Hit Man: Glen Powell and Richard Linklater make magic together in new Netflix movie

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Wenlei Ma
The Nightly
5 Min Read
Hit Man. (L to R) Adria Arjona as Madison Masters and Glen Powell as Gary Johnson. Cr. Courtesy of Netflix
Hit Man. (L to R) Adria Arjona as Madison Masters and Glen Powell as Gary Johnson. Cr. Courtesy of Netflix Credit: Courtesy of Netflix

Beloved indie director Richard Linklater has such a big brain, actor Glen Powell calls him “Rikipedia”.

The two have reunited on Hit Man, a rom-com caper in which Powell plays an unassuming psychology professor who moonlights for the police department as a fake hit man. What’s a fake hit man, you ask? It’s someone who play-acts as a contract killer in stings where a client hires him for a job, and the cops swoop in to arrest them.

“If you hung out with Rick at all, he talks like a psychology professor does,” Powell told The Nightly. “He’s so well read and he just knows so many things. I call him Rikipedia.”

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His co-star Adria Arjona, who plays a woman who tries to hire Powell’s fake hit man to despatch an abusive husband, recalled having a conversation with Linklater about astrology in which she put forward the theory that if the moon can move bodies of water and seeing human bodies are mostly water, then doesn’t it stand to reason that the moon can shift our moods?

“He just looked at me and he let me finish and he’s like, “I don’t believe in that’, and then he gave me this whole scientific reason of why what I was saying wasn’t 100 per cent accurate. And that whole conversation ended up in the movie!”

Hit Man was co-written by Glen Powell and Richard Linklater
Richard Linklater on the Hit Man set with Adria Arjona and Glen Powell. Credit: Netflix

Arjona said Powell had warned her that working with Linklater would “ruin” all future directors for her, “that he was probably going to become my new favourite director to ever work with”.

And Powell should know. The Top Gun: Maverick and Anyone But You star met Linklater, the indie filmmaker behind beloved films including Before Sunrise, Boyhood and School of Rock when he was 14 years old with a small part in Fast Food Nation.

The two came together again on Everybody Wants Some!!, the 2016 comedy about a 1980s college baseball team. The movie had the same loose spirit as Linklater’s Dazed and Confused and was an early indication of Powell’s beaming charisma and comedic timing.

Hit Man. (L to R) Adria Arjona as Madison Masters and Glen Powell as Gary Johnson. Cr. Courtesy of Netflix
Arjona and Powell have palpable chemistry. Credit: Courtesy of Netflix

And both men are natives of Texas, Powell from Austin, and Linklater from Houston.

“I was maybe 25 or 26 at the time and to make [Everybody Wants Some!!] with one of my heroes and then to find that our brains work oddly similarly, that we really caught a very quick creative flow, it made that movie so fun,” Powell said. “We were constantly pitching things to each other, constantly trying to up scenes, and when that movie ended I didn’t think life could get better.

“I was so sad after that movie ended.”

Powell and Linklater stayed in touch and over the years, they tried to find something they could work on together.

It was during the pandemic when Powell went to Linklater with an article from Skip Hollandsworth about a real-life professor who doubled as a fake hit man. “I’m like, ‘Dude, I read that in 2001, Skip’s a friend of mine’,” Linklater recalled telling Powell.

Linklater said he had thought about adapting the piece into a film but couldn’t get it to fit, and it was only when Powell suggested that could expand the story beyond the non-fiction aspects and pushed it into a world of make-believe, that the floodgate lowered.

“Pretty soon, I said we should work on the script together, and we push each other and make each other laugh,” Linklater said. Maybe it’s a testament to his collaborative approach, but Hit Man is not the first time Linklater had co-written with his actors. He, Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy co-scribed the second and third instalments of the Before trilogy and all three were Oscar-nominated for their screenplay for Before Midnight.

Powell added, “There’s no one better in the world, as a filmmaker, with character than Richard Linklater.”

For his part, Linklater said Powell is still the same “smart, funny, charismatic and hardworking guy I met way long ago, and had so much fun working with, what Glen is, is what he is”. But Powell has deepened with experience, and Linklater has loved seeing the films lining up for Powell, one of the hot rising stars of this era.

AUSTIN, TEXAS - MAY 15: Richard Linklater attends Netflix's Austin premiere of "Hit Man" at The Paramount Theatre on May 15, 2024 in Austin, Texas. (Photo by Rick Kern/Getty Images for Netflix)
The Hit Man premiere took place in Texas, where Powell and Linklater both hail from. Credit: Rick Kern/Getty Images for Netflix

Hit Man debuted at the Venice Film Festival last year and it was an immediate critical darling. It’s sparky, fun and clever. And Powell and Arjona had genuine chemistry. But, in a common development, Netflix swooped in and bought the movie. So, now it’s bypassing cinemas and going straight to streaming.

Hit Man is the kind of movie that would’ve played well in a theatre with a crowd if there was a more robust moviegoing culture right now, which is depressed after a string of underwhelming box office results for titles such as The Fall Guy and Furiosa.

When audiences are even turning up for the big-budget blockbusters, where does that leave smaller films like the ones Linklater has been making since the 1990 dramedy Slacker? Maybe now only on streaming.

Because for Linklater, audience tastes haven’t changed much in the indie space. “People just want to see something they connect with,” he said.

Hit Man was co-written by Glen Powell and Richard Linklater
Hit Man was based on a true story. Credit: Netflix

It’s at the studio level and mass entertainment where he has seen the most change.

“When I first came along, I had been lucky, studios took chances on young talent,” he explained. “If wrote a good script, they might throw you a few million to make a movie.

“They’re not in that business [anymore] and I lament the direction of that, which is kind of juvenile, it’s kind of comic book. They’re doing down to the 13-year-old level. When I was a 13-year-old, I was watching an adult world, being invited into it. I couldn’t wait. All these complex things I didn’t even fully understand, like passion, sex and intrigue.

“I was watching the great movies of the seventies, these were great adult films. I couldn’t wait to get there.

“Now they just want everyone to be a child forever, let’s just keep an adolescent mentality, let’s not graduate to deeper subjects, let’s not take on adult responsibilities or situations, let’s not embrace those contradictions and multitudes.

“So, I’ve seen that change.”

Hit Man is streaming on Netflix from June 7

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