Richard Linklater’s anticipated film, “Hit Man,” has officially arrived on Netflix, drawing viewers into its romantic action-comedy narrative. As audiences dive into this intriguing story, questions arise about the real-life basis of Gary Johnson, the character portrayed by Glen Powell. Was Gary Johnson a genuine fake contract killer, or is this a fictional creation?

The Real Story of Gary Johnson

“Hit Man” centers around Gary Johnson, a psychology professor who stumbles upon a hidden talent for playing a fake hitman. Portrayed by Glen Powell, Johnson’s character humorously dons various disguises and personas to entrap criminals for the local police. However, the plot thickens when he meets Madison, played by Adria Arjona, who seeks to hire him to kill her husband, but instead, she captures his heart, leading to a complex web of deception and mixed identities.

The film, described by Linklater as a tale about “identity and self and passion,” unfolds with Johnson getting in over his head as he deceives someone he falls for. This intricate storyline is not entirely fictional. 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. Linklater discovered Johnson’s incredible story through a 2001 Texas Monthly article written by Skip Hollandsworth.

Gary Johnson: The Undercover Chameleon

The real Gary Johnson was indeed a psychology professor who moonlighted as a fake hitman for the Houston police. Moving to Houston in 1981 to pursue a doctoral program, Johnson’s career path took a turn when he was not admitted. He found work as an investigator for the district attorney’s office, where he eventually discovered his knack for undercover work.

The Unbelievable True Story Behind 'Hit Man' On Netflix—Who Was Gary Johnson ?

In 1989, Johnson was called into action when Kathy Scott, a lab technician, sought a hitman to kill her husband. This pivotal moment led Johnson to become the go-to fake hitman for the Houston police. Whenever the police needed to catch someone seeking a contract killer, Johnson, equipped with a wire, would engage the suspect, securing a clear statement of their intent and payment for the job.

Johnson’s ability to seamlessly adapt to different roles made him an invaluable asset. Described by Houston lawyer Michael Hinton as “the perfect chameleon,” Johnson could convincingly portray a killer in any scenario, persuading individuals across various social strata of his authenticity.

Fiction Versus Reality

While “Hit Man” captures the essence of Johnson’s unique undercover role, it also takes creative liberties. The film dramatizes Johnson’s use of disguises, pushing it to theatrical extremes. In reality, Johnson’s disguises were far more subdued. Additionally, the romantic subplot involving an abuse victim is a fictional element; although Johnson did assist a woman in escaping her abusive boyfriend, there is no evidence of a romantic relationship.

Johnson’s personal life also mirrored some aspects of his on-screen character. The Texas Monthly article reveals that he was married three times and often described as a loner, a trait that adds depth to his enigmatic personality. Despite his solitary nature, Johnson could turn on a charismatic persona that made people believe he was a ruthless killer.

Sadly, Gary Johnson passed away in 2022, but his remarkable story continues to captivate audiences through “Hit Man.” The film, streaming now on Netflix, offers a blend of fact and fiction, providing a compelling narrative that both entertains and intrigues.

Article originally published by Forbes.