Image Credit: Getty Images

Wait, Glen Powell's 'Hitman' Was Actually A Real Person?!

If you’ve been on the internet once or twice in the past few weeks you’ve probably seen promo for Glen Powell’s new movie Hitman. The movie debuted in select theatres on May 24, 2024, and was added for streaming on Netflix on June 7 as part of a two-part release. The movie is currently a top 10 watch on Netflix, just further proof that it’s Glen Powell’s year. This movie is a natural progression from his big swing at saving the romantic comedy with Sydney Sweeney with the effortlessly enjoyable Anyone But You. The action-romantic-comedy-thriller (new genre alert) was co-written by Glen and the GOAT Richard Linklater (Before Sunrise, Boyhood, Dazed and Confused). After watching the wild ride of the famed hitman named Gary Johnson, who had a secret identity none of the clients who hired him knew, I needed to know ASAP: is Hitman based on a true story?

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What is Hitman about?

Still from the movie Hitman
Image Credit: Netflix

Gary Johnson (Glen Powell) is not actually a ruthless killer. In fact, it’s hard to believe the sweet, nerdy community college professor is even a cop, who specializes in coordinating stings. When Gary’s aggro co-worker, Jasper (Austin Emilio), is suspended from his lead role going undercover as Houston PD’s fake hitman where he solicits real requests to kill from everyday people, Gary is forced to take his place. As Gary prepares to meet each mark or “customer,” he does a next-level get ready with me to create an elaborate fake persona tailored just for them. If strangers believe Gary is the real deal, then they’ll confess their criminal wishes to kill on tape. Everything is smooth sailing until Gary feels bad for one customer, Maddy (Adria Arjona), and rejects her money for the hit she wants to place on her not-so-nice hubby. Instead, Gary tells her to use the money to get her life together, and they quickly become romantically involved. Except Maddy thinks she’s dating Ron, the hitman, not Gary. Naturally, things get pretty messy when Gary’s colleagues, including Jasper, spot him with Maddy. Even worse Maddy’s ex-husband, Ray, comes after her and Gary has to threaten him to save her. Now Gary has two enemies: Ray and his burned co-worker Jasper. But when Ray turns up dead, everyone suspects Madison. How is Gary going to get her out of this?

Is Hitman based on a true story?

Glen Powell in disguise for Hitman
Image Credit: Netflix

Yes, Hitman is based specifically on the fascinating reporting on the true story of real cop Gary Johnson in Texas Monthly by journalist Skip Hollandsworth. The article is the essential work covering Gary Johnson’s life, who died in 2022. Gary Johnson was the most prolific fake hitman of all time. He would receive cases when good samaritans called the police to report that someone they knew had asked them where they could find a hitman. The police would then send in Gary Johnson who would listen to their sinister requests and record it all on tape. Gary’s colleagues called him the greatest actor of their generation who could win an Oscar with his performances. He fielded and prevented 100s of potential hits, and had many convictions.

The Differences Between Gary Johnson In The Movie Vs. Real Life

Hitman cast on the red carpet
Image Credit: Getty Images

The real Gary Johnson was an assuming, lanky part-time professor of Psych and Human Sexuality at the local community college, just like in the movie. He loved gardening, taking care of his pets, and studying philosophical books by legends like Gandhi because of the scary dark side of people while doing his job. Gary was a Southern boy who first became a cop in the 70s after leaving the military. In real life, his first beat was working on stings to bust drug deals. He was eventually promoted to investigator by Harris PD, where he started playing the role of a convincing hitman, but he did not take the job from another low-key dirty cop named Jasper, like in the movie. He did create mysterious personas with names like Mike Caine and Chris Buck when meeting marks to make them believe he was a hitman, but he didn’t create a new one every single time, and he didn’t transform to the extent Glen Powell did in the movie, with multiple wigs and props, because nobody has time for that. In fact, the real Gary learned that his scary biker persona wasn’t the vibe for most cases because people just wanted someone trustworthy to spill their dirty secrets to.

The biggest difference between the movie and real life is that there was no Maddy that Johnson fell in love with, risked his job for, and eventually covered up two murders for (lol), before running away together to get married and have kids. The real Johnson was married and divorced twice with no kids and picked up women at his local dive bar. There was one case where the real Gary Johson met with a woman trying to have her husband offed because she was a victim of domestic violence. Gary did decide to refer her to social services that could help her because of the nature of her situation. But there was no torrid Hollywood love affair.

Marissa Dow
Marissa Dow
MARISSA is a trending news writer at Betches. She's more than just another pop-culture-addicted-east-coaster-turned-LA-transplant...she's also an upcoming television writer and aspiring Real Housewife (whichever comes first). Live, laugh, balegdah.