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How Accurate is "Hit Man" on Netflix? History vs. Hollywood

In addition to this article, watch the History vs. Hollywood episode below from our YouTube channel:


Glen Powell
Born: October 21, 1988
Austin, Texas, USA

Gary Johnson
Born: March 28, 1947
Birthplace: Humble, Texas, USA
Death: September 5, 2022, Kingwood, Texas, USA

Historical Accuracy (Q&A):

Is Hit Man based on a true story?

Yes. The Netflix movie stars Glen Powell as Gary Johnson, a college professor who works with the New Orleans Police Department as a fake hitman in an attempt to bait potential clients. According to director Richard Linklater (Dazed and Confused, Before Sunrise), the true story of Gary Johnson (1947-2022) influenced the movie "a lot." However, as I will highlight below, the movie significantly exaggerates Johnson's involvement with the woman depicted in the film, portrayed by Adria Arjona. Also, the real-life story took place in and around Houston, not New Orleans, in the late 1990s. The movie's story is set in the present day. Linklater and co-screenwriter Glen Powell, who also stars in the film, based their script on a 2001 Texas Monthly article about Gary Johnson that was written by Skip Hollandsworth, also titled "Hit Man".

Was the real Gary Johnson a college professor?

Yes, but only two nights a week. He taught a night class on human sexuality and another on general psychology. According to the Texas Monthly article, Gary's regular job was as a staff investigator for the Harris County district attorney's office and he was on call 24/7 to play the role of a hit man for police departments in the Houston area. Most of his work at the district attorney's office involved duplicating or enhancing video and audio tapes for prosecutors to use in their trials, including those of a criminal's confession. To his neighbors and the women he'd occasionally talk with at a nearby sports bar, he worked in human resources.

As a fake assassin, did Gary Johnson take on various identities to court potential clients?

Yes. A Hit Man fact-check confirms that the college professor had bona fide acting skills. In fact, in the Texas Monthly article, Skip Hollandsworth describes Gary Johnson as "the Laurance Olivier of the field," also writing that "in law enforcement circles, he is considered to be one of the greatest actors of his generation, so talented that he can perform on any stage with any kind of script."

Like Glen Powell's character in the movie, Gary Johnson was a highly effective actor who created different personas to appeal to a variety of clients.

Former Harris County, Texas prosecutor Michael Hinton supported this description of Johnson, stating that "he's the perfect chameleon ... who can turn into whatever he needs to be in whatever situation he finds himself." Like in the movie, Hinton said that Johnson never got flustered and always managed to say the right things, convincing both the wealthy and not so wealthy, the elite and the average Joes, that he was the real deal.

How many times was Gary Johnson hired to kill someone?

In the ten years before Skip Hollandsworth's 2001 article, Johnson said that he was hired by more than sixty Houston-area residents, which resulted in sixty arrests.

The real Gary Johnson (left) is pictured circa 2013. Actor Glen Powell (right) portrays the fake hit man in the Netflix movie.

Is Adria Arjona's character, Maddy Masters, based on a real person?

Yes, but only very loosely. In Netflix's Hit Man, Maddy (Adria Arjona) is caught up in an abusive and controlling marriage. She wants to hire Gary (Glen Powell) to carry out a hit on her husband. Gary convinces her not to hand him the money and to instead use it to start her life over. Skip Hollandsworth's article about the real Gary Johnson talks of an unnamed woman who wanted to put a hit out on her boyfriend who was treating her cruelly. As he normally did, Gary researched her and discovered that she was in fact being regularly abused by her boyfriend and was too scared to leave him.

Gary met her not with the intent of taking her money and having her arrested, but instead to refer her to social services and a therapist so that she could get the necessary help to leave her boyfriend and enter a women's shelter. In Hollandsworth's article, Gary says that it was the only time he ever turned soft.

Did Gary and Maddy develop a romance in real life?

No. In the movie, Gary Johnson (Glen Powell) and potential client Maddy Masters (Adria Arjona) fall for each other, which is complicated by the fact that Gary can't tell her who he really is (a fake hit man for hire who is working with the police department to catch individuals who are attempting to pay for murder). The heated romance in the movie is fictional. When Gary met with the real-life woman who inspired Maddy, he referred her to social services and let her go. Their story ended there.

Had the real Gary Johnson ever been married?

As noted in Skip Hollandsworth's Texas Monthly article, fake contract killer Gary Johnson had been married and divorced three times. His second wife said that he is quiet and a loner. Like in the movie, he lived alone with his two cats, Id and Ego. It's true that women were reportedly drawn to him. However, the movie depicts him as being younger and more attractive than he was in real life. He was able to pull off his undercover work as a fake hit man because he looked like a normal guy, not one with movie star looks like Glen Powell.

How accurate is Hit Man on Netflix?

In an interview with, director Richard Linklater confessed that the movie significantly stretches the true story of Gary Jonson. "But I think he'd be bemused by this movie where we took it is far beyond his own life. I mean, the article about him ends when he lets her off. So everything from then on is this little thrill ride we take you on. So I don't know, it's pretty funny." The movie lets audiences know from the start that it has taken liberties with the truth. The prologue notes, "What you are about to see is a somewhat true story."

Did director Richard Linklater meet Gary Johnson?

Yes. "I got to know him a little bit," Linklater told "I just think this movie is so much his point of view, not only of her but just kind of the world, everything. So yeah, it influenced it a lot. You know, what I knew of him personally and what we gather from his life and everything. He had that view." Gary Johnson died in 2022, the year Hit Man was filmed. He never got to see Linklater's version of his story on the big screen. Prior to the end credits, he is honored with a message that reads, "Dedicated to Gary Johnson, 1947-2022."