femme fatale."

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