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The Astonishing True Story Behind Netflix’s Hit Man Movie — Uncovering the Real Gary Johnson

Richard Linklater’s highly anticipated film, “Hit Man,” has made its debut on Netflix, captivating audiences with its blend of romance, action, and comedy. The film stars Glen Powell, who also co-wrote the screenplay, and portrays Gary Johnson, a psychology professor who moonlights as a fake hitman. But how much of this story is rooted in reality, and who was the real Gary Johnson?

The Inspiration Behind ‘Hit Man’

“Hit Man” follows Gary Johnson, a psychology professor who discovers a knack for posing as a hitman. He takes on various identities, complete with costumes and accents, to entrap criminals for the local police. The plot thickens when Johnson meets Madison (Adria Arjona), a prospective client who wants her husband dead but ends up capturing Johnson’s heart instead.

Director Richard Linklater described “Hit Man” as a film about “identity and self and passion.” He explained, “On a plot level, it’s just a guy who gets in a little too deep. His passions lead him in a direction where he’s deceiving someone he’s in love with and being someone else. They have to deal with those repercussions.”

Is ‘Hit Man’ Based on a True Story?

Yes, Netflix’s “Hit Man” is loosely based on the true story of Gary Johnson, a man who posed as a contract killer for the Houston police during the late 1980s and 1990s. Richard Linklater found inspiration for the film in a 2001 Texas Monthly article by Skip Hollandsworth.

Gary Johnson, the real-life inspiration for the character, was a college professor turned investigator for the district attorney’s office in Houston. When Johnson wasn’t admitted to the University of Houston’s doctoral program in psychology, he accepted a job that eventually led him to undercover work as a fake hitman.

The Real Gary Johnson

In 1989, Johnson’s unique career began when Kathy Scott, a lab tech, sought a hitman to kill her husband. The police enlisted Johnson, who successfully posed as a hitman to gather evidence and arrest those seeking to hire him. Over his career, Johnson’s undercover work led to more than sixty arrests.

Michael Hinton, a prominent Houston lawyer, described Johnson as “a truly great performer who can turn into whatever he needs to be in whatever situation he finds himself.” Johnson’s ability to adapt and convince both rich and poor, successful and unsuccessful individuals of his hitman persona made him an invaluable asset to the police.

Fact vs. Fiction in ‘Hit Man’

While “Hit Man” draws from Johnson’s real experiences, some aspects of the film are fictionalized for dramatic effect. For instance, the movie portrays Johnson using elaborate disguises, which was not as extreme in reality. Additionally, while Johnson did help an abuse victim, there is no evidence of a romantic involvement as depicted in the film.

The real Gary Johnson was known to struggle with his personal life, having been married three times and often described as a loner. Despite his social challenges, his ability to convincingly portray a contract killer remains a testament to his acting skills.

Legacy and Impact

Gary Johnson passed away in 2022, but his incredible story continues to fascinate. “Hit Man” not only entertains but also sheds light on the remarkable undercover work that helped bring criminals to justice. The film is now streaming on Netflix, offering viewers a mix of truth and fiction that highlights the complexities of Johnson’s life and career.

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