‘Hit Man’: Here’s the True Story Behind Glen Powell’s Character Gary Johnson

Hit men themselves may not be a real thing, but the story behind Glen Powell and Richard Linklater’s new film “Hit Man” actually is true — mostly. As with any movie, they took some creative liberties

Now streaming on Netflix after a limited theatrical run, the film centers on Gary Johnson (Glen Powell), a college psychology professor who helps out the New Orleans police department on the side by posing as a hit man for hire to catch people on tape planning a murder. He tailors each hit man to the prospective client, wearing many disguises in his tenure.

When he meets potential client Madison (Adria Arjona), he’s immediately smitten and steers her away from having her husband murdered, so his colleagues don’t arrest her. From there, the two fall in love, but then…

So, what actually happened? What didn’t? Let’s break it down.

Note: The following story contains spoilers for “Hit Man.”

Was Gary Johnson a real person?

Yes. The idea for “Hit Man” was inspired by a Texas Monthly article that Powell came across years ago, telling the story of Gary Johnson, a real guy. He did indeed live alone with his two cats, and was actually a professor who taught psychology. He also taught human sexuality courses.

But before all that, he was a military police officer in Vietnam. When he returned home, he quickly started working with the police, and did actually play a role for them. Before he was a hit man, he posed as a drug addict who would try to score from street dealers. This part of his life doesn’t make it into “Hit Man,” as the fictional Gary Johnson works in surveillance on the hit man busts before he’s thrust into playing the role himself (a bit begrudgingly).

The real Gary Johnson seemingly didn’t replace a coworker, as the movie shows. Instead, he was the first choice, and eventually became known as “the Laurence Olivier of the field.” He disguised himself as a biker for the first meeting, rather than working up to the disguises.

Did Johnson actually fall in love with a potential client?


No, but he did help a woman in need.

In the film, Powell’s Gary Johnson meets with a prospective client named Madison (Adria Arjona), who wants her abusive husband killed. Smitten with her and taking pity, Gary tells her to take the money she meant for him, and use it to run and start a new life, and initiate divorce proceedings.

Soon after that, the two start up a relationship of their own, with Madison believing he’s actually Ron, a hit man. In reality, this is only partly true.

The real Gary Johnson did indeed meet with a young woman who wanted her abusive boyfriend killed, because she saw no other way out. And, after learning that she was truly a victim of abuse, Johnson did actually help her. He referred her to proper social service agencies as well as a therapist to help her escape and get into a women’s shelter.

There’s nothing to indicate that the two struck up a relationship of their own in real life.

Did Gary Johnson actually kill his coworker?

In “Hit Man,” Madison does end up killing her husband herself and telling Gary about it. Once again, he decides to help her and eventually the two end up killing Jasper (Austin Amelio), Gary’s corrupt and violent coworker, together.

Don’t worry, the real Gary Johnson never killed anybody. In fact, Glen Powell and Richard Linklater own up to making that part of the story up in the credits of “Hit Man.” As real images flash on screen of the real Gary Johnson, there are small captions revealing bits of his life (including that he was actually a Buddhist and a military man).

Underneath one image, it explicitly states that the real Johnson never killed anyone and that “we made that part up.”

The real Gary Johnson died in 2022.

“Hit Man” is now streaming on Netflix.

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