Richard Linklater and Glen Powell: The Hit Men | FilmInk – The Global Tofay

Richard Linklater and Glen Powell: The Hit Men | FilmInk - The Global Tofay Global Today

During an extraordinary career which defies any kind of pigeonholing, Richard Linklater enjoys surprising his audiences and Hollywood studios alike.

Refusing to move to Los Angeles, Richard Linklater has always charted his own course, boasting the kind of autonomy that other filmmakers can only aspire to – all from his home base in Austin, Texas.

Among his many career highlights was directing Cate Blanchett in 2019 dramedy Where’d You Go Bernadette and Jack Black in hit musical comedy, School of Rock.

Not least among his accomplishments was his long-term concept of Boyhood, persuading Ethan Hawke and Patricia Arquette to join him in Austin year after year, to portray the parents of a boy through childhood to college.

In addition, his credits include cult hit Dazed and Confused; the Before Sunset trilogy with Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy; SubUrbiaThe Newton Boys, a western/gangster film set in the 1920s; animated feature Waking LifeBad News BearsA Scanner DarklyFast Food NationMe and Orson Welles, and Bernie.

Richard Linklater at the Hit Man premiere. Photo by Josh Huskin

As a director largely accustomed to writing his own material, Linklater’s latest action comedy Hit Man marks yet another departure, this time teaming with actor Glen Powell who approached him with the script idea.

Even though the five-time Oscar-nominated director has sometimes collaborated with other writers, Hit Man feels like the start of an enduring partnership with fellow Texan Powell, 35, with whom Linklater first worked when Powell was a teen, later casting him alongside Wyatt Russell and Blake Jenner in the 2016 college jock comedy, Everybody Wants Some!!

Already familiar with the story of the real-life ‘fake hit man” that inspired his latest film, Linklater had read an article in Texas Monthly called ‘Hit Man’ by Skip Hollingsworth outlining the unbelievable true story of Gary Johnson, a strait-laced college professor who moonlighted as a fake hit man for the New Orleans Police Department.

“But I was excited to get this call from Glen because that story had been kicking around in my head. I had talked to Skip, I’d had a couple meetings on it over the years, but it didn’t really work as a film because there was this repetition. It didn’t really go anywhere. So, I didn’t think it worked,” Linklater tells us.

“But Glen said, ‘Well, let’s talk about it’. And I was like, ‘it’s the pandemic, what else are we gonna do?’ So we worked on it every day for a while. We would just have hours of conversations. And Glen kind of loosened the log jam I was in.

“Glen said, ‘Well, what if we deviate? Why stick to the facts?’ So once that floodgate opened, we were off to the races. We just started having these great ideas. And the last two thirds of the movie kind of comes out of that. The genres kick in, and it becomes this thrill ride. But it was grounded in Gary Johnson’s life reality. That was a real person, a real job, the strangest occupation anyone could ever have. So, I don’t know. It was a lot of fun,” recalls Linklater.

Joining the conversation, Powell explains what struck him about Johnson. “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, a Zen Buddhist. He was such a fascinating guy who they called the ‘Laurence Olivier fake hit man’ because he approached the job differently.

Richard Linklater and Glen Powell: The Hit Men | FilmInk - The Global Tofay Global Today

“Instead of just becoming a hit man 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 hit man is – because hit men don’t really exist.

“He took this skill set to a whole new level, putting on disguises and all these different things, and it was such a fascinating idea,” says Powell who wears wigs and beards – and even dresses – to embody the hit man’s multiple personas.

Powell was poised to try something new, and having starred opposite Tom Cruise in Top Gun: Maverick two years earlier, was already on the path to stardom, with a recent trifecta of star-making roles including recent romcom Anyone But You to upcoming tornado action flick, Twisters and now with his current role in Hit Man.

Having lived in Hollywood for the past ten years, Powell was eager to get back to Austin, and to re-team with Linklater.

A champion of local talent, the filmmaker clearly shares a great rapport with his latest leading man. “The greatest thing about getting to do this over the years, over the decades, is when you work with someone you like and the planets align, and you get to work with them again. It’s just wonderful,” says Linklater.

“Because you know them, and it’s relaxed. But with Glen, I think our big breakthrough was ten years ago when 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.

“But he was really smart. He’s an athlete, yet he’s really 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. I’d seen him in movies and I was like, ‘Oh, Glen, he’s out there making a go of it’,” recalls Linklater.

Richard Linklater and Glen Powell: The Hit Men | FilmInk - The Global Tofay Global Today

“And then, he walked in the room and was this guy. I was like, ‘holy crap. When did Glen become so amazing?’ He’s so smart. He’s so charming. I was just seeing this force of nature. I was like, ‘Oh my God, he solved my problem. I got my guy to play this thing’.

“We had such a great creative time on that, and it really was just a wonderful experience. I couldn’t wait to work with him again. And he did a day on another film I did, as kind of a favour to me. So, when he called me with this, it was off to the races creatively, because he is fun to work with. He’s just got all that stuff. He’s funny and smart and a great collaborator. So, it’s a joy. What else can I say?”

The real Gary Johnson – who died shortly after Hit Man went into production – was uncannily gifted at inhabiting different guises and personalities to catch hapless people hoping to bump off their enemies. But Johnson descends into morally dubious territory when he finds himself attracted to one of those potential criminals, a beautiful young woman named Madison, portrayed in Hit Man by Adria Arjona.

As Madison falls for one of Gary’s hit man personas – the mysteriously sexy Ron – their steamy affair sets off a chain reaction of play dating, deception and escalating stakes.

Told through Linklater’s lens, it’s a clever existential comedy about identity.

Although it may seem like a no-brainer, Powell and Linklater initially found it difficult to secure financial backing for their project.

“We took this movie out, and no one got it,” recalls Powell. “We were so proud of it and excited about what it said about identity and passion. We thought it was so universal and exciting. And then it was just crickets. Nobody responded to it because I don’t think it fits into one box,” adds the actor who enjoyed small roles in The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, Hidden Figures and Expendables 3 although none of those films truly showcased his array of talents until now.

Linklater is proud of what they accomplished together. “The film hits a lot of notes – comedy, noir, thriller, psychological study – while examining, most of all, the concept of identity and how fixed our personalities may or may not be. I always approached it like a film noir or a little bit of a sexy thriller. We’re just a mix of genres, but comedy over everything else. I think that’s an attribute of the movie – what it’s about is not a short sound bite, because it’s about a lot of things,” he says.

Ask Linklater what keeps him grounded in his Texan roots, he laughs. “What keeps you grounded is a low budget and a tight schedule. It keeps you very much grounded.”

Hit Man streams from 7 June 2024

Main Photo: Glen Powell and Richard Linklater attend a photo call celebrating Netflix’s new film Hit Man at Four Seasons Hotel on May 17, 2024 in Austin, Texas. (Photo by Rick KernGetty Images for Netflix)

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